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The Mapuche New Year Celebration

 Estimated reading time: 2 min. Texts Photos Pablo Etchevers Texts Photos Pablo Etchevers
Mapuche New Year

Both in Chile and in Argentina, the native peoples welcome and celebrate the New Year on June 24. The sun is the great protagonist.

Astrology and astronomy were very important disciplines the Mapuche people, as well as all the native peoples of the continent, used as a means of developing and fostering knowledge. They managed to interpret the movements of the sun, the rest of the stars and the planets through analysis and studies. They also understood the changes produced on nature and even people as a result of those movements.

Thus, they were able to accurately define the start and the ending of the New Year. Nature and the Earth have a logic based on evolution and its understanding leads to the determination of the start and the closing of each stage.

The most important celebration for the native peoples in the Southern hemisphere is the “We Xipantu” or “Nquillatún”, a Mapuche expression which stands for “New Year” or “sunrise of the new sun”. It occurs simultaneously with the Inty Raimy (of the Inca tradition), which claims that the sun is the source of wisdom and renovation. During the ceremony, prayers are said and thanks are given to this element essential to life.
Mapuche New Year
In our hemisphere, the coming of winter takes place on June 21 and it coincides with the winter solstice. This is the point in the calendar when the Earth tilts at its greatest distance away from the sun. This is the shortest day in the year and the longest night. For the Mapuches, this natural phenomenon sets the ending of the harvest period and the beginning of a new sowing season.

This nation has a cyclical conception of time: the sun is born with the coming of winter, it becomes a youth and then turns into an adult in the spring, it grows old during our summer and it starts to die in the fall. This is a process of change and evolution shared with nature in general.
Mapuche New Year
The ceremony begins on the night of June 23, when all the families gather around a big bonfire and listen to the eldest members of the group. They taste typical dishes specially prepared for the event.

At the break of dawn on June 24, everybody (children, youths and elders alike) get to the closest river, stream or spring creek and have a bath in a purification rite. They do this in order to cleanse their body and soul before welcoming the new sun and, therefore, the New Year.

After the bath, a series of individual and group prayers follow as the formal beginning of the celebration. As the families return to their homes, they play typical instruments and dance to their music to celebrate the New Year.
Mapuche New Year
Countless activities take place every year on June 24, depending on the community. These may include: religious ceremonies, popular games and baptisms. Girls over six years old have their ears pierced as a way of setting the end of their childhood.

In short, this is a date loaded with emotion and joy. Each practice is aimed at strengthening the spirit of brotherhood within the community. In the last few years, these popular celebrations have been open for foreign tourists, both Chilean and Argentinian in general.
Inter Patagonia

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Other Characteristics
the largest primitive people in Argentinian – Chilean Patagonia is the Mapuche people, which includes almost 800,000 members spread to both sides of the Andes Mountain Range.
In Chile, according to one of the latest census carried out by the Dirección de Estadísticas Sociales de los Pueblos Indígenas (Indian Peoples Social Statistics Department), there are 604,349 Mapuches, which represents 87.3 % de of the total Chilean Indian population.


The Viewpoint

“The Spanish conquerors arrived in the American continent and brought along the criteria ruling in old Europe. Whether out of ignorance or cultural arrogance, they decreed that the year should end on December 31st, when in these latitudes, in fact, the summer solstice took place in that season. Maybe that is the reason why it is essential to stop and think about not losing our own vision ofthe world, our own philosopy instead of trying to figure out who is right or wrong. The Wexipantu belongs to us simply because we are part of the southern hemisphere. And this is something we can observe more and more frequently: in the last few years, many visitors have approached the area full of curiosity, even to the Mapuches' surprise, in order to celebrate the new year. They have been most welcomed and invited to take part in the traditional celebrations. Perhaps, this is a way of getting close to what is ours, our true identity. The identity of our land and its primitive peoples.”

Pablo Etchevers

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