When we live in a region and “time goes by” we start to wonder what it will be like elsewhere. The time comes to travel and we realize that we have similarities but also great cultural differences. And I am not talking about the landscapes, the food and the climatic difference but about the counting of time as a society.
No, not all the communities that live on this planet we call earth live under the same notion of time, and that is one of the characteristics that make us human, time is a creation and we have used different instruments from observation to the clock or the calendar to concretize this intangible but well perceptible creation.
Time does not exist
In most of the communities that live on the planet we have come to the conclusion that in nature there are cycles, these conclusions are thanks to an effort of survival and control (primarily), which are evidenced thanks to the seasons, day by day stars like the Sun “rise” and “hide”, we say; the Moon makes its appearance and influences the tides.
The idea of measuring in temporal structures, which we call hours, days, weeks, months and years, is an invention of the human being and each region or culture keeps its own account.
We have come to the agreement that in the West we will be guided by the Gregorian calendar, that is why on January 1, 2021 we celebrate the arrival of the new year. A count with religious, political and historical charge, like all the counts in the different communities or civilizations that have inhabited this planet.
I dare to say that in space there is no time; there is no up or down, no North, no South. Planet Earth floats in a timeless place: which we agree to call the Universe. I am an anthropologist, not an astronomer, and by reading and experiencing how people began to measure the cycles of nature and give them names, all thanks to observation and following traditions.
We can see how each community has its particularities, the hemisphere has its own account of time or calendar and I resort to the definition of the Royal Spanish Academy, where we find that calendar is the “system of division of time by days, weeks, months and years, fundamentally from astronomical criteria or according to the development of some activity and the printed record of the days of the year ordered by months and by weeks; generally includes information on the phases of the Moon and on religious and civil festivities.”
There are communities that live in what we now call the West, such as the Purépechas in Mexico and the Mapuches in Chile and Argentina, that celebrate the New Year on different dates, the Purépechas on February 2nd and the Mapuches on June 21st and the rituals around the celebration are not counting grapes or opening sparkling wine, but lighting the new fire and singing in community.
The Mapuches are the largest so-called indigenous community in Chile. Nearly one million people identify themselves as members of this culture. When the Spaniards arrived in these lands in the 16th century they were called Araucanians, which thanks to the text of Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga entitled La Araucana, an epic poem of the late 16th century, we can know from a perspective about this cultural moment in the region.
At that time, it is said that they inhabited an enormous territory from the valleys to the north where today we find the capital city Santiago de Chile, to where the southern islands begin, the Chiloé Archipelago. Today, thanks to censuses or population counts we know that the Mapuche inhabit rural communities in southern Chile and to a lesser extent in southern Argentina.
Thanks to the 2017 Chilean census, 1 745 147 people in that country declared themselves belonging to the Mapuche people, 9.93 % of the total population. In Argentina, thanks to the 2004-2005 Complementary Survey of Indigenous Peoples (ECPI) in the country as a whole, the result was 113 680 people who self-recognized themselves as Mapuche, 13 430 of them living in rural communities. Seventy-three percent of them live in the provinces of Chubut, Neuquén and Río Negro.
It should be noted that they live throughout the provinces of Argentina to a greater or lesser extent. The census system in Argentina has been strongly criticized in this regard as there is no certainty that these data have been collected correctly, specifically on this issue and populations, in an interview with Professor in Geography Adriana Rodriguez, she told us more about the subject.
We Tripantu or wüñoy Tripantu
We Tripantu or wüñoy Tripantu, commonly translated as “new rising of the sun and the moon”, is the name given to the new year’s festivity among the Mapuche, and it is the most sacred moment in their community. The We Tripantu is the date when the sun reaches its maximum distance from the earth, therefore, from this moment of distance, the return begins, which represents a new beginning. Let’s also remember that the southern cone at this time is changing season, ending the hot weather and starting its cold season.
The Mapuche communities have a ritual on these dates, which is very relevant from my point of view, which consists of submerging in rivers or under a waterfall, moving water, running water. This is to wash the body completely of all the negative things of the year that has already passed. And that running water will carry away everything old and negative, such as: bad spirits, diseases and bad thoughts.
Like the Purépecha community, fire also plays a relevant role in this celebration. At night, bonfires are held, which we are told evoke the renewal of Mapuche thought and the preparation of the fire of life. Another beautiful coincidence, just as a note, is that the Mapuche communities since 1992 hoist the Wenufoye, which is the well-known Mapuche flag that is used as an emblem and symbol by Mapuche communities and organizations in Chile as well as in Argentina.
Finally, the We tripantu among the Mapuche is a rebirth, the end of the year or cycle is the beginning of a new life and not the sum of accumulated years. It is a time of the year where we take the opportunity to sing, listen to the beautifully decorated drums, delight ourselves with the colors and shapes of textiles and flowers, in short, celebrate in community.
Under the same magnifying glass
Time considered under the Mapuche perspective is not presented as linear or unidirectional, from past to future, but in a bidirectional way, we could say cyclical, a reality of continuous cyclical movement where nature and its culture are participants.
Now, reading the work of Germán Errázuriz in his text on the area of health in this community, he tells us that: “in the Mapuche cosmovision the order of the universe is governed by a series of opposing and complementary forces that must be in harmony. Human intervention and/or other entities of nature can alter this order to give way to a conflictive relationship between the cosmos and the human being, between the individual and his social environment. Within the concept of health, it is important for the individual to be in harmony with his environment, the other members of his community and himself. Illness is conceived as a loss of this balance”.
To say that the notions of cyclical time are shared among pre-Columbian communities, from the north to the south of the American continent, as well as the notion of polarities in their cosmovision system, makes me wonder, is it a cultural coincidence, a common characteristic or are we seeing the phenomenon under the same magnifying glass, so to speak, under the same standards, with the same questions.
We have to take into account that the information collected is still under paradigms or standards created in communities outside the ones we observe. We have to take into account that we share a history of conquest and encounter and today of social movements, protest and counterweight to economic standards or social order.
Today we can also ask ourselves questions and we are presented with an opportunity for dialogue, thanks to orality there is access to knowledge, as humans we have created articulated language, which gives us the guideline to know who is in front of me, to the side, or miles away, to know about their daily lives.
As people we have the opportunity to open ourselves to the possibility of getting to know other cultures and different technologies. Other ways of living in the world. Let’s dive into the river and let the prejudices go.