Accepted Paper:

Mis-understanding otherness: a relational approach to ontological and symbolic readings of sacred sites in Mapuche land negotiations   


Piergiorgio Di Giminiani (Universidad Catolica de Chile)

Paper short abstract:

This article explores the implications of misunderstandings in land negotiations between Mapuche claimants and state functionaries in Chile. Misunderstandings originate in the tendency to rely on analogies and symbols in their interpretations of sacred sites involved in land disputes.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the process of land negotiations between state functionaries and Mapuche claimants in Southern Chile. This process, which began in 1993, aimed at the resolution of disputes originated as a consequence of indigenous land dispossession in the last 150 years. As a form of cultural translation, land negotiations centres on the interpretation of the cultural significance of land for indigenous people. In particular, Mapuche sacred sites are the most compelling forms of symbolically expressing the relation between a human group and their land. The local ethnography focuses on one land dispute to illustrate how land negotiations are riddled with misunderstandings by state officials on the role of rewe altars in Mapuche land claims.

Misinterpretations by state officials originate as a form of equivocation, a concept introduced by Viveiros de Castro and referring to the predicament of cultural translation of homonymic concepts, such sacred sites in this case. Equivocation is further complicated by the tendency of state officials to treat sacred sites as symbolic capital and symbols of indigenous identity. By drawing upon the recent anthropological exploration of difference at the ontological level, this articles suggests that symbolic and strategic interpretations of sacred sites involved in land claims ultimately obscure those ontological properties upon which the sacredness of these sites is predicated in Mapuche society. The political implications of the forcing of symbolic interpretations are evident as they can lead to accusations of inauthenticity of sacred sites and, ultimately, to the deligitimisation of indigenous claims over ancestral land.

Panel IW004
Towards an anthropology of misunderstanding (EN)