• 2001

    Mapuche, pueblo de la tierra

    Bio Bio River Region, Chile

“If we can still hope for a regeneration of our planet, this can only start with indigenous peoples” says Sara Imilmaqui Aguas, Mapuche huilliche, promoter of the Mapu Domuce Newen organization, a group of twelve women who alone or without help, yes they are opposing the titanic Spanish multinational Endesa, which since 1996 has been building a huge dam near Ralco, a pueblo located in the heart of Mapuche pehuenche territory in the area of the upper reaches of the Bio Bio river, in Chile. They are courageous women, for the most part elderly , some with names that have become the symbol of the resistance of a people, such as the sisters Nicolaza and Berta Quintreman who live close together in two simple wooden houses, with their two sons, abandoned by their husbands. One winter a few years ago they were called by President Lagos himself to the Palazzo della Moneda, where they arrived after a day of travel on one of the many buses that connect Los Angeles with Santiago. The meeting, as was to be expected, did not change their situation and the sheep, hens and pigs continue to graze in a piece of land that is increasingly at risk of expropriation.

The history of the construction of the dam in Ralco is certainly one of the many events of political and economic interests that bind the Chilean government with the Spanish one, but it acquires another relevance if you think that it was the Spaniards who subdued the Mapuche people. It all began in the 1960s; but in the midst of Pinochet’s dictatorship, the notorious electricity law was approved, authorizing the start of “explorations” and studies, duly kept secret, in the area. At the time of the construction of the Pangue dam, financed by the World Bank, Aylwin, the new president elected in the transition period that followed the dictatorship, reiterated that no more power plants would be built and therefore the Mapuche pehuence communities did not have to fear for their territory. The tree that gives its name to all the people of the mountain range: pehuenche, in Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, means “People of Pehuen”, the araucaria.

The communities of the Alto Bio Bio to survive need the inveranada-veranada alternation, summer pastures and winter pastures, developed for centuries, which allowed social, economic and cultural reproduction, linked to seasonal transhumance, the climate, the snow of the Andes . They are administered like all other Mapuche communities: at the head of each is the lonko, spokesperson and administrator of the interests of the community, while the machi, a female figure, has the task of corporal and spiritual healer. Already with the construction of Pangue, entire communities, of which the number is unknown, were forced to move to places unsuitable for their habits. The winter-veranada cycle is the vital biorhythm of this people, once uprooted and transplanted to an area where there is no forest and no river, the community decays. Over the centuries, the Mapuche people continue to struggle to stay and live in their own environment, torn from these places, they live on the edge of the big cities, forgetting their language and the great wisdom of their people.