All the images on the gallery are pictures of recent protests in Chile. Probably you’ve even seen some in the media. Put your attention on the flags people wave. What do you see? The Chilean flag, of course. Do you see another one? Look closer again. There is one other flag that you can recursively observe in almost every Chilean protest. Let me now zoom into this other flag.
“Symbols of Chile: the coat of arms, the national anthem and the flag”. This is one of the first things I learned in the school when I was 6 years old. I shaped and coloured our national flag in a million different ways: with painting, plasticine, crayons, macaroni, I learned and experienced the shapes and colours of the Chilean flag.
Like in every country created brand-new from a colonial background, a deep feeling of membership and identification with the country, this country, our country, is part of the fundamental essence of what we could call the Chilean way of being.
The Chilean flag is the ultimate Chilean symbol. Either you see it in a Communist Party concentration or in a fascist meeting, the Chilean flag is being held by someone who needs to iconize the idea of this country created 200 years ago, by ourselves, kicking out the (Spanish) empire from our beloved balcony between The Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
Today another flag, a new symbol has emerged powerfully and have become evident in the recent protests in Chile. Which flag? A symbol of what? I am talking about a tri-colour (blue, green and red with a yellow round drum in the center) flag you have probably seen in the pictures of Chilean protests. I am talking about the Mapuche flag, a symbol of authentic Chilean rebellion.
The Mapuche People
500 years ago, the Spanish empire managed to control all the territory from Mexico to what today is Chile and Argentina very quickly. Indigenous all over offered not much resistance, and most of the native civilisations and tribes were first massacred and later slaved and mixed in the first hundred years of the Spanish presence in Latin America. But there was one remarkable exception: the Mapuche people. The Mapuche people inhabited the central and southern areas of Chile, and most of the Argentinian Patagonia when the Spanish conquerors arrived. But this time they didn’t have it so easy. The fieriness, ability and willing to stay and control their lands lead the Mapuche people into a long and terrible war. The so called “Arauco War” against the Spanish empire lasted for almost 100 years. In 1641 the Spanish got tired and decided to sign a peace treaty with the Mapuche territory, allowing them to have full control of their own territory, thus recognizing them as a nation. The only one in Latin America that the Spanish Empire just couldn’t defeat.
Regretfully, the story doesn’t end so well. Almost 200 years later, in 1819, the Chilean Republic, no longer the Spanish Empire, was “legally” in charge of the territory. And the Chilean Republic had no intention of recognizing the Mapuche as an independent nation. 100 years after the formation of the Chilean Republic, in the first decade of the 20th century, a brutal plan of extermination of the Mapuche people and occupation of their lands was performed by the Chilean government in order to “claim sovereignty” in the whole territory of Chile.
Despite this sad ending, the Mapuche culture has always influenced Chilean culture, or as we were saying, Chilean way of being. Always had. The epic War of Arauco was narrated to the entire world by a Spanish poet who was a soldier in the first years of the War of Arauco, in one of the most famous epic poems ever written in Spanish, “La Araucana”. La Araucana narrates in beautiful poetic prose the feats and achievements of the great Mapuche warriors and leaders Lautaro, Caupolican, Fresia, Colo-Colo, among others, whose names and stories inspired the formation of the Chilean Republic and are today part of our idiosyncrasy.
The most popular football team is named after a Mapuche leader, “Colo-Colo”, many of the most recurrent words in Chilean dialect like “polola” (girlfriend) or “Guagua” (baby) comes from Mapudungun, the Mapuche language. And, as you can see, representations of the Mapuche flag (I use the term “representations” because the tri-color flag is not the only one. That one really was created in 1992. Historians agree that Mapuche people probably didn’t have a flag, or eventually they used a white star in a blue background as a flag in some point of the war) have become an icon of rebellion against the oppression.
The Chilean way of being is intimately connected already long time ago with the beautiful culture of our native people, particularly the Mapuche. After all, someone who is “Chilean”, and have a “Chilean” family name… from which background belongs? We have Spanish family names, therefore Spanish mix is obvious, and if you come from a family that has always lived in this land, it is obvious that at some point in history you had a Mapuche ancestor. This is true for almost every Chilean, despite it is not a reason to be proud for many.
A New Chile Identity
This movement has rose with a wild spirit of change. Not only the neoliberal model and the material issues, but as we can see from the cultural and artistic representations, or as I’m showing you here from the usage of symbols and icons. A spirit of a transformation of which we are part is in the air in Chile right now. Then we understand better some common claims, like the one for a new constitution or the one that demands official recognition of indigenous people.
A new “social agreement” is being built in Chile right now. The ultimate political representation of this is the current process, already on the go, to write a new constitution. But a new “social agreement” is not only political, or cannot only be represented by replacing a piece of text for another.
Is it time that we take seriously the appreciation of our native roots? Is this moment of deep transformations a big opportunity to include the admiration of our indigenous culture background in the foundations of the new Chile we all want to rise after this crisis?
While I ask myself this questions, people are waving the Mapuche flag in Chile, the discussion in the Parliament about the process of a new constitution is now stuck in the point of special indigenous representation, Chileans are speaking using Mapuche words, and protesters in different cities are overthrowing monuments and statues of Spanish conquerors in the feet of statues of Mapuche leaders and warriors.
May this the time in which we, Chileans, finally take pride not only of being Chileans, but of being descendants of a rich and epic native tradition that makes us special?
Imagine boys and girls at schools in Chile drawing also the Mapuche flag, and learning about our Mapuche heroes and their amazing tales. I think I will go to bed tonight with that nice picture.