My semester down here is really in full-swing now, and the library is once again my second home, especially with the two literature classes that I’m taking this semester. Although I have a dense course load this semester (and all in Spanish, of course), I’m also taking a class called Juegos Mapuche, giving me a much-needed break from the grind of my other classes.
Juegos Mapuche translates into Mapuche games, and the Mapuche are one of the main indigenous tribes of Chile and one that still maintains a presence in Chile. Historically, they are from the south of Chile, with part of their ancestral territory extending into modern-day Argentina. During the Spanish Conquista, they were one of the only tribes in this region that was not defeated by the Spanish and continued fighting until Chile gained their independence in the early 19th century, during which the Chilean government implemented many repressive policies. The Mapuche and their rights continue to be a key issue in present-day Chilean politics.
Just like many other indigenous groups globally, they have suffered a lot at the hands of government, most notably (and most recently) during the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile. For those who might not know, there was a coup d’état by the Chilean military in 1973 through which Pinochet came to power and where he would remain until 1990. During his dictatorship, there were many human rights abuses against the people of Chile and, by extension, against the Mapuche people. In the case of the Mapuche, their language (Mapudugun) was prohibited, along with many other traditions that formed their way of life. In the last 30 years or so, now that Chile is once again a democracy, there has been a revitalization of the Mapuche culture and language, not only in those insular communities but also on a national level. Classes like Juegos Mapuche are a perfect example of this revitalization. Instead of repressing the Mapuche way of life and other indigenous cultures, state-affiliated institutions like the one I attend are now teaching and celebrating it – a welcome change from the oppressive measures of the past.
Besides offering a much-needed break from my other classes, Juegos Mapuche provides an insight into the culture, traditions, language, and, of course, games of this tribe. One of my favorite games that we’ve played in this class is called palin. It’s similar to modern-day field hockey but much more intense and with fewer rules. Traditionally, the game is played on a field, and there are two teams and goal posts on each side. Instead of using fancy fiberglass hockey sticks, the roots of trees are used, and it goes without saying that each stick is beautifully unique. The Mapuche have historically crafted the sticks used for palin out of the roots of trees because, like many other indigenous cultures, they share a very close connection with the earth and it shapes every aspect of their life, extending into the games they play. Earlier this year, I visited the south of Chile where I got to learn more about their traditions and even had the opportunity to play a game of palin with some of the people from the local community where we were staying.
Another interesting aspect of palin is that, historically, it was how the Mapuche resolved conflicts. Instead of going to war with their neighbors (who were also Mapuche), they would play palin, and the outcome of the match determined the winner of said-conflict. We also play games like lefun ka rekuntun, a sort of race where you jump over obstacles, along with an assortment of other games.
Overall, I’m so happy I decided to take this class, not only for the much-needed brain-break it gives me, but also for the opportunity to learn more about Chile’s indigenous peoples.