We Tripantu

Chile’s largest indigenous group celebrates its New Year

The Mapuche people of southern Chile are the most populous and vibrant of Chile’s indigenous communities. They celebrate their New Year on the day of the winter solstice – June 24, this year.

Friday, June 24, 2011  
Tradition calls for bathing in the nearest of the glacial rivers that flow out of the Andes. Tradition calls for bathing in the nearest of the glacial rivers that flow out of the Andes.

When the sun rose on Friday, June 24, it was no ordinary daybreak. For the Mapuche people, the largest and most prominent of Chile’s indigenous peoples, it was the “sun rise of the new sun,” or beginning of the New Year.

Set to coincide with the winter solstice, the festivities known by the Mapuche name We-tripantu mark the end of the harvest season and the coming of the planting season. The festivities begin at sundown on the winter solstice – June 23, this year – with a feast of traditional foods like sopaipilla, fried pumpkin dough that is a street food staple throughout Chile, and muday, a beverage made from fermented corn.

At dawn of the following morning, the tradition calls for bathing in the nearest of the glacial rivers that flow out of the Andes in the Mapuche heartland around the southern city of Temuco. This symbolic cleansing in preparation for another year, performed in rivers and bodies of water throughout Chile, is typically followed by prayers and a day of celebration through song, dance and storytelling.

This year, the celebrations within the community were preceded by a celebration on Tuesday, June 22 held by the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (Conadi) in Santiago, the first of its kind led by the organization. On the morning of June 24 the Director of Conadi, Jorge Retamal Rubio, gave a speech in Temuco about his organization’s work in the previous months.

Along with the Governor of the Araucanía Region – the administrative section of Chile with the largest concentration of persons of Mapuche descent – Retamal announced the successful acquisition of more than US$6.7 million (CP$3.2 billion) in funds for indigenous communities. In the course of last year these funds went toward land acquisition, public works, and funding cultural preservation projects.

In honor of the Mapuche new year, June 24 is set aside as National Indigenous Day in Chile, with celebrations not just of Mapuche culture, but also of the traditions of the diverse indigenous groups that have called Chile’s highest plateaus and remotest islands home for millennia.

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