Rodrigo Huenchún Pardo
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Memory and pain
Santiago Waria, Pueblo Grande de Wigka

Moving from the process of designing and staging the theatre play Santiago Waria and from elaborations on the Brechtian ‘distancing effect’ in theatre and Artaud’s notion of ‘cruelty’, this chapter analyses the construction of Mapuche memory in Santiago, its multiple layers and (in)visible sites. Triggering a reflection on the problematic place of the history of indigenous migration and diaspora, it aims to address the critical node represented by hidden Mapuche memories within the colonial history of the Chilean capital. Deeply linked to indigenous struggles and movements against the state and to ongoing internal colonialism, these often-unspoken memories shape family and personal histories, and the emerging of Mapuche subjectivities within the city.

At what point did the children inherit this wound?

The one that had been haunting all of the Paichil

since the day a bad war was declared on their lineage

(Javier Milanca)

Many wounds were opened.

Many wounds were transformed into scenic stories of such beauty and cruelty,

that the lines between reality and fiction were blurred on many occasions.

(Paula González Seguel)

It is not easy to address the experience of collective and creative work within MapsUrbe. The Collective was conceived as an exercise in the discovery of Mapuche memories and identities in the city of Santiago, based on David Aniñir’s work, Mapurbe. However, on a personal level, it also implied an exercise in mnemonic openness, as well as academic and sentimental socialisation. This piece seeks to reflect on the meanings entailed in the site-specific theatre play Santiago Waria. Pueblo Grande de Wigka, which synthesised the work of the Collective but that transcends us as a group and results in a representation of the Mapuche identity traversed by the contradictions, violence and tenderness we inherited. In other words, it is a personal elaboration on this inheritance.

To begin with, talking about the condition of the Mapuche diaspora after the occupation of the Wallmapu in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is far from new. A bibliographical abundance tells of how the Mapuche population was forced to live outside their territory, and for several generations has been marked by violence and discrimination, resulting in a wound inherited through generations, both in Puelmapu and Ngulumapu.1 The inheritance of this violence manifests itself in ruptures, forgetfulness or traumas that dismember and uproot indigenous identity from its own sources and forms. Families of the Mapuche diaspora transmit the memory of this wound as a shared experience marked by a condition of otherness and social marginality. This otherness in turn implies the emergence of new contradictions for the diaspora’s identity: ‘other’ as indigenous in the city, but also ‘other’ as urban within the indigenous world. Thus, for a long time, Mapuche urbanity was considered a problematic knot for indigenous identity in terms of loss and awigkamiento (Antileo Baeza 2006).

To continue, I need to clarify that this writing stems from a personal reflection, as part of the Colectivo MapsUrbe, as a performer in the play, and as a member of a Mapuche migrant family. From this positioning, my elaborations arising from Santiago Waria have as entrance points and frames the concepts of ‘distancing’ (Brecht) and ‘cruelty’ (Artaud). It is not the intention of this piece to carry out a theoretical discussion of these concepts, but rather to use them as tools to reflect on the significance of our performance.

In theatre, it is understood that ‘distancing means placing in a historical context, representing actions and people as historical, that is to say, ephemeral’. This exercise, of course, is not just about the past, as the same can be done with contemporaries by presenting their attitudes as time-bound, and ultimately as equally historical and ephemeral as those of the past. However, it is not only a matter of seeking a meticulous, exact representation but also of constructing alternative narratives, modifying circumstances and imagining possible futures (Brecht 2004: 52). On the other hand, the concept of ‘cruelty’ points at theatre as a practice of ‘waking up’ as a ‘means of authentic illusion’, leading to a rethinking of all aspects of both the external and internal human world, ‘revealing man to himself’ through a sort of ceremonial communion between actors and the audience (Artaud 2001: 104). It is the intersection of both concepts that builds this reflection.

The play Santiago Waria is shaped by almost a century of Mapuche inhabiting Santiago,2 which has its origins in the post-occupation migration of the Wallmapu at the end of the nineteenth century, throughout the whole twentieth century, and continues until the present day (see Antileo Baeza, Alvarado Lincopi 2017). As a result, memory is articulated within the city and transmitted/inherited by three or more generations of Mapuche living in Santiago. Over time, and through the marginalisation suffered, this memory has become invisible, despite forming a strong nucleus of common experiences. This is why the first approach to constructing the play involved an investigation of a somehow normalised memory. Being and living here for years, decades or a lifetime, results in many of the Mapuche dynamics in Santiago taking on an air of naturality and thus leave the realm of the conscious, which is why the play gives an atmosphere of specificity to stories that were assumed to be generic. Revealing the meanings and contents of the Mapuche memory in the city was the main aim of the performance. For years and decades, generations of Mapuche have inhabited the city that was erected as a bastion of power and civilisation over our people, and that welcomes us while it rejects us at the same time, in constant contradiction. At the centre of the play was the memory of the children and grandchildren of Mapuche families who at some point decided to migrate and project their lives in the waria. Traces of common and particular experiences marked by the stigma of the diaspora, it is the story of the violence inflicted on Mapuche bodies marked by the city: racialised labour, otherness and marginality, cruelty historically located among and within us.

On the level of representation, this cruelty is not that which manifests in tearing each other’s bodies apart, mutilating our anatomies […] but the much more terrible and necessary cruelty that things can exert on us. We are not free: the sky can fall on us and theatre has been created to teach us that above all. (Artaud 2001: 91)

And yet, it is also the story of tenderness, dreams and lifeworlds that take shape in and from the city. Family ties, romances, joys and festivities, new bonds forged in the capital. What we did in Santiago Waria was precisely to find a way to understand the tenderness of a letter, or the agitation before a demonstration, and to reflect on the vicissitudes of the mapurbidad at the margins of the city, but also to declaim from the civilising watchtower that is the Welen Hill, with performative and corrosive language, that we are still alive and still Mapuche. ‘Distancing’ and ‘cruelty’ intersect in the space of the city and the relationship with the audience. Similar to what Artaud posited, we choose to open up the spaces of the stage and the hall by setting the performance in public spaces, ‘extending its visual and sonorous radiance over the entire mass of spectators’ (Artaud 2001). This spatial and sensorial involvement frames the spectator’s experience and allows a shared space in which reflection and, ultimately, empathy can be manifest. As the Mapuche theatre director Paula González Seguel points out:

The scenic creation thus enfolds through the rescue of those images that are rooted in our memory, and have been crossed by certain historical events belonging to the time and context we inhabit […] a particular voice that moves between private and public, individual and collective, situating the scene in what traverses us, what hurts us and what has been made invisible, silenced and oppressed by political and economic power, by the violence exercised towards the human beings and the territory we inhabit, transforming it, from this perspective, into a work that moves between the aesthetic, the social and the political. (González Seguel 2018: 25)

As a site, the city is the materialisation of a history of cruelty, the stage of estrangement. This is why the site-specific approach becomes especially relevant, as the embodiment and emplacement of layers of memory embedded in the city space of Santiago, the physical materialisation of centuries of colonial power. The locations of the performance correspond to critical nodes for this deep material memory, sites where a superimposition of images produces invisibility: a pre-colonial Inca settlement; the capital del reyno during the process of colonisation; the capital of the Republic; a civilised ‘Paris’ of the nineteenth century; the city of the masses of the twentieth century; the economic and financial capital today. This is why one of the main locations of the performance is the Plaza de Armas: a spatial and architectural manifestation of the political, religious and military power of the reyno, the residence of presidents of the Republic for decades and the old heart of the city’s historic centre, permeated in turn by the presence of migrants and street vendors, and ironically weakened in its foundations by the modernisation of the underground metro. It is a material representation of this layering of narratives, memories and identities over time, some of them obscuring others. In this sense, the traumas and silences inherited by Mapuche families in the city acquire special importance as a repertoire of memory, allowing the city to be seen from a different perspective, or the stories hidden in its patrimonial spaces to be scrutinised.

The city seen from this different perspective brings us back to our wounds and their implications, shaping and transcending the Mapuche inhabiting the city. Each mark comprises a plurality of fractures, of social and even domestic violence; yet despite being common, they are not necessarily shared. This is how forgetfulness, omissions and silences are produced, and yet from them, it is also possible to build resistances, in a stealthy way. It is not just political proclamations that play a part in surviving the colonial yoke: everyday life is equally fundamental to the endurance of those bodies crossed by racial, work-related, domestic and sexual discrimination, as well as by affection and tenderness. Here, the stories of Mapuche women, so often silenced and silent, take centre stage. Their suffering as a result of the economic insecurity, sexual abuse and violence is common in their workplaces as live-in maids, but also all too common within their own families, inflicted by indigenous men. As pointed out by Fernando Pairicán, their subtle and everyday forms of resistance are probably even more meaningful than open political struggle, for they are ‘humanizing from within our own people, hurt by the trauma of colonialism’ (Pairican 2018: 10; see also Paredes 2014). As our play states:

I write these words as an act of remembrance. My name will not be disclosed in this scriptural whisper because I do not wish to represent the multiple experiences of Mapuche nannies and domestic maids. I only seek to make an act of memory for a woman who worked tirelessly in private homes, ironing, cooking and receiving, on multiple occasions, payment in clothes for what should be a month’s salary. How many Mapuche women, as domestic servants, carried and still carry the stigma of the Indian on their aprons and bodies? How many times did the Mapuche nanny have to keep silent in the face of the violent words of the master and the mistress? They were and are innumerable.3

These comprise the violence, traumas and silences that we inherited as Mapuche in the city, and which to a large extent constitute who we are. In the words of David Aniñir, the poet and author of Mapurbe, ‘We are the children of the children’s children; we are Lautaro’s grandchildren taking the bus to serve the rich’ (Aniñir Guilitraro 2009). We are also, as Matías Catrileo, murdered at 24 by the state police in 2008, would say: ‘the sad generation that in tears and despair writes punk rock, emptying its pain into a glass of alcohol’ (Catrileo 2014); we are the xampurriada (Milanca Olivares 2015) that inhabits the city; we are ñañawen selling our products in the Persa Biobío market; we are the CONAPAN bread-makers union;4 we are the Club Deportivo Arauco FC or Atlético Pulkoche; we are poblache and mapukys, members of the COEM5 Mapuche student union; we are migrants at a dance in the Quinta Normal Park, learning the steps to our first cumbias, meeting friends and lovers; we are the women working in private homes who are members of ANECAP6 or their daughters and sons who grew up in the shadow of the master and mistress, and the grandchildren who knew about workplace and domestic violence. We are all of these, and at the same time, we are alive, we endure, we project and we feel.

Fente puy.


1 See the work of Geraldine Abarca, Claudio Alvarado Lincopi, José Ancán, Enrique Antileo Baeza, Andrea Aravena, Claudia Briones, Felipe Curivil, Mauro Fontana, Walter Imilan, Ana Millaleo and David Aniñir Guiltraro.
2 However, it is possible to speak of a Mapuche-Pikun che habitation during the Colony since the very beginnings of the city (see Colivoro, Álamos 2012).
3 Extract from ‘Letter from the daughter of a nana’, Interlude II of the play Santiago Waria.
4 Confederación Nacional de Panificadores, the bread-bakers’ union (National Confederation of Bread-bakers).
5 Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Estudiantes Mapuche (Coordination of Mapuche Students’ Organizations), the broadest Mapuche students’ organisation.
6 Asociación Nacional de Empleadas de Casa Particular (National Association of Private Home Workers), the labour union of domestic employees.
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Performing the jumbled city

Subversive aesthetics and anticolonial indigeneity in Santiago de Chile


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