I write to remember who I am, because I was born not knowing who I was.
I write to honor the kongen, owners of the water, who came to me in the voice of my grandmother, Roberta Napaiman, when the Ngen1 was the horse jutting his head out from a lake in Cushamen, the sound birthing a fear in us and impeding our games on the shore.
I write to remember the kuifikecheyem, the ancestors who once were children and crossed the rushing rivers by clinging to tails of horses.
I write for the small relief of it, like the relief my eyes feel when I look out into the distance because to be Ankalaufken is to be in the middle of the sea or the middle of a lake, the extensive plains of my nampulkafe2 blood that traveled from the Pacific to the Atlantic and settled in the precarity of a treaty with winka,3 from where it was evicted.
I write to convince myself that this is why I live in Comodoro Rivadavia, the place from where I watch the sea and its waters, which at times are silver and at other times filthy.
I write because, even like this, the machi4 have seen in the pewma5 Ngen of this sea.
I write to make this memory bloom again.
I write to ask myself how many lots and streets have been built on this Puel6 shore, slapping a hand over the mouths of the machines that dug up bones buried thousands of years prior.
I write for the dead stripped of flesh and exhibited as spoils of war by Francisco Pascasio Moreno in the Museum of Natural Sciences dating back 134 years.
In other words, I write so that the names of all of those assassins don’t go unpunished.
So I mention Rauch the Prussian, who slit our throats to save bullets for President Rivadavia, I mention slaughter and the arrival of Rosas at Choele Choel, I mention military ranks generals coronels terror and winka barbarians who raped women, who shot prisoners, and who began handing out children and women as slaves, before Julio Argentino and his photo on the hundred-peso bill.
And I add to Julio Roca: Rudecindo and Ataliva, and other names that knot my stomach like Sarmiento, Villegas, Levalle, Winter, Racedo, Uriburu, Laciar.
I write because, escaping horror, my people fled farther south, farther into the mountains, abandoning their homes, their seed and harvest, their animals.
I write because I want to remember the children who saved themselves by covering themselves in hides and those who in the frenzy of the flight fell from horses and weren’t with their parents when they stopped and didn’t light a fire to avoid being spotted by soldiers.
I write because they were caught and herded like animals for hundreds of kilometers, and some were abandoned along the way, left there to bleed out after being castrated or after having their Achilles cut.
I write to discover their faces covered in tears and blood from the blows, in the splatter from the cuts to their flesh, in earth after their long march.
And I write so that there’s a map that records this genocide.
I write to not forget those who died on the high seas, heaped and sick on the ships that carried them to ports of family dismemberment still with us today; I write for the desperation woven with moans and cries.
I write because they didn’t know their destiny before arriving at the concentration camps, the estates, the sugarmills, the yerba plantations.
I write because I’m not a Ñanko7 who can soar past this misery.
I write for those tortured by hunger in the concentration camps of Fortín Villegas, Valcheta, Chichinales, Malargüe, Rodeo del Medio, Villa Mercedes, Tigre, Isla Martín García, that island where those sick with smallpox also were dumped.
I write for the relatives never heard from again, displaced to Rosario, San Miguel de Tucumán, Río Cuarto, Córdoba, Ingenio San Juan, and for those enslaved by Rufino Ortega in Mendoza and by Rudecindo Roca in Misiones.
I write to protect myself from the death that surrounds me when I don’t know what to do with the fatigue, the shame, the lack of a will to live.
I write to purge this memory.
I write because I already learned defeat and I know that even when defeated one can write, to circle around events and put a name to those who had none.
I write for those who went crazy in witnessing the assassination of their children, and for the children left to die of hunger and thirst, and for the children who were stolen.
I write for those who were cleaved from their names and condemned to ignore their kupalme.8
I write to remember the names of our Spirits, to reassert their power over foreign religions, so that their God will judge Bishop Aneiros and the priests who witnessed the horror but said nothing.
I write so that this memory doesn’t stagnate.
I write because I wasn’t the Nawel9 who consoled and accompanied those who couldn’t escape the horrors; I’m no luan10 or choike11 to nourish them.
I write so that this memory flows and becomes again a single river with recent memory.
I write, then, for the scraps of land returned by the new state as if they were charity, and for those displaced from those lands because the rich always knew how to manipulate their laws.
I write for those whom the ranch owners trapped within wire fencing to strand them without water, without grass for their animals, without firewood, and who were finally thrown off the land they’d clung to by their fingernails, their heart, and their hope.
I write for those swindled by winka who lied about the numbers in their bookkeeping, and for those who paid that fraudulent debt with their land and were left with nothing in return.
I write for the children who had Mapudungun12 silenced in their mouths in civilizing, evangelical schools.
I write for those murdered in city police stations, so young they hadn’t even had the time to learn their origins, killed for carrying their people, for their face, for their surname.
I write for Rafael Nahuel and Camilo Catrillanca, shot in the back by the Albatross Group and the Jungla Comandos, respectively, assassinated for reclaiming this memory that clings to Wall Mapu,13 to the language of the Spirits.
I write for the machi condemned to be driven from their rewe14 and their lawen,15 their Newen16 incarcerated so that the claws of forestry, mining, and hydroelectricity could dig in, destroying what little we had left.
I write out of the fear that the Ngen of the mountains, the hills, the stones, the waters, will grow tired of the prolonged heresy and abandon us.
I write because the Ngen still live, in the taüles17 and their language, the sound of the kultrun,18 the cycles of the mapu,19 and the rains.
I write to know what death and what life I come from and endure.
1. Ngen: a spiritual entity that cares for specific people and places, sometimes becoming visible by adopting various forms.↩
2. Nampulkafe: traveler.↩
3. Winka: foreigner.↩
4. Machi: a person with knowledge to act in the many spiritual dimensions constituting the territory.↩
5. Pewma: images in dreams that carry messages.↩
6. Puel: Eastern. Puelmapu is the land to the East, occupied today by the Argentine state.↩
7. Ñanko: eaglet. One of the forms adopted by the Ngen.↩
8. Kupalme: family origin.↩
9. Nawel: American tiger. One of the forms adopted by the Ngen.↩
10. Luan: guanaco ↩
11. Choike: American ostrich.↩
12. Mapudungun: the language of the land.↩
13. Wall Mapu: the land of the Mapuche people.↩
14. Rewe: a place specifically designated for communication with other dimensions.↩
15. Lawen: medicine.↩
16. Newen: spirtual force.↩
17. Taüles: from “taül,” a ceremonial song (Hispanicized and pluralized in line with the rules of Spanish-language grammar).↩
18. Kultrun: a percussive instrument used in spiritual ceremonies.↩
19. Mapu: land.↩
Copyright © 2023 by Liliana Ancalao. Translation © 2023 by Seth Michelson and Liliana Ancalao. All rights reserved.
To learn more about Mapuche writing, read Liliana Ancalao’s conversation with Elisa Taber: “Living Words: An Introduction to Five Contemporary Mapuche Texts.”