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“COUNT THE MAPUCHE PEOPLE”
(The Mapuche people tell stories)
by Bertha Koessler born Ilg
Published by Mare Nostrum Ltda., Santiago – Chile, 2006
Edited by Rolf Foerster González
Translated by Lieselotte Schwarzenberg M., Ph.D.
ISBN, complete edition: 978-84-96391-10-9
ISBN, first volume: 978-84-96391-11-6
Printed in Chile
Although the translation of these books from German into Spanish had been requested and completed a few years earlier, the new edition of the Mapuche tales, compiled over long years of patient work by Bertha Koessler née Ilg in San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina, finally was launched in May 2007 in Santiago de Chile.
Bertha Koessler was German and was born in 1881 in Obernzell, Bavaria. As a child she spent some time on the island of Malta, where an uncle of hers was a German consul. There she searched for folkloric and traditional traits of the native peoples of that island. Later, after studying and graduating as a nurse in Germany, she married the young doctor Rudolf Koessler. Together they emigrated to Argentina and lived for a few years in Buenos Aires, working at the German Hospital in the city. However, her spirit of adventure had not yet been satisfied; Thus, after being informed that there was a small town called San Martín de los Andes in the Argentine Patagonia, far away and underdeveloped, where there was no doctor, they decided to visit the place and finally settled there permanently. Here they raised her family, and Bertha shared her time between her tasks as a mother and housewife and as an assistant to her husband. But she also spent a lot of time collecting old stories from the indigenous population of the region, many of whom came to see the doctor, and this was a job that she enjoyed very much. With some of these Mapuche Indians she was able to hold long conversations and little by little she gained their trust so that they finally became her friends.
She tells us that she usually had to go to great lengths to overcome the natives’ natural shyness and reluctance to reveal anything about their Mapuche origin, because it was thought to go against the commandments of their deities. However, little by little and with patience, Frau Bertha was able to gain her trust while she learned her language, Mapudungun. She must have mastered the language very well, as can be seen from the explanations in German that she adds to each Mapudungun term. In the evenings, having listened intently to the stories the Mapuche Indians told her, she would sit and carefully record them in German, inserting original Mapudungun expressions followed by German translations of her meaning.
Although Frau Bertha spoke seven languages, including Arabic and Mapudungun, German was her mother tongue and it is not only logical that she preferred to express her thoughts in this language, but it was also the correct procedure, as translators well know.
The collection of his manuscripts is very extensive and includes not only tales as such, but also a complete investigation of indigenous culture with poems, songs, prayers, magical practices, riddles, children’s games, traditions, and even a glossary of the Mapudungun language. This first part of his work was published in 1962 by the Institute of Philology of the Faculty of Humanities and Educational Sciences of the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires and has now been reprinted without changes. However, his collection of Mapuche myths and legends, tales and fables had not been published at all, possibly because they were all written in German. Despite Frau Berta’s best efforts to find people or a publisher who would show interest in the subject, compile and publish her work, she was unsuccessful. Thus many years passed and the valuable collection remained unpublished.
In his time, the Mapudungun language was generally not considered as important as, for example, Quechua or Guarani, which have been preserved and spoken by the natives of Peru and Bolivia and of Paraguay even after the Spanish conquest and colonial times. , to this day. . At present, this concept has changed in favor of Mapudungun thanks to important studies carried out by some Catholic priests, mainly Father Ernesto Wilhelm Moesbach, who lived and worked in the Chilean Araucanía region and published glossaries of the Mapudungun language (Voice of Arauco , first edition July 1944. Registration number 10492, printed in Padre Las Casas, Chile).
The Koessler family wanted to fulfill Frau Bertha’s wish to collect all of her grandmother’s stories and publish them in Spanish, even more so after Bertha Koessler died in 1965 without having been able to fulfill her goal. In Chile, the anthropologist Rolf Foerster and Juan Arribas, Director of the Spanish publishing house Mare Nostrum, among other personalities, took up the task and so, after many years and obstacles, Bertha Koessler’s collection of short stories landed on my desk with the task of translating them into Spanish. They make up two more volumes.
Although some themes, especially those referring to Mapuche customs and beliefs, are repeated throughout the large number of stories, it is of great interest to study the idiosyncrasies of these peoples. Many times the so-called “machis” (medicine women) and sorceresses appear who kept people in a state of fear through their witchcraft and curses, with which they could persecute those who did not obey their orders. They used to kidnap young girls and subject them to cruel slavery; their power could not be frustrated and therefore no one dared to challenge them. Until one day a young hero appears who confronts and defeats the monster, usually in great and dangerous adventures. Here we see a certain similarity with some European tales, such as those of the German Grimm brothers or Spanish knightly novels.
There are also stories of natural cataclysms and there is even talk of a long period of rain and darkness suffered by the Indians, which had been imposed on them by one of their deities. This reminds us of the biblical flood. The most dangerous of these gods and the one who is mentioned very frequently was the Pillán, who was supposed to live on the Villarrica volcano. He used to unleash terrible storms and smash mountains, forests, rivers and everything else that came to hand in his fury. In Chile we do know natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, etc. Thus, the Mapuche stories reflect the geographic, meteorological and seismic reality of this part of the South American subcontinent.
Among the stories there are also historical episodes such as, for example, the exodus of a large Mapuche tribe that emigrated to the other side of the mountains, that is, to Chile, which they spoke of as a land of shadows and darkness, where water abounds and suffers from cold and bad weather conditions. Subsequently, these peoples returned to their original homeland in Argentina, where their fellow citizens ceded them some land so that they could return to live in their natural environment and according to their old customs. They also talk about wars between different tribes, which used to be very cruel and bloody and always ended with the winner kidnapping the women and taking all the property of the losers. Some stories speak of the Spanish invasion and the mistrust felt by the Indians against those warriors who knew how to shoot instead of fighting with arrows, “bolas” or hand-to-hand. They refer to the powerful king “Winka” (white man) who lived on the other side of the “great pond”, that is, the ocean, and who sent his soldiers to conquer new lands for him. However, they say that this king was kind and just, but that his armies committed all kinds of abuses against the Indians, openly violating the rules that his king had ordered them to follow. This is a very noticeable feature.
Stories about life after death, about the dead and their transcendent life are also present. The living usually communicate with the deceased, and they come out of the lakes, on whose soil they continue to exist. From there they return to visit their relatives and frequent their old homes. Sometimes they take a loved one with them into deep water, after which the end of the stories may be a temporary return to land or the final disappearance of the hero or heroine.
The translation itself was a long and laborious task, not without its difficulties, mainly due to the intention of reproducing as well as possible the simple, almost primitive language used by the Mapuches and that Bertha Koessler knew how to imitate so well in German. She uses many Mapudungun words, after which she immediately adds their meaning in German, thus clarifying quite precisely what the Mapuche narrator wants to express. However, it is not easy to reproduce the Mapuche way of speaking in Spanish. For this reason, the Spanish publisher found it necessary to edit the entire text of the primary translation to make it more fluent, although a large part of the fidelity of the original expression was lost with this. This was an unavoidable cost that had to be borne for literary reasons.
The publication of the magnificent work of Bertha Koessler is a great achievement. It is worth noting that, after so many years of the author’s frustration at not finding a publisher, her work was finally published in Chile and not in Argentina, where she lived and loved. However, it must be taken into account that the Mapuche people are much more numerous in our country than in Argentina, where they originate from.