Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MUSIC-CHILE: Mapuche Hip-Hop

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Oct 24 2006 (IPS) - They don’t like to be referred to as indigenous people, but use their art to fight for the self-determination of their people. They do not all speak the Mapuche language fluently, but are keen on preserving the culture of that ethnic group. These five young Chileans of Mapuche descent are making it on the local hip-hop scene.

The group’s name in Mapuzungun, the Mapuche language, is Kolectivo We Newen which means New Strength Collective. It is more than a band, as its members – four young men and one woman – share not only a love of hip-hop and poetry, but also a desire to contribute to the ancestral struggle of their people for autonomy.

All five are from the Araucania region of Chile, 600 kilometres south of Santiago, where 23.5 percent of the Mapuche nation, the country’s largest ethnic group, live. Except for Danko Mariman, 22, who is studying architecture in Boston, they all live in the capital.

Mariman told IPS that they formed the group in July this year, and launched their first hip-hop album, “We Newen 21st century Mapuche song and poetry”, on Sep. 18.

The compact disc has 20 songs with provocative titles such as “How much longer are we going to bear it?”, “Araucania, Mapuche country”, “Kill or die”, “I dream that they won’t steal our childhood”, “What we propose” and “Urban Mapuche”.

“We’re all singers,” explained the young poet and musician, who has two previous solo hip-hop CDs to his name, titled “L.I.F.E O.F A.N A.R.A.U.K.A.N.O.” and “Helping to build a strong regional identity in Mapuche territory”. He is also working on his first book of poems.


Fabián and Ricardo, nicknamed “M.C. Aktivista” and “M.C. Kombativo” respectively, also participate in the We Newen collective. They both belong to the Gonzalo Marín Mapuche community, which on Sep. 13 peacefully occupied the 360-hectare El Notro farm in the Huilio district, claiming it formed part of their ancestral territory.

“We all saw hip-hop as a way of expressing our experiences, talking about important topics, but most importantly we saw it as a political tool,” said Mariman, who goes by the name of “Big Massay” in the music world and “Saviour Mariman” among poets.

Members of the We Newen collective said they were fervent fans of hip-hop, a musical style born in New York in the 1970s, and added that they intend their music to serve the interests of their people.

“When we talk about ‘Mapuchifying’ hip-hop and poetry, we mean incorporating them into our culture. Through both these art forms we bring to light our personal and collective struggles. We could also speak of ethno-poetry and ethno-hip-hop, connected in this case with the Mapuche people,” Mariman explained.

On the album, the musicians emphasise the need to strengthen the Mapuche identity in the region where they were born. Greater territorial autonomy for that ethnic group in Araucania is one of the main proposals of the first Mapuche political party, currently in its formative stages.

The band’s spokesman stated that their songs are not meant to attack all Chileans, but only the “repressive, terrorist, racist, assimilationist and ethnocidal policies of the Chilean government.”

For financial reasons, they only produced 100 copies of the CD, but they trust that it will reach a wider audience over the Internet. The songs can be downloaded at < http://www.kolectivowenewen.tk >. Although they have not yet given live performances, they have been invited to take part in stage events in the city of Temuco, the capital of Araucania.

The group says that where their album falls short is in its limited use of Mapuzungun, which they say will feature more prominently in their future work. Only one of the band’s five members speaks it fluently, and the others said they are “recovering” the language. The songs are mainly in Spanish, with a few words of Mapuzungun.

The CD has been generally well received. One week after it was launched, their website had been visited by more than 1,500 people in different parts of the world. Only a few Mapuches living in Europe criticised the choice of hip-hop as a vehicle for transmitting their culture.

“We don’t understand (the critics’) concept of what it is to be a Mapuche, because our culture isn’t immobilised or fixed in books, quite the contrary, it’s alive in those of us who are alive today,” Mariman replied. “As we engage in cultural contact with other human communities, we acquire new tools that we can incorporate without losing our Mapuche identity,” he argued.

Mariman gave the example of the use of technology. “They (Mapuches living in Europe) use the Internet as a medium to express their criticism and get in touch with other Mapuche brothers and sisters without losing their identity,” but rather “strengthening it.”

Furthermore, the Kolektivo We Newen aims to become “a way for urban Mapuches to express their identity.” Seventy percent of the Mapuche people are now city dwellers.

“We have no doubt that it’s possible to be a Mapuche in a city. Where we live doesn’t affect our world view. We believe that changes are personal in the first place, and they have a lot to do with our interests and with what we feel is important in life,” Mariman said.

However, these young musicians dislike being called “indigenous people”. “The term ‘indigenous people’ is used to refer to a human group with an inferior social and intellectual capacity for development, who therefore are seen as belonging to a kind of sub-category of persons fit only for heavy manual work,” the architecture student explained.

“We think that we, the new generations, have in ourselves the power to change that concept, move out of that pigeonhole and reinvent ourselves as a nation with new challenges, because we are capable. We prefer the terms Mapuche, Native Americans and Original Peoples, because they give us the dignity we deserve, they’re more accurate and less prejudiced,” he said.

Mapuche music, traditionally linked to ancestral rituals, today shares the stage with bands and soloists playing rock, punk, folklore, reggae and fusion styles. Kolektivo We Newen is not the only group dedicated to hip-hop in Chile. In fact, the band is already planning to recruit more “brothers and sisters” who are fans of this popular music genre.

According to the 2002 census, nearly 700,000 people, equivalent to 4.6 percent of the total Chilean population, belong to different native ethnic groups. Among these the Mapuches are the largest group, accounting for 87.3 percent.

 
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