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When a Flower Is Reborn: The Life and Times of a Mapuche Feminist / Edition 1

When a Flower Is Reborn: The Life and Times of a Mapuche Feminist / Edition 1

by Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef


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When a Flower Is Reborn: The Life and Times of a Mapuche Feminist / Edition 1

A pathbreaking contribution to Latin American testimonial literature, When a Flower Is Reborn is activist Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef's chronicle of her leadership within the Mapuche indigenous rights movement in Chile. Part personal reflection and part political autobiography, it is also the story of Reuque's rediscovery of her own Mapuche identity through her political and human rights activism over the past quarter century. The questions posed to Reuque by her editor and translator, the distinguished historian Florencia Mallon, are included in the text, revealing both a lively exchange between two feminist intellectuals and much about the crafting of the testimonial itself. In addition, several conversations involving Reuque's family members provide a counterpoint to her story, illustrating the variety of ways identity is created and understood.

A leading activist during the Pinochet dictatorship, Reuque-a woman, a Catholic, and a Christian Democrat-often felt like an outsider within the male-dominated, leftist Mapuche movement. This sense of herself as both participant and observer allows for Reuque's trenchant, yet empathetic, critique of the Mapuche ethnic movement and of the policies regarding indigenous people implemented by Chile's post-authoritarian government. After the 1990 transition to democratic rule, Reuque collaborated with the government in the creation of the Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) and the passage of the Indigenous Law of 1993. At the same time, her deepening critiques of sexism in Chilean society in general, and the Mapuche movement in particular, inspired her to found the first Mapuche feminist organization and participate in the 1996 International Women's Conference in Beijing. Critical of the democratic government's inability to effectively address indigenous demands, Reuque reflects on the history of Mapuche activism, including its disarray in the early 1990s and resurgence toward the end of the decade, and relates her hopes for the future.

An important reinvention of the testimonial genre for Latin America's post-authoritarian, post-revolutionary era, When a Flower Is Reborn will appeal to those interested in Latin America, race and ethnicity, indigenous people's movements, women and gender, and oral history and ethnography.

About the Author

Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef is a Mapuche feminist and political and human rights activist. Florencia E. Mallon is Professor of Modern Latin American History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900822329625
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 08/06/2002
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 392
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef is a Mapuche feminist and political and human rights activist.

Florencia E. Mallon is Professor of Modern Latin American History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru.

Read an Excerpt

When a Flower is Reborn


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2002 Duke University Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-8223-2962-X

Chanco: Family, Land, and Culture

I'm going to tell you a little about my life, you see, so we can get to know each other better. I'm a poetic woman, my poems and verses were always about the earth, the world, the birds, and the trees. The priest who taught me religion and philosophy in my high school told me that I had a talent for writing poetry, a poetic calling, he said. He told me I should develop my poetic skills, make them public. It hadn't occurred to me to develop this talent on my own before. The routine of life in the countryside didn't help me develop such literary skills. I had to milk the cows, pen the animals, clean the sheds, and transport and sell the milk. Later I developed a routine of work and study; although we were only children, we were assigned chores at a young age in the countryside. It's very common for young children to have chores like taking care of the pigs, the chickens, and the animals in general, the garden, watering the plants and, well, other things too. In the countryside we share the tasks of craft work—spinning, washing, and carding the wool—these chores are divided among us.

So I had no idea about poetry and things, I was a woman of the countryside. Also, I'm the oldest, I have a brother who's really the oldest, but he had a disease called poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis. The disease leftone of his legs badly crippled. So I took on the role of a man-woman, I wore the pants, and with my younger brother we bore the brunt of the work. I didn't do a lot of housework, I worked more in the fields, making fences, plowing, and breaking paths. As soon as I could reach the handle of the plow, I was out there plowing, the oxen jerking me about. Well, this tells you a little about my childhood.

I'm very sensitive, but I don't let my guard down. I developed a thick skin when I was a young child who out of necessity had to take on the responsibilities of the oldest child, plowing, taking care of the animals, milking the cows. My brother got sick with polio when I was two years old. At that time in Chile we didn't have specialists or medicine in our province to cure polio. So Dago and I became the oldest, and then came Pedro. We all had to assume the responsibilities that belonged to the eldest children in a family. My father worked in construction in the city. He also worked in agriculture on the surrounding estates. My mother and we children had to take care of all the household activities.

Those hualle trees we have along the edge of our property, we went to get the seeds for those trees from the railroad track when we were children. Those trees are younger than I am. Several of those hualles have been cut down, they're older than my sister Elvira. We went to the railroad track with a cousin of ours who helped us yoke the oxen so we could do our chores, and at first my father got mad at us, but later he realized that we were not doing bad things at the railroad tracks. Then he helped us dig the holes to plant the hualles we'd found by the tracks. Also, people riding in the train would eat apples and throw the cores out the window. From the seeds of these cores little apple trees grew, and we went to get these little trees which sprang up along the tracks as well. At my grandmother's house there were lots of apple trees, more or less as many as we have now at our house, but we were allowed to pick just a few apples to take home with us. If we picked more we were scolded, so we had to make an orchard for ourselves, and that's how we did it.

My oldest brother Lionel and I complemented each other, as he was very good at working in leather. He made and fixed straps, cabestros (halters), and cords; he also made yokes, and everything else in leather. Although it's true he didn't work in the fields, we complemented each other. But did he ever like to give orders! He'd sit there, just sit there and say do that, bring me this, take it over there, bring it to me over here. It was terrible. And to top it off I was always running after the pigs: pigs tied up, pigs running loose, they did mischief everywhere, in everyone's crops. I don't know why people just raise them and raise them, without building pigpens or anything. They cause trouble everywhere, that's one of the big problems we had when I was little. We decided to never raise pigs again, because on the one hand it meant a lot of work, and on the other; the pigs could die overnight if they got a fever. When pigs are in heat they are really bad, too; they can bite you and rip out pieces of your flesh.

Anyway, in my community called Chanco, which is near Pitrufquén, there are lots of people with professional titles, such as accountants, elementary schoolteachers, and agricultural extension workers. There are also a few engineers, and let's see, a doctor too; there are twelve electrical engineers. You can count the people who have distinguished professions on the fingers of one hand, they rarely receive important positions. But our community was very atypical in comparison to the others, in part because we're a community that was divided in the 1940s, when the first division of the communities occurred. With this division, descendants began receiving individual land titles from their ancestors, passing the land along through inheritance from the elder to the younger. The process was different in other communities that were divided under the Pinochet Law or the Indigenous Law that existed before, Law 17729. Because our lands were divided early, neither the Pinochet Law nor the current democratic government's law, Law 19253, applied to us.

However, we've been trying to get the government to recognize us, on the one hand, as indigenous communities, and on the other hand, as legally constituted communities. The community into which I was born, in which I was formed and am part of today, doesn't descend from a single family tree, where everybody's related from the start and linked to each other. It's a mixture of the Navarro, Curihual, and Reuque families, where people have been buying land and have formed a community. First we formed a Christian base community and after that we formed an indigenous community. But it wasn't easy. Near our community there's another one in which a machi's son was disappeared. The machi's husband became sick and died from grief and she was left all alone. We talked with her, lifted her spirits and self-esteem, and helped her go on. We adopted her into our community and now she's the machi in our community.


FLORENCIA: Let's begin with the person who knows most about the family, OK? We'll begin with doña Martina, no?

DOÑA MARTINA: Why are we going to begin, and where?

F: At the beginning.

LILIANA: Hey, what time did you get here?

F: Why don't you begin with where you were born.

DOÑA MARTINA: I was born in Loica.

F: What was your childhood like, what happened to you before you came here?

DOÑA MARTINA: I don't remember.

F: You don't remember anything?

ELVIRA: Come on, mom, just tell her.

DOÑA MARTINA: Well, yes; it seems my mother left me when I was around six years old. I hardly have any memories of her before she died. So we were left alone, my father and I, and afterward his stepson came to live with us, he was my half brother.

F: Was he younger than you?

DOÑA MARTINA: He was older. My father got married again to a widow. And I lived with them until my father died when I was thirteen. I stayed there with them until I came here.

F: But there in Loica, did you have land?

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, I have some land there, through my father. My husband didn't want to make his home there because he didn't want to be led around by a woman. I told him, let's go there, let's live on that land, but he didn't want to. It was because my mother-in-law said to him: "Sure, you'd go live there because you're bossed around by your wife." So of course he didn't go, and instead we depended on his family. I arrived here, to where my mother-in-law lives, and I stayed a year.

F: What were your parents' names?

DOÑA MARTINA: Felipe Paillalef Cuminao.

F: And your mother's name?

DOÑA MARTINA: Marcelina Antilef.

F: What kind of work did you do in your father's house?

DOÑA MARTINA: I took care of my nephews, of course. You know, I raised them and they don't even come to visit me.

F: I bet you had to do lots of work since your mom died when you were young.

DOÑA MARTINA: Oh yes, I washed my clothes and my father's, too, since she didn't help us do it.

F: Who? Your father's new wife?

DOÑA MARTINA: No, my stepbrother's wife.

F: Oh, I see.

DOÑA MARTINA: She was sickly, so I did the washing, toasted and prepared the flour, and made the bread. At my young age I had all the responsibilities of a woman, and I also took care of the kids. Two of the children were very young, and the others, well, they took care of themselves.

F: So when you were ten years old, you were in charge of an entire household like a full-grown woman?

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, I started washing clothes when I was eight years old. My father taught me to wash, and at first we washed together. Later I washed alone.

F: And how old were you when you came here?

DOÑA MARTINA: I was seventeen years old when I came here in 1946.

F: And before that you lived in your mother-in-law's house?

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, at my mother-in-law's.

F: So when you left Loica how old were you?

DOÑA MARTINA: Seventeen years old.

F: So you lived in Loica until you were seventeen years old. And how did you meet don Ernesto?

DOÑA MARTINA: Because his sister lived in our house.

F: He came to your house to visit his sister?


F: And he also saw you?


F: And was he very romantic?


F: Only sort of?


ELVIRA: What happened, doña Florencia, is that when my mom was about thirteen years old my grandfather died. So she lived with one of my grandfather's stepchildren who was married to my father's sister, and this is how my father got to love her. The nephews she's talking about are also my father's nephews, because they were his sister's children.

DOÑA MARTINA: The father of these nephews, my stepbrother, was a drunk; but my grandfather still left him in charge, he made him my guardian.

ELVIRA: They left the stepson of my grandfather in charge because my mother was too young. So he was left in charge of all of my grandfather's land and all the possessions that my grandfather left. My mother was very spoiled in those days, she always went out on horseback with my grandfather and he bought her chocolate.

DOÑA MARTINA: We use to go to town to eat cookies and drink refreshments in the summer. And in the winter we went to eat cookies and he'd drink a shot of brandy. In the summer we went to enjoy ourselves, we bought drinks, grapes, we went to buy treats rather than vices.

ELVIRA: My mother had her own horse she rode to visit the relatives. When my grandfather died, she lost all the investments they'd made.

F: I see. So you really enjoyed traveling on horseback?


ELVIRA: Those were very good times. My mother's childhood was a beautiful time in her life; she only tells us good things about it. When she lived with her father it was the best time of her life.

F: And it seems that you were very close to your father, you were your father's pet, no?

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, I was very spoiled, whatever I asked for he gave me.

LILIANA: She enjoyed herself.

ELVIRA: The truth is that her biological mother is alive, you know. The biological mother of my mother is alive.

DOÑA MARTINA: My grandmother took me in.

F: And so when you got here to Chanco you were seventeen years old. You said you arrived in 1946, and you first lived in a room in your mother-in-law's house.


F: And how long did you live in the house?

DOÑA MARTINA: Not even one year. She threw us out.

LIONEL: It wasn't right that ...

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, she fought with her son and she threw us out.

F: What happened? Where did you go?

DOÑA MARTINA: Well, we just came here.

F: Did you begin building a house?

DOÑA MARTINA: No, first we lived in a crate.

F: How did that happen?

DOÑA MARTINA: The boldo tree is still here.

F: The boldo tree?


ELVIRA: This is how a neighbor told me they arrived here, and it made me laugh and laugh. He said they had a crate, a big box made out of wood where they stored the grain. At night my father would flip the box upside down and they would crawl under it to sleep, there under the boldo tree, in the orchard. My mother never told me this story. It was Sebastián Navarro who told me this.

F: And how were those times? Difficult?

DOÑA MARTINA: Hard, they were very hard times for me, I wanted to leave.

ELVIRA: After having been her father's pet when she was very young, she became a young mother with lots of responsibilities. And on top of that, she tells us that her in-laws rejected her.

F: So the in-laws didn't approve of you?

DOÑA MARTINA: No, they approved of me but they were difficult. And there was no end of problems with my sister-in-law and with a niece who was also my niece. Suddenly they would begin to make problems, they just stirred everything up. Instead of coming to the breakfast table, they got up just to fight. To eat breakfast or lunch in peace was a constant struggle. That's why it makes me furious when my children fight.

F: You have bad memories of those times.


F: And how long did you live under the boldo tree?

ELVIRA: (What do you need, dad?)

DOÑA MARTINA: I can't even remember the past (crying). I suffered so much, I don't want to remember. My father left me animals when he died, but afterward I didn't have a single animal, not even the hoof of an animal. They sold my last colt, I still cry for that colt. And now I am old and I still don't have a single animal.

ELVIRA: Maybe my mom forgot to tell you that my grandfather traveled doing business. He traveled to the Mapuche territories near Chubut, near the border with Argentina. There are Paillalef from our same family line living there.

DOÑA MARTINA: He actually lived over there, he left to live over there.

ELVIRA: My mom didn't tell you this part.

DOÑA MARTINA: Well no, I didn't. He was there when his wife died and he came back a widower. He left two children there.

F: He left two children where? In Neuquén?

ELVIRA: No, in Chubut.

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, in the territory of Chubut.

ELVIRA: My mother's brothers live there, they traveled there to trade.

DOÑA MARTINA: They went to work.

ELVIRA: To work, but before they went to trade.

DOÑA MARTINA: I don't know.

F: I bet they went to work with cattle.

DOÑA MARTINA: Yes, it must have been that.

F: I think so, because from what I've read, the Mapuche had big herds of cattle, and they followed a long migration circuit from here to Argentina. It was an important part of the traditional economy.

ELVIRA: Until the Pacification (the military defeat of the Mapuche) the Mapuches enjoyed a healthy economy throughout the territories all the way to Pitrufquén. The Mapuches were good businessmen, we didn't lack anything but we also didn't have much of a surplus as we traded grain for the animals and goods brought from Argentina, such as wool, weavings ...


Excerpted from When a Flower is Reborn. Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Editor’s Introduction 1

1. Chanco: Family, Land, and Culture 35

2. The Mapuche Movement under Dictatorship, 1973-1989 100

3. The Transition to Democracy 175

4. The Mapuche Movement under Democracy, 1990-1998 223

Conclusion 294

Afterword 327

Glossary 337

Notes 343

Index 363

What People are Saying About This

Temma Kaplan

A landmark in the history of social movements, indigenous studies, and women's studies, When a Flower is Reborn tells the story of the cultural regeneration of a whole people. The match between a sophisticated scholar drawn back to the country of her birth and an urbane indigenous woman organizer has engendered an entirely new form of testimonial literature, one that reads like a novel, but has the depth and breadth of the best history. This is not only an innovative book, it is a major achievement.
— author of Crazy for Democracy: Women in Grassroots Movements


Composed of short dialogues, this testimonio is just made to be read aloud by students who will find themselves drawn into the rich personal experiences of Mapuche cultural resurgence and political activism as related by Rosa Isolde Reuque Paillalef and her family to Florencia E. Mallon. When a Flower is Reborn is a fascinating account of the renewal and transformation of Mapuche culture and community politics and social criticism as captured through one woman's participation in different social movements across Chile's political history from the early 1970s to 1997. A pathbreaking, thoughtful collaborative work on indigenous activism in Chile.
—author of Indigenous Movements and Their Critics: Pan-Maya Activism in Guatemala

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