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  • Wixage anai!:Mapuche Voices on the Air
  • Luis E. Cárcamo-Huechante (bio)

It is 8:00 at night on Saturday, January 10, 2009. In an old house in the neighborhood of Bellavista, the center of cultural life and bohemian activity in the Chilean capital, we find Radio Tierra. The hosts of the radio show Wixage anai! are now seated before the microphones in the broadcast booth. They are Elizabeth Huenchual, a Mapuche woman from the town of Galvarino in southern Chile, fluent in both Spanish and Mapudungun; and Richard Curinao, a Mapuche man who grew up in Santiago but was born in southern Chile, in the town of Ercilla. Both Huenchual and Curinao now live in Santiago. As the opening sounds of the kull kull, a type of native trumpet, fill the studio and are sent out over the airwaves, a recorded voice announces that a new broadcast of Wixage anai! is about to begin.1 Huenchual begins the program with a welcome in Mapudungun. The two hosts then introduce a song performed by Mapuche singers and musicians using two traditional musical instruments, the trutruka (a wind instrument) and the kultrun (a percussion instrument).2 [End Page 155]

Wixage anai!, a nonprofit, community-oriented radio program produced and directed by Mapuche activists, is an example of a contemporary indigenous aesthetics and a politics of communication. From its outset in the early 1990s, the purpose of the program has been to strengthen Mapuche culture, revitalize its mother tongue (Mapudungun), and vindicate the cultural, political, and economic rights of indigenous peoples in Chile. Wixage anai! is a radio program whose very name calls out to its listeners to "wake up!," "stand up!," or "rise up!"3 By giving an active role to the voices and sounds of Mapuche language and culture, and in particular by making use of the distinctive sonority of instruments such as the kull kull, trutruka, and kultrun, this team of Mapuche radio producers and broadcasters sets in acoustic motion an indigenous way of voicing linguistic, cultural, and political difference within a predominantly monolingual Chilean society.

All across the globe, radio has become a critical form of communication for indigenous communities, artists, and activists.4 It is a modern medium whose oral dimension reintroduces sounds, voices, and echoes rooted in more ancestral indigenous traditions. Radio broadcasting is also an affordable medium for communities that suffer from economic and social marginalization, which is the case of the Mapuches in Chile and Argentina.5 In both of these countries, Mapuches have long been subjected to a daily barrage of criollo voices on the radio and in the mainstream media, voices and images from dominant cultures that portray indigenous peoples through distinctly Argentine and Chilean perspectives.

In the case of Chile, this dominant perspective embodies a long history of settlement and forced colonization whose logic continues to inform a mainstream culture awash in prejudice and stereotyping toward Mapuches. Indeed, a 2001-2003 study conducted in the Temuco province by scholars María Eugenia Merino and David Quilaqueo found that more than 80 percent of 260 non-Mapuche male and female interviewees engaged in practices of "ethnic discrimination," characterizing the Mapuche people with such labels as "primitive," "uncivilized," "ignorant," "lazy," "obstacles to development," and "drunkards" (2003, 107-12). The flip side of such explicitly negative stereotyping are the paternalistic discourses—such as those wielded by the educated middle and upper classes, New Age groups, museums, and mass-media [End Page 156] outlets linked to private capital or the Chilean state—all of which pigeonhole the Mapuche people as bearers of "ancient spirituality and wisdom," thus erasing the political and historical dimensions of Mapuches past and present. Finally, the Christian elements within mainstream Chilean culture continue to exercise their dominance, as powerful Catholic and Evangelical media networks (religious booklets, pamphlets, radio programs, press, TV channels, and door-to-door missionaries) permeate Mapuche communities and influence contemporary religious and cultural practices.

Within this hegemonic media context, voicing their linguistic, cultural, and political differences through radio and other contemporary forms of Western technology (such as the press and the Internet) has become an imperative for Mapuche activists invested in fostering a Mapuche people able...


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