On Chile rivers, Native spirituality and improvement conflict


MELIPEUCO, Chile — Mist abruptly arose from the Truful Truful River because it flowed under the snow-covered Llaima volcano, and Victor Curin smiled on the sun-dappled water spray.

A frontrunner in one of many Indigenous communities by the river’s shores within the Chilean Andes, Curin took it as an indication that the waterfall’s ngen — its proprietor and protector spirit — authorized of his go to and prayer that mid-July morning.

“Nature always tells you something, always answers,” mentioned Curin, who works as a park ranger in Conguillio Nationwide Park, on the river’s headwaters. “Human beings feel superior to the space where they go, but for us Mapuche, I belong to the earth, the earth doesn’t belong to me.”

Within the worldview of the Mapuche, Chile’s largest Indigenous group and greater than 10% of its inhabitants, a pristine river is dwelling to a religious pressure to revere, not a pure useful resource to use.

That has led many Mapuche throughout Chile’s water-rich south to combat hydroelectric crops and different initiatives they see as desecrating nature and depriving Indigenous communities of important energies that hold them from getting sick.

“Being part of nature, we cannot destroy part of ourselves,” mentioned Lientur Ayenao, a machi or healer and religious information who attracts water from the Truful Truful for his ceremonies.

Some 200 miles to the south, one other machi, Millaray Huichalaf, has led a sometimes-violent battle in opposition to hydroelectric crops on the Pilmaiquen River, which flows by way of rolling pastures from a lake within the Andes’ foothills.

After her resistance and cultural consultations with Indigenous communities, an power firm froze plans for a plant by a riverside sacred website and mentioned it could return possession of the land to the Mapuche.

However building is continuous on one other plant, so the combat isn’t over — simply because it isn’t on the Truful Truful, the place a proposed plant is underneath evaluate.

“At the same time as we’re fighting for the river, we’re in the process of territorial recovery and spiritual reconstruction,” Huichalaf mentioned as a thunderstorm pounded her picket cabin.

It’s on the query of rights over Indigenous land, a unstable challenge in Chile’s politics, that spirituality will get entangled with ideology. A number of Mapuche leaders say spirits showing in desires encourage the combat in opposition to capitalism.

Subsequent month, Chileans will vote on a brand new and controversial structure spotlighting Indigenous rights and land restitution. However they’re additionally coping with rising assaults in opposition to agricultural, logging and power industries, notably within the Araucania area.

For many Mapuche, such violence additional destabilizes the specified stability between individuals, the pure area they belong to and the spirits that inhabit it. A primary step in opposition to it’s to make sure non-Natives perceive how nature issues to the Mapuche, Indigenous chief and mediator Andrés Antivil Álvarez mentioned.

“The world is not loot,” he mentioned sitting by the hearth in his ruka, a standard constructing outdoors his home. “You have to understand that the spirit of this fire, present here, is as sacred as the Christ in a church.”

Mapuche group members’ reverence is clear once they stroll alongside rivers just like the Truful Truful, whose title means “from waterfall to waterfall” within the Mapudungun language.

Failure to ask the ngen’s permission to method the water, or to clarify the necessity to take action, Ayenao mentioned by the river’s principal waterfall, means transgressing on the area, alienating the spirits defending it and making you, your loved ones and even your animals sick.

But when the ngen permits it, then Ayenao can use the falling water’s distinctive “energy power” for therapeutic functions.

After almost a decade of a number of environmental and cultural evaluations, in addition to authorized appeals, a brand new hydroelectric plant proper by the waterfall has been briefly blocked in court docket. The group hopes a remaining ruling will definitively scuttle the mission, mentioned Sergio Millaman, the legal professional who gained the newest enchantment.

In April, Chile’s water code was up to date to raised defend varied rights together with using water at its supply for conservation or ancestral customs, mentioned Juan José Crocco, an legal professional specializing in water regulation and administration. It’s unclear how a brand new structure would possibly alter that or apply to hydroelectric initiatives, nevertheless.

A bitter battle underneath Huichalaf’s management began a decade in the past to cease three such crops on the Pilmaiquen River. She started having desires about Kintuantü, a ngen residing by a broad river bend.

“Kintuantü told me that I had to speak for him because he was dying,” Huichalaf mentioned.

A plant would have raised the river proper to the cliffside caves the place the ngen lives. Atop the cliff is a Mapuche ceremonial compound, together with a cemetery, from the place souls are believed to journey through underground water flows by way of the caves, into the Pilmaiquen and on to eventual reincarnation.

Huichalaf led an occupation there. A personal dwelling burned down, and protesters clashed with police. Extra protests and lawsuits adopted, dividing the Indigenous communities across the river, and Huichalaf was jailed for a number of months.

Now Statkraft, the Norwegian state-owned power firm that purchased the Pilmaiquen initiatives, is working with the Chilean authorities to return possession of the ceremonial compound, mentioned its Chile supervisor, María Teresa González.

González mentioned the corporate discovered the significance of participating Indigenous communities and it’s doing simply that with one other plant being constructed on the Pilmaiquen, whereas condemning ongoing violence in opposition to its staff.

For Huichalaf, the combat continues: “Our big goal is that the companies on the river will leave.”

Again on the black volcanic discipline crossed by the Truful Truful, Curin outlined his individuals’s objective in additional important phrases.

“What does the Mapuche world fight for? What does the Mapuche world protect? Not a world of money,” he mentioned. “Mapuche culture is very spiritual, very much of the heart. It’s not random that we’re still here.”

Then he knelt to sip from the river’s water and acquired again to his park ranger publish.

Related Press faith protection receives assist by way of the AP’s collaboration with The Dialog US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely chargeable for this content material.

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