With songs like “We’ll Beat the State,” Chilean rappers Wechekeche Ni Trawun are on a mission to support the Mapuche indigenous people’s fight for justice and land rights. Before the Spanish arrived in 1541, the Mapuche-or “people of the earth” in the Mapudungun language-controlled a territory that stretched 500 kilometers south of central Chile’s Biobio River. Following centuries of conflict with the Spanish conquerors and then the Chilean government, that land has been reduced to just five percent of its former expanse-leaving the Mapuche fighting both for official recognition of their culture and the restitution of ancestral lands.
“Music plays a crucial role, it accompanies the process of the struggle,” Filutraru Paillafilu, one of Wechekeche Ni Trawun’s five members, proudly told AFP. It’s a struggle that has at times descended into violence, with some of the most radical indigenous elements resorting in the last decade to arson attacks against logging companies, churches and homes. At the end of last year, the government claimed 20 people had been killed in Mapuche-related violence since 2011, with more than 900 firebomb attacks amongst almost 3,000 acts of violence.
For the band, music offers the chance to protest in a different way against the appropriation of their land and to denounce security services’ use of force against Mapuche people. In December, Chile’s president Sebastian Pinera sacked top police chief General Hermes Soto after video emerged of the unprovoked murder of a 24-year-old Mapuche man, which contradicted the official version of events.
In “We’ll Beat the State,” written in 2017, the group speaks directly to those it brands “oppressors.” “You imprison and murder and then ask for forgiveness. Your forgiveness is an insult to my nation.” As well as campaigning for the restitution of indigenous lands, the musicians also want to convey to future generations their Mapuche pride. “Our lyrics speak about everything that concerns our culture, our struggle. We also add our musical instruments,” said Paillafilu, a traditional music teacher at a school in the capital Santiago.
Another aim is to demonstrate the omnipresence of Mapuche culture in the city. “People don’t realize that half the names” of streets and neighborhoods are Mapuche, he added. The Mapuche, originally from the south of the country and Argentina, are the largest indigenous group in Chile, making up nine percent of the 18 million population. The entire indigenous population is just under 13 percent of the total, or nearly 2.2 million people according to the 2017 Census.
Carolina, a teacher who went to watch the band at a concert in a Santiago square, said more people have “Mapuche blood” than they realize. “We’re all mixed,” she said. “Mapudungun should be taught at school so that our children are aware of our country’s interculturality.”
Twice as much poverty
In the summer, Wechekeche Ni Trawun travel from the capital Santiago to the southern regions of La Araucania, Biobio and Los Rios to play in front of their families, who mostly live in small communities where life is tough. Statistics show that there is twice as much poverty in the Mapuche community as the general population. Wechekeche Ni Trawun, who formed in 2004, are not the only Mapuche band but their concerts generate great excitement. Some concert-goers accompany the group by playing the “Trutruka,” a traditional wind instrument that was once used by the Mapuche at gatherings ahead of battles.
From an artistic point of view, Wechekeche Ni Trawun combine rap with rock, salsa, cumbia and R&B, to attract as many “brothers” as possible, the band says. They sing in both Spanish and Mapudungun, denouncing police brutality and calling for the liberation of “Wallmapu,” as they call Mapuche territory. Wearing traditional bandanas, band members beat out the rhythm with their “wada” instruments, a type of Mapuche maracas. And culture and their community is at the heart of their existence: they recently held a concert in Santiago to raise funds for a child who needs to travel abroad for medical attention.-AFP