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Re-membering the Dis-membered

A Drama about Mapuche and Anthropological

Cultural Production in Three Scenes (4th edition)
Claudia Briones


Este articulo procura hacer sentido de un lapso de veinte afios de trabajo de campo
intermitente, buscando explorar en paralelo y de manera vinculada procesos de produc-
ci6n cultural y antropol6gica. Las descripciones etnogrdficas y las discusiones te6ricas
se organizan en torno a umbrales que—yendo de la ausencia al surgimiento y luego la
cx>nsolidaci6n del activismo cultural Mapuche-permiten dar cuenta de procesos de
organizaci6n politica sin precedentes, procesos que afectaron tanto la vida de mis inter-
locutores como mis "intereses acad^micos". Asi, al trazar"la recuperacion" de una prdc-
tica ritual—el Winoy Xipantu o Ano Nuevo Mapuche—intento no simplemente
analizar diferentes entextualizaciones de "lo Mapuche" (la mia induida), sino funda-
mentalmente explorarlas en su devenir.

1 BEGAN DOING FIELDWORK among the Mapuche in 1980, while Argentina was still
experiencing the crudest of its military dictatorships. I was an undergraduate stu-
dent in Anthropology, interested in mythology and ritual. Back then, the "practice
approach" that would hegemonize anthropological theory in the 1980s (Ortner
1984) was far from widespread, not only within my academic milieu. Despite the
existence of the Confederacidn Mapuche Neuquina or Neuquenian Mapuche Con-
federation (CMN), 1 the political organization of Mapuche reservations—and my
own work—was at that point taking place mostly at the community level.2
In Argentina, the Mapuche People are scattered in the southern part of the
country (provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa, Chubut, Santa Cruz, Rio Negro and
Neuque'n), as well as many cities of other provinces. Some of them live within
localized settlements recognized by the state as indigenous reservations. Others are

The Journal of Latin American Anthropology 8(3):3i-58, copyright © 2003, American Anthropological Association

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 31

considered dispersed rural settlers. Whether they live or not in reservations, rural
Mapuche mainly are sheep and goat herders, and temporary workers in estanciasoi
the region, private enterprises dedicated to an extensive exploitation of cattle and
sheep. The rest of the Mapuche—in numbers that are difficult to estimate but prob-
ably surpass those of the rural population—are urban dwellers. Historically,
migrant Mapuche were mostly blue-collar workers; yet today many of them are
Amidst such a backdrop, even in the early 1980s I was conscious that doing field-
work in Neuquen did not guarantee a complete picture of the Mapuche people. Yet,
for almost eleven years, I continued coming back to the same Mapuche community
on a regular basis, while paying shorter visits to neighboring reservations of
Neuquen province. I also visited the headquarters of political organizations of
young urban Mapuche that started arising by the mid-1980s, after the recovery of
the democratic system in 1983.
By 1991,1 was ready to move to the United States to begin graduate school. I
decided then to do one last fieldwork before a lengthy absence. While in a Mapuche
rural community of Neuquen province, I was invited by its leaders to escort them
to a meeting in Junin de los Andes, a small city in southern Neuquen. Almost by
chance, I attended what had been meant to be the first meeting between Guluce
(Mapuche people of the West) and Pwelce (Mapuche people of the East) authorities
in Argentine territory. In other words, this was a meeting between leaders of "what
nowadays is respectively known as Chile and Argentina," as activists say to stress the
arbitrariness and novelty of "nation-state borders that were imposed on us." Even
though I could not make full sense of what I saw and heard, the experience was
intense enough as to convince me that my Ph.D. dissertation should focus on the
unprecedented efforts towards the political organizing of the Pueblo Nation
Mapuche that were taking place. Amidst bewilderment, one thing was already clear
at that point. Although at first there had been disconnection between urban and
rural groups, the activities and agendas of urban organizations and some rural com-
munities, and the CMN itself, began converging.
I returned to Argentina in 1994, ready to analyze the cultural politics of the Tain
KineGetuam (TKG) or "to be one again," a coordination of Mapuche organizations
that had been formed in 1992 while I was absent.4 In spite of having its strongest
anchorage in Neuquen province, TKG would bring together not only the CMN and
local urban activism, but also fellow groups of Rio Negro province—even carrying
out activities in Chubut and Buenos Aires, as much as joint undertakings with
Mapuche organizations of Chile. Revolving around the complementary concepts of
Peoplehood, Self-Determination and Territory, TKG's agenda aimed at the political
representation of the Mapuche People living in Argentina, while keeping strong ties
with "Mapuche brothers and sisters who live across the border."

Ever since I worked with TKG, surprise, amazement, and excitement were the
most frequent emotions that surrounded my fieldwork. I was shocked not only by
what had happened while I was abroad, but also by the many things that continued
happening after my return, in terms of cultural and political production. This paper
analyzes one of those productions: a ritualization process that led to the regular
performance of a ceremony of which the elders in 1991 seemed to have no straight
In addition to amazement, my other prevalent feeling was that my theoretical
equipment seemed insufficient to reflect upon events getting more and more com-
plex, fluid, and loaded. In order to make sense of twenty years of intermittent field-
work from a standpoint that explores processes of cultural and political production,
and my own theoretical search, I organize this paper by the way of a drama unfold-
ing in three scenes, each analyzing different entextualizations of Mapucheness,5 and
each having its own coda. By "coda," I simply refer to a theoretical discussion that
points toward the here-and-now of the successive interpretive frames I used when
trying to make sense of the practices under examination during key moments of my
career.6 Since the idea of unfolding the process as a drama in three scenes occurred
to me as soon as I started thinking in this article, the piece emerged as the fourth
edition of the play.
In Scene One, I focus on historic accounts belonging to the speech genre pu
gyxam or true stories,7 to sketch the main characteristics of Mapuche past-building,
as it emerged from narratives I registered in Mapuche reservations,8 in the early and
mid-1980s.9 Returning a self-image full of paradoxes and contradictions, these
accounts turned out to be a crucial base-line to understand the threads from and
through which cultural activists started to weave Mapucheness as a solid fabric dur-
ing the early 1990s. In any event, the coda that helped make sense of conflicting self-
images and interpretations of the past revolves mainly around identity-building.
In Scene Two, I examine practices of Mapuche organizations, for which cultural
questions became a crucial issue. I trace early attempts at community-building
among activists whose strategic imaginations started aiming at re-membering the
dis-membered Pueblo Nation Mapuche, by advancing demands over land and lan-
guage, as much as by "recovering" indigenous symbols and practices, such as the cel-
ebration of the Winoy Xipantu or Mapuche New Year. The coda aiming at the
disentanglement of ground-breaking events explores the imagining of Mapuch-
eness, by activists who sometimes resorted to a notion of cultural authenticity that
seemed to conflict with the experiences of their constituencies.
In Scene three, I concentrate on performances related to the celebration of the
Winoy Xipantu, a ritual commemoration that several communities started cele-
brating after 1992. I focus on metacultural and political operations that convert
"cultural patrimony" into a key means to weave Mapucheness, and explain

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 33

Mapuche distinctiveness to non-indigenous interlocutors.10 Hence, the coda with
which I have tried to explain these performances focuses on ritualization, as a
process that attempts to fill the gap between Darstellung and Vertretung, that is,
between processes of symbolic re-presentation of the world and of political repre-
sentation (Spivaki988).
While the three ethnographic scenes aim at delving into the politics of represen-
tation among stigmatized groups, I discuss in the Epilogue whether the theatrical
frame on which this paper is built is merely an analytical strategy to look progres-
sively into a complex issue, or rather points to mapping out consciousness-raising

Scene One: The Early 1980s.

Mapuche Past Building: A Perspective from the Reservations

For most reservational Mapuche, competence in oratory skills is still one of the
most valued diacritics of Mapuche-ness, regardless of whether the performance is
in Mapuzugun or "word of the people of the land," or in Spanish. Among the differ-
ent speech genres the Mapuche identify, the gvxam is the one through which the
past is recalled and reconstructed, because this genre includes only true stories. Even
if the narrated circumstances are supposed to be true, it is expected that interpreta-
tions vary (Briones 1988). In other words, all along performances of a gvxam,
contradictory assessments of the ancestor's behaviors can coexist, as much as con-
tradictory diagnoses of current life conditions and alternative projects to improve
them often coexist.
Pu gvxam about human ancestors organize mainly around two types of charac-
ters, through which the Mapuche punctuate two crucial moments in their past. The
first is that of the grandes caciques or eminent war-leaders who fought back either
the colonial or the national armies, prior to their final military defeat by means of
the so-called conquest of the desert, a series of campaigns carried out by the
National Army from 1879 to 1885, to overcome indigenous peoples of Pampa and
Patagonia.11 The second type of characters is referred to as the grandes estancieros
Mapuche or Mapuche rich farmers who lived mainly during the first three decades
of the 20TH century.12 Their existence is thus related to two distinctive thresholds.
Rich Mapuche farmers appear at the turn of the 2OTH century, once the state mili-
tary crusades the Mapuche remember as the gran maldn or big raid were finished
and the reservational era was inaugurated in Argentina. They vanish during the late
1920s and the early 1930s, when wire fences—that had been common in the humid
Pampa of Buenos Aires since the last quarter of the 19TH century—started delimit-
ing private property in Patagonia.13 In these pu gvxam, the introduction of wire

fences not only signals the demise of the ancestors' prosperity, but also indexes the
current situation that the Mapuche signify as their having "to live within corrals,"
for reservations are seen just as the holes of public land left by the fencing of the sur-
rounding private property.14
The interesting point, though, is the way in which the two types of characters
are judged. Focusing mainly on leaders of the second half of the nineteenth century,
pu gvxam about eminent war chiefs emphasize controversies among Mapuche
more than battles with White men whose presence, although sometimes direct, is
often secondary in this kind of story. All along these quarrels between Mapuche
leaders, some eminent chiefs are positively valued because of their benevolence or
supernatural powers, while their opponents are invested with negative attributes,
drawn upon their polygamy, the kidnapping of White women, their power abuse
and disposition of carrying out raids not only against Creoles, but also against other
The characterization of a period by the contraposition of good and bad war
leaders is interesting in several senses. On the one hand, the ways in which current
judgment on past leaders is passed can be read as expressing expectations regarding
contemporary leadership. Moreover, the enunciation of censored behaviors has a
performative character, since it shows current representatives mistakes to be
avoided, for their political representation to be as successful and fair as censored
leaders' was not. On the other hand, such a contraposition can also be seen as
expressing ambivalent relationships between predecessors and descendants. While
the epic quality of some kujfikece or people of ancient times nourishes their children
with the pride of sharing a common we and strengthens community boundaries,
the arbitrariness of other kujfikece, deemed as traitors and raiders without justifi-
cation, is evoked to explain and justify the white men's revenge. Along this interpre-
tive line, some Mapuche start conceiving themselves as victims more of their
ancestors' faults, than of the white men. In any case, the marking of both ethic
detachment and ethic coincidence vis-a-vis the ancestors shows how conflictive the
identity-building of a subaltern group is.
Unlike the stories concerned with the era of independent life, pu gvxam about
Mapuche landlords interpret primarily this more recent past from the perspective
of ruling economic conditions. In contrast to the stories about war leaders, in these
pu gvxam a significant role is played by the white men—local judges and policemen
favoring white farmers, as well as itinerant traders who would become landlords
themselves by fencing Mapuche lands, or by cashing Mapuche debts with Mapuche
sheep and land. Moreover, most adult storytellers and story-listeners have directly
known the characters of these pu gvxam. The latter's passing judgment on the for-
mer focuses upon the way in which the dexterity or mistakes of their prosperous rel-
atives have affected contemporary life conditions.

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 35

Again, then, the downfall of these affluent Mapuche is explained in quite
ambivalent terms. On the one hand, white traders becoming farmers through their
taking advantage of Mapuche debtors, as well as corrupted Wtgka or non-Mapuche
authorities, appear as active agents of the Mapuche decline. On the other, it is not
uncommon that the same interpreter passes judgment on his or her ancestors by
articulating a threefold argument. First, the ancestors were unaware of what was
going on. They lost their lands and animals because, having no education, they
became easy prey for the white men's taking advantage of their illiteracy. Second, the
ancestors were well aware of the injustice, but they could not overcome the white
men's strength and intimidation. Finally, these ancestors did not want to fight back,
because they did not care about their descendants' future.
Some storytellers can on occasions argue that not even the ancestors who were
able to do so thought about buying land, to prevent both their economic downfall,
and the reservations' becoming corrals. I remember that once, after listening to the
way in which an old man criticized his dead uncle in these terms, I asked him
whether, in case of having enough money, he would be willing to buy the public land
in which he lives. Quite surprised, he replied to me that "it makes no sense to buy a
land that is already yours, because you were born there, and your ancestors lived
there before the arrival of the white men." The remarkable issue here is not only that
this old man was expecting and demanding from his uncle a behavior that he did
not even consider applicable to himself, but also that he did so by using the hege-
monic argument that depicts land as a resource that has exchange value rather than
use value. In any event, the whole exchange points to the sense that history could
have been different if Mapuche ancestors had behaved in a proper way.
In addition to true stories about the ancestors, many casual, everyday comments
also reflect ambivalence towards ancestors who can be depicted both as heretical
and wise. In this last regard, an old man tried once to convey his sense of admira-
tion and respect, by explaining to me that the kujfikece were knowledgeable enough
as to be acquainted with the fact that, in late June, the sunlight starts growing
un franco de gallo por dia, a cock footprint by day. Until 1991, this would be the
only direct reference I had to the significance of June 24, a date to which I will come
back later.

The Meanderings of Identity-building as Past-building

Anchored always in the present, quite contrasting interpretations of the past illus-
trate that social identities have a texture that is much more complex than the plain
we/others contrast foreseen by classical approaches to identity-building. In between
these contradictory interpretations, a "sense of belonging together'* (Brow 1990) or
even a "sense of no belonging" are equally possible outcomes. Indeed, Mapuche
identities are nurtured by images that picture not only a proud continuity between

ancestors and descendants, but also a troublesome continuity, endangered by criti-
cal gaps. Even more, similar pu gvxam can be narrated both by people who claim to
be proud of their Mapuche-ness, and by people who affirm that they would choose
not to be Mapuche anymore, if they had the choice. In other words, although nar-
rating the events in similar ways, story-tellers and listeners can interpret them in
opposite directions, the ancestors not being placed in a similar spot. In certain ren-
derings the constructed we can comprise both Mapuche predecessors and descen-
dants within a solid block that faces the Wigka or non-Mapuche they. In others
there is instead a marked gap between past and present Mapuche, so that the social
distance between current Mapuche and Wigkas comparatively diminish.
As a result, there is no single past-present relation. Historical transformations
leading to the present state can be seen as improving past conditions, both in
absolute or partial terms. To a similar extent, they can be held responsible for deni-
grating the Mapuche people and culture also in absolute or partial terms. In this last
regard, not only the white men's but also the ancestors' behaviors may appear as
favoring such a denigration.
I have discussed the complexity of past-building processes elsewhere (Briones
1994a). While Marx pointed out that "men make their own history, but they do not
make it just as they please" (Marx 1978: 595), many stories I have heard about and
from Mapuche elders lead me to think that the Mapuche have to interpret—and not
simply make—their own and others' history not just as they please, but under con-
ditions they themselves have not chosen. Because of these conditions, Mapuche
negative visions of their ancestors overlap with similarly negative images that
appear, for instance, in school texts, in conversations in the waiting room of local
Hospitals, and other shared spaces.
In a country like Argentina, where schools within Mapuche reservations were
requested not so long ago to celebrate the anniversary of the Conquest of the Desert,
one should not be very surprised by these coincidences. In addition to being keys to
the nature of hegemonic processes, inconsistencies and coincidences of this sort
turned out to be crucial as well to understand possibilities and disappointments of
cultural activists who started trying in the early 1990s to mobilize their constituen-
cies around a positive notion of Pueblo Nacidn Mapuche Originario.

Scene Two: The Awakening of Organizations

with Mapuche Philosophy and Leadership

In Argentina and since their very constitution, Mapuche reservations have always
organized themselves through communal and associative relationships (Weber
1968), to channel domestic problems and to present them to State authorities. Yet,

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 37

the idea that Mapuche interests deserved to be represented through civil organiza-
tions was to be authorized only in 1971, when the CMN (Neuquenian Mapuche
Confederation) was legally recognized by the provincial State as an association rep-
resenting Mapuche reservations all together.15 Such an idea would in turn materi-
alize with certain force only in the mid to late 1980s, when organizations with
Mapuche philosophy and leadership appeared.16
One of the most distinctive features of the political project of organizations that
advocate for the strategic imagination of "the Mapuche People" as a nation caught
in-between two other nation-states (Chile and Argentina) has been their putting
into question, in an unprecedented manner, the criteria of nationality and national
borders by which modern nations make claims to sovereignty. The proposal of re-
membering a dis-membered social body has always involved a twofold movement,
where re-membering has meant recalling—investing present actions and their con-
texts with highly symbolic signification—but above all getting together in organi-
zational terms. In this regard, organizations with Mapuche philosophy and
leadership were soon aware of the strategic value of symbols to embody together-
ness.17 At first glance, these symbols appear to function as "holy icons," that is, as
practical means by which—according to Hobsbawm (1992: 71-72)—otherwise
imaginary communities are given a palpable reality, and put into action. The
sketchy evocation of a failed meeting allows me to illustrate what has been at stake
in the crafting of one of these holy icons.

June24th and Mid-September is Not the Same:

Early Predicaments of Mapuche Activism.
On May 24 and 25,1991, three Mapuche urban organizations convoked a two-day
meeting in Junin de los Andes, and invited leaders of several Argentine reservations
of Neuquen to meet other special guests, Gulucepu logko or leaders from Chile. This
should have been the first step for pu peni ka pu lamgem or brothers and sisters of
both slopes of the Andes to resume a severed relationship and coordinate common
undertakings. Unfortunately, pu Guluce never arrived because of the harsh weather.
However, the activists emphasized that the opportunity was unique for Argentine
Mapuche to come to grips with an imagining of the community that at last brought
together rural and urban people.
A significant part of the encounter was devoted to the discussion of the
Mapuche New Year, a topic that the hosts soon introduced. Despite their insistence
that they were just consulting Mapuche elders who are "the true source of Mapuche
knowledge," the activists relentlessly sought from their guests the recognition of
June 24th as the threshold of the Wiiioy Xipantu or Mapuche New Year.
Some elders shared the recollection that the kujfikece or people of the ancient
times marked June 24th as the moment when daylight "certainly starts growing at

the pace of a cock footprint by day." Still, most of the elders maintained that mid-
September marked the proper beginning of the year.
Strikingly, the hosts came back several times to the significance of June 24th.
They even forced the dialogue to be conducted in Mapuche language, even when
code switching between Mapuzugun and Spanish was prevailing among the elders.
Eventually, some of the latter stated that they had already said what, according to
the best of their knowledge, they wanted to say, a customarily tactful way to end dis-
cussion of a topic. Recognizing the signal, the activists agreed to start talking about
other things, but not without adding that the conversation should continue in the
I had the impression then that, in different ways, the situation had been quite
awkward for all the participants. For the Mapuche elders, it was surprising that very
young, urban Mapuche displayed an unusual expertise in Mapuche rituals and lan-
guage. However, the activists' almost hyper competent display of Mapucheness,
pleasing at the beginning, seemed to gradually become demanding for the elders.
For some of the organizers, the vacillation about "traditional" affairs and the incom-
petent use of the native language among the guests was equally odd. For me, the
stubbornness of the activists was also astonishing. I thought that they were merely
looking for the symbolization of Mapucheness, and I left the place wondering why
mid-September was not as suitable as June 24th to meet that end.
Interestingly enough, the elders' sticking to mid-September did not surprise me.
Their behavior agreed with my own version of Mapuche culture that had been
acquired mainly through fieldwork in reservations. Since the economic, social and
symbolic correlations of the annual cycle were one of the basic things I had learned
well enough to write my first professional paper on (Briones y Olivera 1983), the
rationalization provided by the elders seemed at once pretty obvious and com-
pletely valid to me. From a perspective stressing an intimate connection between
being Mapuche and being crianceros or herders—a perspective that, after all, even
the activists empowered—spring involves the parturition of sheep and goats, the
blooming of wild plants, cooperative work and senaladas,18 thus standing for the
renovation of life and social ties. By contrast, the activists' insistence on fixing the
beginning of the year in the winter solstice was by no means evident.
At first, I left the meeting convinced that the hand-wrestling between those posi-
tions was expressing predictable tensions—rural vs. urban, aged vs. young
Mapuche. On second thoughts, I realized that the opinions of the participants were
not always distributed in like manner. Besides, it remained to be explained why
those who had been trying so hard to please their potential constituency assumed
an attitude more assertive than seductive. I started thinking later that September
and June became an issue because they indexically pointed to the imagining of two
different communities. June and September, thus, were not exchangeable. Evoking

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 39

different experiences of community shaping, they were fixing different coordinates
to shape group formation.
Let us assume that my rough presentation of the "reservation perspective"—if
there were anything like that—has made already clear the connotations of mid-
September. What is the imagining of the community implied by June 24th? While
spring's renewal is a widespread symbolic association among both Mapuche and
non-Mapuche, the beginning of the year in the winter solstice appears on the
contrary to have the quality of being unfamiliar in local arenas that no longer
perform the festivals of Saint John's Day, and whose civic calendar starts closer to
the summer than to the winter solstice. Moreover, those who endorsed June 24th
also promoted a phonetic transcription of the native language that requires the
use of symbols other than those of the Spanish alphabet, as though their imagin-
ing of the broadest Mapuche community wanted to convey, in a loud and clear
manner, a maximum symbolic distance between indigenous and non-indigenous
In addition, June 24th was one of the icons around which Chilean organizations
were also attempting to congregate the Mapuche People in Chile.191 thus inferred
that the recognition of disparate dates between communities of the two countries
could be seen by cultural activism as an eventual obstacle to the imagining of a sin-
gle Mapuche Nation. The activists' urge to fix the meaning of the Winoy Xipantu or
Mapuche New Year thus could be related to their interest in finding symbols that
both united Guluce and Pwelce in the imagining of a single community, and to the
expression of radical difference vis-a-vis non indigenes. In any case, the striking
point was that, in their attempt to clear rubbish away from this imagining, the
activists were resorting to a troublesome notion of distinctive Mapuche culture, a
statement emerging as one that deserved further exploration.

The Burden of Authenticity

As much as Mapuche persons interpret history under conditions they have not cho-
sen, Mapuche leaders and activists "struggle to fix the coordinates limiting group
formation" (Silverstein and Urban 1996) under constant, and manifold pressures.
As a result, not even those articulations of peoplehood that challenge in an overt
manner the foundations of modern nation-states are immune to common sense
understandings about cultural authenticity, that can convert aboriginal culture into
a burdensome signifier. Within this context, the production of holy icons is always
at risk of becoming entangled with the tricky business of reification.
In this regard, the point I want to stress is that the Mapucheness in discussion
during the meeting has been unceasingly crafted amidst a changing sense of Argen-
tineness. This crafting has taken place in the midst of a process of hegemony-build-
ing that successively set criteria to define the "authentic Mapuche culture" entitled

to reclamos justos or fair demands, and to distinguish these entitlements from a
suspicious belonging, often associated with hacer politica or (questionable) doing
politics. This overpowering distinction has affected not only the taking of different
positions by activists claiming membership in the same group—as well as the spe-
cific cultural politics they try to rework boundaries and re-member the dis-mem-
bered—but also the selective acceptance of their imaginations by constituencies and
broader audiences. And what the struggle over the means of signification that took
place in the meeting of Junin de los Andes led me to think was that, were the
Mapuche to confine the issue of difference to the amount of distinctive cultural
content that can be proven in use, their adoption of essentialist attitudes could even
result in potentially divisive and exclusionary practices, somehow trapped by hege-
monic constructions of aboriginality, tradition, or authenticity (Beckett 1988;
Briones 1998; Clifford 1988).
According to my recollection of the event, the activists' insistence on conduct-
ing the discussion in Mapuzugun was, for the elders, as annoying as their insistence
on the meaning of June 24th as threshold of the Mapuche New Year. After almost
two hours of exchanging opinions about the Winoy Xipantu in the native language,
one of the guests—a quite aged, reservation leader who had participated actively in
the dialogue—proposed, in Spanish, to continue speaking in Spanish. He started
apologizing, adding that he was very happy for listening to so much talk in Mapuzu-
gun, especially because he had not had such an opportunity in a very long time, and
because young people were showing that they wanted to speak their language. Nev-
ertheless, he continued, extremely important issues were being discussed, and he
personally felt that he could deal with them better in Spanish than in Mapuzugun.
"Right now, I'm lost in this conversation," he said. Other old men and women
laughed willingly, agreeing with the suggestion. As one of them said, unfortunately
and because of a sad history, they were in the habit of speaking Wigkazugun or the
white men's language already. One of the organizers however replied that koyawtun
or ritual talk had to be done in Mapuzugun, and continued speaking in the native
language for a while, thus showing that at least two positions conflicted in the sense
of belonging together that was being built anyway.
For the activists, ritual and political encounters must be conducted in Mapuzu-
gun, "because it is the only way of grasping the Mapuche Thinking" (Confederaci6n
Mapuche Neuquina 1992). By equating native language with Mapucheness, they
paradoxically leave outside a significant amount of Mapuche thinking that has been
channeled through Spanish, and somehow question the cultural adequacy of a con-
siderable part of the constituency that, despite their being unable to speak only in
the native language, consider themselves Mapuche. For the elders, the use of the
native language has been a fair and constant claim. Still, as they pointed out, even
aged people are too much in the habit of using the colonizer's language. While I was

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 41

listening to the elders' arguments, I thought that they were wisely pointing to the
burden of history. Afterwards, I started thinking that both positions reflected the
burden of a notion of authentic culture, based upon the idea that difference is a
boundary o/instead of between cultural content (Friedman 1993).
Briefly, hegemonic notions of tradition, continuity and authenticity seemed to
be pretty much instilled both in those objectifying distinctiveness through lan-
guage, and in those rather recognizing their chronic use of the colonizer's language.
In the last analysis, both parts tended to assert Spanish as a Wigka or non-Mapuche
property, as if the continual appropriation of Spanish as the language of the nation-
state had commodified communication in such a way that it was hard to conceive
of social practices but in terms of ownership. Yet, even if the jargon of commodifi-
cation was the only language one had left, one could also argue that, after so many
centuries of using it, Spanish belongs to the Mapuche as much as it belongs to other
This remark neither questions the pertinence of recovering the native language,
nor attempts to suggest that the adoption of Spanish has resulted from a voluntary
selection. Practices discriminating against Mapuche linguistic competence have
affected indigenous choices, and at the same time strengthened the idea that the
abandonment of the native language is a token of cultural assimilation and thus of
erasure of social boundaries. As Woolard & Schieffelin (1994:60-61) point out, it is
however ironic that movements attempting to save minority languages structure
themselves around the same notions of language that have led to their oppression
and/or suppression. Hence, against any essentialist backdrop, my point rather was
and still is that the Mapuche battle against stigmatization would always return a
shattered selfhood, whenever the backing of Mapuzugun builds in the idea that
Spanish is not their equally "authentic" language.
In sum, heavy standards of tradition and cultural authenticity that are imposed
whenever the identity of indigenous groups is at stake affect the way in which native
groups imagine themselves and articulate their claims. Indigenous articulations of
Mapucheness thus face the open-ended challenge of making sense of tradition and
authenticity, while weaving a solid community-fabric from disparate threads of
experience. In this regard, Dirks (1990:27) has argued that "modernity" has created
"tradition" as its counterpart, to liberate itself from the requirements posited upon
traditional subjects, that is to say, to credit itself with a mobility denied to others.
According to these modern standards, while the modern nonethnic person who
changes is a creator, an innovator, the traditional Indian who changes is a simu-
lacrum of Indianness, or at best, is already modern beyond repair. With this idea of
authenticity as frame, every Mapuche innovation could be seen as betraying the
past; every Mapuche leader using hegemonic means could become an impostor; or
the use of a language other than the native one emerges as an irrevocable handicap

for liberating aboriginal practices. If the name of the game were for Mapuche lead-
ers a notion of authenticity nurtured by modern definitions of "tradition," any race
for authenticity will be for the Mapuche people a contest without winners, for con-
temporary Indians would be forced to copy a model of "traditional culture" that
only obliquely belongs to them.
Yet, echoes of Mapuche undertakings that reached me while I was in the United
States led me to think that, were ongoing Mapuche imaginations able to challenge
a hegemonic notion of "tradition," activists would not need to take authenticity as
the ideological point of departure to strengthen their belonging together, and could
avoid seeing "custom" as a frame that threatens their present existences by denying
contemporary, inter-cultural learning (Urban 1992). Or, perhaps, they could at least
set new standards, for competing notions of authenticity to be judged according to
their potential to bring about the most fairly fertile "reality" for the habitual losers.

Scene Three: The (meta) Cultural and Political Weaving

of a Dismembered Body.

At my return from the United States, I faced an amazing panorama. In 1992, several
urban organizations and the CMN had blended into Tain KineGetuam (TKG), thus
forming the Coordination de Organizaciones Mapuche (COM, Coordination of
Mapuche Organizations). The performative force of the slogan Tain KineGetuam or
"to be one again" precisely points to the practical unity of the constituency, to stress
less its severance, than the will to put an end to it.
In May 1993, during the "First Encounter of Mapuche Education and Language"
organized by TKG, June 24th had been declared a Mapuche National Holiday. In
addition, two rural communities of Neuquen had started celebrating the Winoy
Xipantu.20 Let us examine then the directions taken by these realizations, to pon-
der the suitability of my first guesses.

Enacting Knowledge, Embodying Alterity, Staging Politics:

The Celebration of the Winoy Xipantu
In mid June 1995,1 received an invitation from members of one of the organizations
forming TKG. They asked me to attend Torres's Winoy Xipantu, Torres being one
of the four Mapuche rural communities that are close to a touristic city of southern
Neuquen. Aware of the fact that arrangements cannot always be worked out on such
a short notice, they also said that they would understand if I could not show up. In
any case, any statement of support—a telegram or fax—would be welcome, for the
community to feel supported in their land claim. Of course, I made arrangements
immediately to be available. I was only twenty-four bus hours away of the first

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 43

Winoy Xipantu I would witness.
On my arrival, I could put the commemoration into context, for many different
people explained to me why this celebration—the second Winoy Xipantu to be
observed by community Torres—was special. Since 1991, Mapuche families of the
Torres lineage were claiming recognition as indigenous community, and commu-
nal land-titling of the 775 hectares that the head of the lineage had received at the
beginning of the century as compensation for his services to the National Army. Yet,
in order to deny the community's claim, state bureaucrats countered with two main
arguments. First, Torres's heirs at law should claim the estate individually, for Euge-
nio Torres had not received recognition as group representative, but as an individ-
ual who performed as lenguaraz or translator and baqueano or skillful tracker for
the military. Besides, the families' very history and performance pointed to the fact
that the lineage was not Mapuche at all: unlike people of Neuquen's indigenous
communities, the Torreses were but Mapuches truchos or fake Mapuche.21 Second,
the total 775 hectares could not be negotiated as such. While the town hall was dis-
posed to transfer the 250 hectares of their belonging, the other 525 hectares per-
tained to the provincial state and should be negotiated separately.
The bargaining had reached a deadlock, the Torreses were attempting to main-
tain consensus about the feasibility of claiming communal property for the 775
hectares, while giving proof of their aboriginality. They celebrated the Winoy
Xipantu for the first time in 1994, and would do it again in 1995 for, according to
Mapuche beliefs, annual rituals have to be performed at least two years in a row.
For the 1995 commemoration, political authorities of the Town Hall and of the
Administration of National Parks, representatives of intermediate organizations
(mainly unions), and the local media were invited to attend the final part of the cer-
emony, so that they could witness community Torres's authentic indigenous
belonging and good will. Wigka attendants could see the Torreses' aboriginality in
action, and also hear what the Mapuche People have to say concerning community
Torres's land claim. Mapuche communities of Rio Negro, La Pampa and Chubut
would also participate, as well as the CMN's president and vice-president, pu logkos
or chiefs Juan Epulef and Jose Garcia.22
Even if trying to preserve a friendly, respectful atmosphere, Mapuche speeches
and Wigka replies attempted to fix key accents on key signs—thus pointing to
metadiscursive struggles that would transcend the event itself in several directions.
As if the pieces of a puzzle were to be put together collectively, each of the indige-
nous speakers emphasized aspects of community Torres's Winoy Xipantu, showing
first that the commemoration had religious as much as political significance, and
second that Torres's struggle for land titles was but another dimension of the much
more comprehensive struggle of the Mapuche People. In turn, Wigka responses
would show that indigenous religiosity is easier to accept than Mapuche politics,

and that the predisposition to reach an eventual arrangement with the Torreses did
not involve the acceptance of broader claims on behalf of the Mapuche People.
The Mapuche message was thus conveyed not simply by what was said, but
mainly by the strategic planning of who, when and in which language, would take
the floor. Hence, after the brief greeting of community Torres's logko or political
chief to thank the visitors for their attendance, the CMN's inal logko (vice chief)
Jos£ Garcia delivered a lengthy speech in Mapuzugun. The very act of opening the
event with an address that could not be understood by the Wigka attendance served
several purposes at the same time. It first displayed distinctiveness, showing that
Mapuche culture forms a separate, still vivid domain. In addition, it subverted, at
least for a short time, the Wigka supremacy that presides over most of the intereth-
nic field, for the visitors were forced to play a game that solely indigenes master.
Moreover, the act of resuming the customary practice of conducting interethnic
parleys in the indigenous language framed community Torres's claim into a wider
history, into a time when diplomatic relations between distinctive "Nations" were in
order, and everybody had to abide by Mapuche etiquette in Mapuche land.
Performing in her own words as Garcia's "official translator," Liwen—a young
urban activist of TKG—emphasized a point that Garcia's speech addressed after
explaining the holy meaning of the Mapuche Winoy Xipantu. She put into explicit
discourse what Garcia conveyed by the very act of speaking Mapuzugun: an
exchange between parts with equal dignity was taking place. Only then Liwen trans-
lated Garcia's concepts about the religious significance of the Mapuche New Year.
Once the translator's duty was fulfilled, the CMN's main logko Juan Epulef
addressed the attendance. Performing explicitly as the political broker who repre-
sents Mapuche communities and negotiates with Wigka authorities on their behalf,
Epulef spoke in Mapuzugun first, and then translated himself into Spanish—thus
showing his dominion of both codes. Interestingly enough, Epulef's strategy dif-
fered in either language. In his speech in Mapuzugun he hailed each of the indige-
nous authorities—addressing first those who, forming part of community Torres,
performed as hosts, and then those who came from neighboring communities to
support the Torreses' claim. But Epulef's opening remarks in Spanish made first a
brief reference to the Winoy Xipantu's cultural value, as to emphasize the signifi-
cance of Mapuche people's getting together, and welcome Wigka guests, who were
then identified according to their role. Juan Epulef thus filled in with content the
interethnic dialogue that Jose Garcia had striven to maintain, and community Tor-
res's claim came to the fore once more. The ground had been prepared, for mem-
bers of community Torres to state their claim forcefully, in brief and much less
conciliatory terms, appealing to Wigka authorities directly, and exclusively.
Neither community Torres's inal logko nor Torres's werken or messenger would
refer to the Winoy Xipantu anymore. Both women rather concentrated on making

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 45

explicit a tension to be elaborated on by the final address of Lautaro, another young
urban activist acting on behalf of TKG: even if the Torreses wanted to keep on con-
versing, the community had already spent too much time just waiting for a solution
and direct action was now called for. Yet, before making this action known, Lautaro
re-centered through explicit and implicit contextualization cues what had been
happening so far, as to frame one more time the Torreses' claim into a more com-
prehensive struggle.
When the loud afafan or ritual cheering that acclaimed Lautaro's speech was
over, a brief, almost inaudible discussion among the organizers took place, to define
how the event should proceed from then on. The way in which Lautaro summarized
the result showed again the activists' effort to make clear to the attendance that the
hosts controlled the floor. Concretely, the activist of TKG displayed indigenous pre-
disposition to make the guests feel comfortable, but set the scene for visitors to
understand that the Mapuche were neither counting on a political discussion, nor
waiting for the non-Mapuche guests' leaving their place without having the chance
of expressing themselves.
Six guests accepted the invitation to express themselves. The most eagerly antic-
ipated and in fact lengthy speech was, no doubt, that of the mayor of the neighbor-
ing city, for she obviously represented the town hall and thus the local authorities
that most of the Mapuche orators referred to. No doubt as well, the mayor's speech
was the most emphatic, as far as the re-centering of indigenous accents was con-
cerned.23 In any event, as a sign of the fact that, at least in this arena, the pu Wigka
would not have the final word, the guests' speeches were followed by addresses made
by Mapuche visitors coming from afar. Even if being themselves guests, they stood
up in the very place where the organizers were located, hence reinforcing the
us/them distinction that the hosts had emphasized in and through their discourses,
and some Wigka speakers had tried to underplay. Once this third round of speeches
was over, one of the Torreses announced that the Mapuche people would perform
a pvrvn or ritual dance to express their joy. After that, a traditional Mapuche meal
was served.
Those who stayed overnight with the Torresses instead of going back to their
home communities that same day kept on discussing whether the celebration went
right or wrong. Even if everybody was very tired, chats on the aftermath of the rit-
ual lasted almost until dawn. By then, the CMN's logko urged us all to get some
sleep, for more activities were scheduled for the morning. While some would have
to visit the Chair of National Park Lanin to try to obtain from him firmer promises
regarding the Administration's land policy,24 other activists would have to go to the
media, to make sure that the message was to be properly broadcast and thus cor-
rectly understood in all of its implications. This had to be so because, when
exchanging their perception about the way in which the message was received by the

Wigka attendance, the organizers judged that some key issues could have been mis-
understood. Hence, several points deserved to be stated more clearly in and through
local and national radio programs.
First, Wigka authorities appeared to feel so at home, that perhaps they got
the wrong impression about their having seen and known all that can be seen
and known about Mapuche rituals. Hence, it ought to be stressed that Wigka par-
ticipation in the Wiftoy Xipantu involved but a minor contact with the Mapuche
Second, it should be plainly understood as well that—far from being a token of
indigenous obeisance—the Torreses' invitation aimed at showing predisposition to
keep on conversing, acknowledging that local authorities had displayed commit-
ment to finding a middle course for the partial solution of the Mapuche problem.
However, such a predisposition neither discouraged the Mapuche resolve to under-
take direct actions, nor prevented the discussion of more comprehensive issues.
Rather, the Torreses form part of a people striving for territory, and are determined
to escalate actions if necessary.
This idea that ritual contexts serve not only to channel demands of a particular
community, but also to stage and strengthen the struggle of the Mapuche People as
a whole became even more forcibly stated in 1998. On this occasion, the Winoy
Xipantu celebrated in a rural community near Neuquen city became the arena to
make public both the protest of two other communities of Central Neuquen against
the construction of a gaspipe crossing through community lands, and the COM's
general stand regarding biodiversity. Therefore, by testifying to cultural difference
and making manifest political claims, the 1998 celebration proved ritualization to
be a double-edged actualization of the cultural politics of organizations with
Mapuche philosophy and leadership.
On the one hand, a ritual practice became, again, a key means of communaliza-
tion (Brow 1990) of the more than one hundred and fifty persons who, represent-
ing seven Mapuche communities (Rio Negro 06/25/98: 32), met to carry out the
celebration all together. It strengthened both their everyday ties and determination
to take joint action. In addition to putting on stage a particular Darstellung or sym-
bolic representation of the world, it confirmed the COM's Vertretung or political
representation, for the gathering was staged to show that it was not the COM as a
political organization but "the Mapuche People" who expressed itself before, dur-
ing and after the commemoration.
On the other hand, ritualization also became a message to the system, a crucible
for the fusing of sentiments and critical remarks attempting to invest the intereth-
nic reality with new meanings. Displaying the extent to which indigenous, yet
world-wide advantageous, eco-religious values are under siege by global(ized), yet
self-seeking agents of power, the ritual drama unfolded ethnic conflict, while re-

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 47

centering ideas about particularism and universalism. Thus accented, the mise en
seine of cultural difference legitimized—vis-a-vis not simply insiders, but mainly
outsiders—an identity politics based upon active struggle for recognition.

Ritualization Processes as a Means to Merge the Symbolic Representation

of the World and the Political Representation of the Constituency
Viewing now the meeting of 1991 and the Winoy Xipantu celebrations of 1995 or
1998 as a ritualizing process that forms part of broader processes of cultural produc-
tion, group formation and leadership-building, the appraisal of the ways in which
the pragmatics of ritualization has overcome its semantics can help to qualify my
first guesses. It is obvious that the communities in which the commemoration of
the Winoy Xipantu took root were at some point especially motivated to display
their Mapucheness, vis-a-vis local antagonists that doubted their claims and rights.
It is obvious as well that the material, human and political support of cultural
activists has been crucial for these communities' acceptance of the Mapuche New
Year. However, it would be wrong to deduce that ritualization has only involved
instrumental goals, or that it has entirely responded to the activists' sole view, in
terms of expressing cultural distances/differences between indigenes and non-indi-
genes, or of deploying a common belonging for Guluce and Pwelce.
Drawing on Alcida Ramos's suggestion that we attend to the many rhetorical
modes—mythic, historical, political—in and through which indigenes interpret
and communicate their insights about contact (Ramos 1998), I would argue that rit-
ualization has proven to be a multilayered process, allowing participants to address
different audiences, and engage into sense-making in several modes or registers at
the same time. Hence, the reading of the Winoy Xipantu from the single standpoint
of politicization gives us a very partial insight to explain ritualization, as momen-
tous as politics is to understand the pragmatics of rituals vis-a-vis non-indigenous
I am not implying here that politicization is in itself a partial, limited mode
of consciousness. As perhaps the most explicit layer, politicization involves not
simply creative Vertretung and Darstellung> but mainly active social work in terms
of re-centering dialogically both forms of representation to bring together commu-
nity members with disparate senses of belonging. Thus, if, on one level, ritualiza-
tion appears as a means for cultural activists to orient communalization processes,
it has been, on the other, a crucial site to dispute their strategic essentialism and
perspectives on leadership. Having said this, I would stress that ritualization has
also sparked rich, disputed sense- and decision-making processes, in terms of artic-
ulating Mapucheness from the standpoint of mythic and historical modes of
In this regard, the recreation of "forgotten practices" has moved participants to

compare them with other rituals, and to make explicit otherwise tacit, covert signi-
fications, as well as to share and discuss interpretations of cultural symbols. Discus-
sions of pros and cons about resuming the commemoration of the Mapuche New
Year have led participants to elaborate on the factualness of cultural loss or rescue.
In this light, it is less important to ask whether the Winoy Xipantu must be seen as
a revived or as an invented tradition, than to monitor how change is cultural by def-
inition—no matter the form and direction it takes (Cowlishaw 1987)—insofar as no
social experience can be lived or assessed outside some form of cultural representa-
tion (Hall 1993)-
It is also important to acknowledge how, against deconstructivist enterprises,
essentializing notions can involve a strong reflexivity, and generate practices with a
metapragmatic and metacultural dynamism of their own. Communalization
processes depends heavily not simply on practicing a certain language and culture,
on using language and culture as means of communication, but especially on tak-
ing language and culture as objects of reference and predication (Lucy 1993). In this
regard, as Woolard & Schieffelin (1994:60-61) argue, when language functions less
as an index of group identity than as a metalinguistically created symbol of identity
more explicitly ideologized in discourse, such a linguistic ideology not only affects
the interpretation of social relations, but also drives linguistic change along distinc-
tive paths. In broader terms, the crafting of the Winoy Xipantu shows that such a
dynamics also applies to metacultural production in general.


Mapuche people have taught me many things, possibly much more than those I can
acknowledge, and certainly much more than those I select to transform into anthro-
pological discourse. They have taught me in the first place how does the world—
our world—look when you contemplate it from the bottom, rather than from
Buenos Aires, my home city; a city that is located at the periphery of the West and
of mainstream Academia, but has always functioned as powerful core within
Within a country whose self-image has been based upon the idea of a solidly
white homogeneity—and that even today has problems to come to grips with the
idea that there are almost twenty indigenous peoples living within it—the ways in
which Mapuche activism has managed to gain visibility for their claims in the pub-
lic sphere have always seemed to me to be a battle over representation, a process of
political dispute and negotiation perhaps less known but as stunning as the
Kayapo's, as this is depicted by Terence Turner (1991). Thus, the "theatrical frame"
that organizes this paper came to my mind to deal with a process that was unfold-

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 49

ing before my eyes, a process that Tbrner also identifies and discusses, even if as a
passage between two contrastive moments—the mid 1960s, and the late 1980s—
that condense changes in both his rapport with the Kayapo, and the Indian-white
relations in Brazil.
Turner's compelling request for anthropologists to approach culture as a prac-
tice that deploys culture itself as a political resource stimulated indeed my own
ethnographic imagination in several directions. The more I witnessed perform-
ances of Mapuche organizations, the more I understood that cultural production is
a never-ending, unsettled, performative process, explicitly or obliquely entangled
with identity-building.
Now then, although this conception becomes crystal-clear when one tracks
political undertakings of cultural activists, it also can and needs to be applied to
unmarked situations. Furthermore, anthropological understandings that derived
from fieldwork experiences from the mid and late 1990s led me to revisit analysis of
former events. From this standpoint, it could be claimed that the three scenes add
to a single argument: the politics of representation always involves an active, dis-
puted, confrontational process that continually demands to voice some aspects of
the constituency as Self, while silencing others in ways that can restore or defy stig-
matized images. No doubt, had I had from the beginning the anthropological expe-
rience and readings I have now, the papers I wrote in 1988,1991 and 1999 could have
said more on the materials each of them was dealing with. In this regard, the the-
atrical frame with which I chose to bring together different ethnographic situations
can be seen as nothing else but an excuse to further a theoretical argument.
However, for tokens of public self-assertion to become widespread and com-
mon among members of stigmatized groups, political battles must be fought. The
will to weave together politically "the Mapuche People" that insinuated itself in the
late 1980s, and materialized in the 1991 meeting was not there yet in 1980. The very
celebration of the Winoy Xipantu was not there either in 1980 or in 1991. In this
regard, my theatrical frame also aims at bringing in ethnographic scenes that, per-
haps in an indirect manner, point to consequential transformations. I refer to trans-
formations that have to do with the ways in which indigenous rights have become
an issue within international arenas and indigenous movements have transformed
themselves into active political agents. I refer as well to transformations that, within
Argentina, have moved us all to cherish the value of citizenship and of a democratic
public sphere, especially after the collapse of the last military dictatorship in 1983—
transformations moving us gradually to a further appreciation of the value of cul-
tural diversity and a differentiated citizenship. Needless to say, all these
transformations created a favorable milieu for Mapuche people to struggle against
inherited stigmas. Yet I am not saying that they simply took advantage of a more
sensitive environment, for they also have been very acute critics of the paths that the

political and civil society have been taking, thus helping many of us to be less nafve
about global economic and political trends, neoliberal concessions to diversity, and
the predicaments of formal democracies like Argentina's. In other words, they have
also given us proof that cultural reflexivity involves a lot of political reflexivity.
From this standpoint, then, the theatrical frame which this paper is built on does
point to delving into a consciousness-raising process that has affected both
Mapuche cultural productions and my own anthropological productions. True
enough, I did not ask my interlocutors to tell me the same pu gvxam that are part of
Scene One again. Therefore, I cannot testify whether the narratives have also been
transformed, or rather circulate pretty much as they used to in the 1980s. In other
words, I cannot estimate if nowadays alienated self-perceptions have receded in cir-
culating narratives about past events and historical interpretations, because of the
efforts and activities of those Mapuche who committed themselves to the active re-
membering of a dis-membered Mapuche social body. However, I could witness how
some of my interlocutors of the early 1980s became "the wise elders" to be consulted
by young activists in the 1990s; how they willingly updated their senses of belong-
ing and becoming; and how they dared to give voice to negative opinions about the
white men that used to be confined to more private spheres. I could witness as well
how those elders disapproved of particular conceptions or initiatives of younger
activists, and how these tried to work out a middle-ground for consensus to be
attained, amidst a political context where the distinction between "fair claims" and
"unbearable politicization" has performed as a widespread, crafty hegemonic
resource to curve Mapuche demands. These observations thus lead me to think that
contextualization cues may point to different interpretive frames each time the pu
gvxam are narrated, and yet that some stigmatized self-images still carry their own
leverage. For if cultural production hardly is put to rest, neither is the pursuit of cul-
tural hegemony.


The Universidad de Buenos Aires and the National Scientific and Technological Research Council
(CONICET, Argentina) supported my earlyfieldworkas an undergraduate student and young fellow in
the early 1980s. Both institutions continue supporting my work as professor of Anthropology and sen-
ior researcher. Fieldwork during the mid-1990s was supported by the Joint Committee on Latin Ameri-
can Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies with
funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and by a dissertation
grant (Gr. 5714) from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Inc.

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 51


'In 1970, the local Catholic Diocese of Neuqueii promoted the participation of 30 members of
Mapuche communities of the province in the "First Course for Indigenous Leaders" The meeting led to
the creation of the"Confederaci6n Indigena Neuquina" (Neuquenian Indigenous Confederation, nowa-
days "Confederation Mapuche Neuquina" or Neuquenian Mapuche Confederation ), an organization
representing ever since Mapuche rural communities (Falaschi 1994).
For ethnographic descriptions of Mapuche reservations in Argentina, see Balazote (1996), Briones
and Olivera (1989), Hernandez (1992), Hilger (1957), and Radovich and Balazote (1992), among others.
Since no reliable, updated information about the amount of persons self-identified as Mapuche is
available yet, the assessment of Mapuche demography varies, according to the pessimism or the opti-
mism of the source, from thirty to ninety thousands individuals, most of them living in the provinces of
Neuqu£n and Rio Negro (Fava 1991; Hernandez 1985). These last two are the locales where the most con-
sequential organization-building processes have taken place since the mid-1980s. When I began my field-
work, there were 32 reservations in Neuquen, officially recognized as such. Nowadays, there are more
than forty.
A few weeks after my return, moreover, the 1994 constitutional amendment introduced a defini-
tive step in the state recognition of indigenous rights. See Carrasco (2000), for a detailed description of
the ways in which constitutional amendments that took place in the 1990s at the federal and provincial
levels transformed the protectionist spirit of indigenous laws that had been enforced during the mid-
1980s, as to make room for indigenous demands.
The notion of entextualization—and the cognate one of contextualization—has been developed
by Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs (1990), to examine performances, as specifically marked, artful
ways of speaking that are anchored in, and inseparablefrom,their context of use. While entextualization
refers to the process of rendering discourse extractable and decenterable despite all its anchoring coun-
terforces, the very act of making discourse decontextualizable involves the incorporation of "aspects of
context, such that the resultant text carries elements of its history of use within it" (1990: 73). Thus, my
approach to Mapuche discursive practices about Mapucheness as processes of entextualization and con-
textualization aims at emphasizing not only their reflexivity, but also their historicity.
The coda of Scene One was mostly developed in a paper I wrote in 1988 and still remains unpub-
lished (Briones 1988). That of Scene Two started being developed at the end of 1991, to take more defi-
nite form in 1994, while I was writing a chapter for a book about indigenous peoples in Argentina that
would never come out of print (Briones 1994b). An entextualization of the coda of Scene Three can be
found in my Ph.D. dissertation (Briones 1999).
Events narrated through pu gvxam can belong to the mythical era, refer to historical incidents in
which the storyteller participated or not, or explain incidents of everyday life. As Golluscio (1990) argues,
the factuality of the incidents gives coherence to this genre, where the characters can be sacred beings
taking human or animal forms, historical heroes or traitors, the narrator himself or his relatives, neigh-
bors, and even visiting anthropologists.
Even if I broadly speak here of "Argentine Mapuche." I mainly discuss testimonies recorded in rural
communities of the Neuquen province, where most of my earlyfieldworkhas been done.
^The examination of the ways in which these stories have been updated would require the writing
of a parallel paper. To get a sense of these processes, see Briones (1999) or Ana Ramos (1999).
I do not describe here that "patrimony" per se. Ethnographic descriptions of beliefs, rituals, reli-
gious practices and symbolic elements that are mentioned can be found in Briones (1983); Briones and
Olivera (1985); Casamiquela (1964); Faron (1962); Grebe (1973); Grebe etal. (1971); Metraux (1973); Oliv-
era (1983); Robertson (1979), among others.


From the perspective of nation-building processes, it is suggestive that these campaigns were thus
called, for the region was neither a geographical nor a sociological desert (Curruhuinca-Roux 1984).
Rather, it was inhabited by diverse native groups that had been consistently organizing the illegal com-
merce of livestock between Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires since colonial times.
In Argentina the term estancieros refers to the owners of latifundios, that is, large farms dedicated
to extensive agriculture and livestock. Yet, Mapuche ancestors imagined nowadays as grandes estancieros
or prosperous formers never were legal owners of the land they used, as non-Mapuche estancieros were
and are. Indeed, these Mapuche formers occupied public lands or rented private lands that were not
exploited by their owners. Thus, their being called estancieros lays emphasis on the size of their livestock
and their prosperity, and points to drawing a distinction between their living conditions and those of
their descendants, characterized in terms of deprivation.
According to Vapnarsky (1983), at the beginning of the 20TH century Patagonia consolidates itself
as a regional market that would provide mainly wool and meat for export and for the internal market.
Because of this economic conversion, Mapuche reservations became sources of a cheap and temporary
labor force.
In fact, wire fences symbolize for the Mapuche the transition between two very distinct phases in
the constitution of reservations. Before them, the Mapuche could occupy empty lands, raise more ani-
mals, call relativesfromother places, and start occupying or renting more lands if necessary to raise more
animals and accommodate more relatives (Olivera and Briones 1987). After the introduction of wire
fences, land shortage resulted in over-grassing, sheep mortality and overstock of labor force. As a result,
some relatives had to leave their communities, looking for less overcrowded reservations or spots of pub-
lic land, both in Chile and in Argentina, accommodating themselves as permanent workers in big farms
of the region, or trying a different fate in neighboring cities. Wire fences, then, symbolize the dismem-
bering of families and economic hardship, thus condensing an image of cultural decay.
The genesis and activities of Mapuche organizations has been more profusely documented and
analyzed in Chile (Bengoa 1985, Foerster and Montecino 1988), than in Argentina (Serbin 1981, Radovich
& Balazote 1992; Briones 1999).
Indigenous organizations that emerged during the 1980s have taken three broad positions to per-
form the task of imagining and representing their constituencies. Briefly, some organizations have
tended to create a solidarity encompassing nonethnic but similarly oppressed sectors into an imagined
community of "small producers". Other organizations have focused upon the Mapuche people of
Argentina, encouraging direct Mapuche participation in State agencies and/or ruling political parties to
channel ethnic claims. Finally, what following Rappaport (1996), I call "organizations with Mapuche phi-
losophy and leadership," have tended to conceive the community in transnational terms to include fel-
low Chilean Mapuche, urging their members to be independent from State apparatuses and from
party-oriented or class-oriented confrontations. This last set of organizations tended to avoid as well the
incorporation of non Mapuche members. In other words, sympathetic Wigkace or White people can be
considered supporters or evenfriends,but not full members of these organizations. Because of this self-
referential membership and the insistence on anchoring their profile in indigenous practices and ways
of thinking, I define them as organizations with Mapuche philosophy and leadership.
A more detailed account of the process of definition of key symbols of the Mapuche People, such
as the Mapuche flag and indigenous holidays, can be found in Briones (1999).
In the ritual and social encounters called senaladas, a family that is about to castrate and mark their
newborn animals invites neighboring families to share the occasion. Senaladas therefore play a signifi-
cant role in the imagining of a community that includes not only members of the same reservation, but
also relatives living in other reservations or in cities.
In fact, a similar discussion had also taken place at a previous meeting of the Chilean Consejo de

Indigenous Struggles and Contested Identities in Argentina 53

todas las Tierras or Council of all the Lands, that some of the hosts of the meeting had attended in 199°-
ThefirstWinoy Xipantu was carried out in June 1992, by a Mapuche community that had formed
itself as such in November 1991, after a recuperation of lands by 20 Mapuche families that were living in
the province's capital. In 1994, another rural community of southern Neuque"n—community Torres, see
below—that was vying for land titles also started commemorating the Mapuche New Year. Nowadays,
the Winoy Xipantu is celebrated in several rural communities and in urban contexts as well.
In addition to the lack of a decree recognizing community Torres as a reservation, the Torreses
would neither appoint a cacique nor perform collective rituals for many decades, Therefore, for Wigka
or non-Mapuche common sense understandings, the Torreses simply were scattered Mapuche popula-
tion—the fact that many families of the Torres's patrilineage have always participated in the Fta GiUipun
or Big Supplication carried out each year by a neighboring Mapuche Community thus became
Although I am analyzing public performances that were covered by the local media, the real names
of the participants have been changed, as well as the last name of the lineage from which the commu-
nity's designation derives.
I point for instance to the fact that, by the end of her speech, the mayor even dared to re-center
TKG's slogan—"for you [Mapuche people] say 4to be one again' and we [Wigka people/authorities] say
for us ALL to be one"—thus taming the distinctiveness that the hosts worked so hard to put on stage.
Several Mapuche communities nearby the Torreses are located within public lands under the
administration of National Park Lanin.
I define politicization here as it is defined by Alcida Ramos (1998:143), that is, from the point of
view of a genre or rhetorical mode of consciousness where "events are confronted by actions that are
specifically addressed to the majority society;" where discursive practices deemed explicitly as political
speeches become compartmentalized to be understood; and where messages are to be delivered within
arenas that require the actual—or mediatic I would add—presence of nationals, because "without such
listeners these speeches lose their purpose."
I am thankful to the anonymous reviewers whose keen comments encouraged me to add this epi-
logue, which was not included in thefirstdraft. They have stimulated me to think over why this paper is
built upon what they called "a theatrical frame," frame that had comefirstto my mind more as a useful,
compelling trope, than as a deliberate theoretical statement.


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Afafan: ritual cheering
Guluce: Mapuche people of the West (of the Andes, i.e. Chile)
Gvxam/pu gvxam: true story/stories
Inal logko: vice chief
Kujfikece: "people of the ancient times" or ancestors
Logko/pu logko: Mapuche chief/s
Mapuzugun: "word of the people of the land" or Mapuche language
Pvrvn: ritual dance
Pwelce: Mapuche people of the East (of the Andes, i.e. Argentina)
Werken: messenger
Wigka: Non-Mapuche people or the white men
Wigkazugun: "the white men's language" or Spanish
Winoy Xipantu: "the year is sprouting" or Mapuche New Year

CMN: Confederaci6n Mapuche Neuquina, Neuquenian Mapuche Confederation
COM: Coordination of Mapuche Organizations
TKG: Tain KineGetuam or "To Be One Again," Coordination of Mapuche political