We took a circuitous route to the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit on 6-7 May. We started in Santiago, travelled overland through Patagonia on an Intrepid Travel trip to Pucon, Puerto Varas, Bariloche and Buenos Aires. After a side visit to Rosario, we flew back to Chile.
There was plenty of time to think about South America's place in global development and the role of tourism in particular.
The Mapuche people first caught my eye in the aftermath of the recent earthquake. Silvia Vinas reported on their plight on Global Voices:
After the massive earthquake that hit Chile on February 27, the media and the government have faced strong criticism for their lack of coverage and support for the small communities closest to the epicenter. One of these communities is the Mapuche indigenous people, whose territory is found in central and southern Chile.
Chile: Mapuche Communities Affected by Earthquake
In Pucon it was hard not to reflect on the future of indigenous people in developed countries like Chile (or closer to home in Australia for that matter). The Mapuche resisted invasion by the Incas and the Spanish and were not overpowered until the latter half of the 19th Century in Chile or Argentina.
We enjoyed traditional dishes at Cocina Mapuche tourist restaurant and visited the Aldea Intercultural Trapupeyum Centre in Curarrehue. A visit to a private museum in Pucon also helped broaden our understanding of their rich history.
The dispossession of their people in Argentina is also graphically documented in Bariloche, both in the Museo de la Patagonia "Francisco P. Moreno" and on the nearby statue of General Roca, 'liberator' of Patagonia.
There seems to be plenty of evidence that many Mapuche feel like the dis-empowered and marginalised part of a modern first world economy. Yet they continue to resist what they see as attempts to lose their identity:
Despite the assimilationist efforts of the dominant Chilean society, the Mapuche people have managed to preserve their traditional language (mapudungun), their religion and the socio-political structure which regulates life on the indigenous reserves where they have been forced to live since the beginning of the twentieth century. Their identity as an autonomous nation together with their awareness of being part of a distinct cultural and historic heritage and spirituality has created a socio-political movement which draws on communal aspirations.
The Mapuche Nation
They are caught up in the two edged sword of cultural tourism that I will post about separately.