Martin Edmond

The Auracania Papers

Allman Park

Allman Park is laid out geometrically after the flag of some forgotten or yet to be invented nation. The Fire Station just over the road, the Police Station next to that. Victoria Street with its twin lines of massive palms that carry in their name a memory of the Phoenicians. Tintern Road down the other flank where one rainy day I saw the brick garage of the early childhood centre collapse into rubble with a sigh. On that corner you cannot help but think Abbey and then Wordsworth but after that there’s nowhere to go: Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns. Norton Street runs between the two and that’s where I walk on Sunday mornings with my sons looking for mice that infest the fragrant hedgerow beneath the coned agathis from which comes the dammar gum. It wasn’t until I went there for a tryst one purple dusk last autumn that I saw the park is an outpost of the country called Auracania, a raft detached long ago perhaps from Antarctica. The once and future kingdom of Auracania. The one I was there to meet did not come at the appointed time and then I knew she never would. I sat on the bench before the dry fountain a while longer in order to fix in mind the passing shapes of that ambiguous hour. Auracania the place of conifers and shaggy beasts, some of whom might have been human. I glimpsed beneath the kauri a shadowy diprodon large as a rhinoceros. A palorchestes with claws and stunted trunk like a deformed elephant snuffled under the arbour for god knows what. A posse of flat-faced sthenurine kangaroo went by. The ghost of zaglossus, that echidna the size of a goat, feeding on armoured blattodea. Mihirung birds striding out, flightless and carnivorous, taller than moa. A goanna six metres long and slavering. I would not have you think these creatures came before my eyes like things of this world; only when I looked away did I seem to see them, only at the moment of forgetting did they remember themselves—vast dim shapes like grey holes in the gathering dusk. Absences deeper than an ache in the heart, more monstrous than grief, further away than pain. Their remanence refracted through tears. Their cold extinction and their future bones. I wondered about passing over and joining them in the lacustrine sunshine of their yesteryears but it was not possible. Stupid even to try: as if delusion should replace reality. So I got up and slowly walked on home. Past automobiles and grimy shop windows, sheets of paper blowing in the wind. The bus stop that has been closed. I had not noticed before that you can see the crown of the agathis from my balcony. There on the skyline, just to the right of the steeple glyphed with Sumerian cuneiform. At the blue hour, when I cannot sleep, I go out to sit and smoke and watch it firm against the lightening dark. Sometimes, not often, I hear a snarl and a scream, followed by distant braw bellowing as a sarcophilus takes a warredja returning to its burrow and eviscerates it beneath the gibbous moon. And then I smile because at such moments death means life and life means death and between them there is nothing to choose that has not already been chosen.


To speak truly of Auracania some disambiguation is necessary. It does not refer to the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia founded in 1860 in territory now occupied by the Republics of Chile and Argentina, curious though that place and its history is. Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, a French lawyer and adventurer, had himself elected by Mapuche Indian as the first King of Araucania and Patagonia but in 1862 was kidnapped by Chilean soldiers and deported to France. He mounted three expeditions to reclaim his throne before dying at Tourtoirac in 1878; the royal house has persisted in exile ever since, without relinquishing its rights under international law. The current head is Prince Philippe of Araucania who maintains contact with Mapuche in both South America and Europe and has spoken before the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous People as a representative of Mapuche in Argentina. While that kingdom is just an historical memory, Mapuche nation has preserved its cultural identity; but the Auracania I speak of is a different entity, a geographical not an historical memory and so inaccessible with resort to documents or indeed human recollection. It has however a kind of persistence that can at times contribute images of its shadowy provenance to the present and as such project its own fragile existence towards a possible future. It may sound arrogant, and perhaps it is, but I am one of the conduits of this projection, I can sometimes detect those shadow lines of force that carry with them an obligation—I nearly said sacred—to transmit the glimpses so gained, howsoever fragmentary, howsoever I can. Lately I have seen among the massed conifers ranked along the endless cloudy ridges of Auracania the shapes of large hairy beasts swinging slowly from branch to branch. They are a reddish colour with strong pelts and a propensity to hang upside down from the branches for long periods. Cone eaters, leaf-eaters, omnivores, as we are. These beasts possess a prospective intelligence. The humans of Auracania, men and women of grand stature, if not quite the Patagonian giants of legend, cut steps into the trunks of living trees and use them to ascend into the tops where they spend hours listening to the conversation of these animals, known to them as Paramylodon after the sound of their ruminative cries. The wisdom of these beasts, it is believed, comes from the fact that they have absorbed into themselves all that is known by the trees upon which they feed. Of what use this knowledge is to the giants I cannot tell. Perhaps the kind of knowing that the wind has; or the sea; perhaps just a cloud of unknowing. Like anything once understood it can never be lost. Sometimes in the quiet of night, even here, even now, among millions of sleepers, I hear a whisper of leaves in a cold dark wind and know that Auracania has returned with its ice, its calamity and its unutterable adamant that will outlast glaciers; then too I see the shadows of rough beasts in the forks of the branches of the eucalypts that grow along my street, tranced like Paramylodon were by the alkaloids in the leaves they eat; murmuring wyldewords.

Mapuche Nation

Mapuche no longer wish to be called after the Spanish word Arauco, once derived from Mapudungun awqa—rebel or enemy—but nowadays thought more likely to have come from rag ko—clayey waters. Mapuche are obdurate and combative and fought the Inca incessantly until Tupac Yupanqui acknowledged the Maupe River as the northern border of their lands. For three hundred years they opposed the Spanish conquest while trading with the empire in the intervals between battles. When the Chilean people declared their independence Mapuche believed their existence as a separate nation was apparent to all and thus secure; but the new republican government did not agree. During the wars of the 1880s many thousands died of starvation and disease. Internment, destruction of economies, looting of property and the institution of a system of reserves called reducciones after the North American model followed; personal ornaments and jewellery of superbly worked silver were stolen. Resistance by Mapuche never ended and activists continue to be prosecuted under legislation introduced by the Pinochet regime. These laws allow the withholding of evidence and concealment of witnesses. Resistance fighters attack Swiss and Japanese multinational forestry corporations that are planting Monterey pines and Australian eucalpyts instead of the conifers native to the region. Mapuche living in the mountain forests are known as Pehuenche after their own name for the trees; their staple is the seeds of the pehuén. Each group gathers piñone in the autumn from their local area: some by hitting the pine with a long cane, some by climbing the steps in the trunks of the spiny tree wrapped in leathers. Others believe it is necessary to wait for the seeds to ripen and fall spontaneously so that the spirits of the pehuén do not become angry. Piñone are eaten raw, roasted or boiled. They can be ground into flour for bread. A drink called chavin is fermented from the nuts. Stored dry on long necklaces in underground silos large enough to hold 500 kilos, the seeds may keep for four years. Or else they are dehydrated by being dropped onto hot stones in pits and then covered over with canes and dirt. Pehuenche also hunt guanacos and other animals and catch fish in mountain streams and lakes. Since the Spanish arrived they have become expert cattle herders because the paths across the cordillera run through their territory. When Mapuche were reduced after the Chilean conquest they reverted to living in pole and hide tents such as existed at Monte Verde, the oldest known site of human occupation in the Americas. Twenty to thirty people built a long house on the banks of a creek; it was framed with logs and planks staked in the ground to make walls that were covered with animal hides and tied to poles by ropes made of local reeds. There were separate living quarters within the main structure; each of these rooms had its own brazier pit lined with clay. Outside the tent-like structure two large hearths stood; many stone tools and remnants of seeds, nuts and berries were found there. Remains of forty-five different edible plant species occur within the site; some came from 150 miles away, suggesting either trade or travel that far afield. Other finds include human coprolites and a footprint made by a child. Nine species of seaweed and marine algae recovered from the settlement date between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago—more than 1,000 years earlier than any other known human settlement in the Americas. Whether these people were ancestors of Mapuche is not known. However it is certainly true that there was prehistoric contact between Mapuche and Polynesian. In 1910 two Rapanui obsidian spear points called mata'a were found in a shell midden south of Valparaíso. Many other mata'a have since appeared in Mapuche collections, sometimes in association with other Rapanui artifacts like polished stone axes; indeed the word for these axes, toki, is cognate with Polynesian and South East Asian usage. War leaders among Mapuche are themselves called Toki, meaning axe bearers, and the symbol of their rank is an adze-like stone pendant called tokikura. There is said to be a Maori chant used when cutting trees with toki preserved in a Mapuche tale. Other linguistic parallels between Mapuche and Polynesia are Mapuche piti and Rapanui iti (little); and Mapuche kuri and Rapanui uri (black). Another is a term for traditional cooperative work under rules of reciprocity—minga in Mapuche, umanga in Rapanui and mink’a in Quechua. On Chiloé Island in the south of the Mapuche area there is a type of potato called kumaka though the word is perhaps a Quechua borrowing. There are also similarities in fishing techniques, in the earth oven called curanto (umu in Polynesia) and in the use of a moon calendar celebrating New Year when the Mataariki rise after the winter solstice. A Polynesian type rocker-jaw skull was unearthed from a prehistoric shell midden on Mocha Island but no genetic evidence of Polynesian admixture has yet been found among Mapuche. The most celebrated Polynesian-like Mapuche artifact is the Clava Mere Okewa, a polished stone hand club shaped like a Maori wahaika. Wahaika means mouth of fish and the clubs are usually decorated after the shape of some fish, for instance the hammerhead shark. Other club shapes are also present in Mapuche tool kits but they lack the elaborate ornament carved into the edges of Maori wahaika because they were made from local slate not wood. Recently three small stone busts like Rapanui Moai were found on Chiloé Island, Mocha Island and at San José de la Mariquina respectively. Then early in this century chicken bones were dug up in association with human remains at a place called El Arenal on the south coast of Chile. Until this discovery it was believed that the flamboyant local Araucana fowl was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers around 1500. However DNA analysis of the El Arenal bones showed the birds carried a rare mutation otherwise found only in chickens from Mele Havea in Tonga and Fatu-ma-Futi in American Samoa. There was also a near identical match with DNA of chickens from Rapanui. The Mapuche hens with their blue eggs are thus pre-hispanic with close relatives in Polynesia. The bones date to a period at least a hundred years before Columbus reached the Caribbean and suggest a possible trade off—chickens, usually called moa, for sweet potatoes, called kumara both in South America and in Polynesia; as noted above it is a Quechua word. Ancient Polynesians were far travelling explorers but tended to settle only on uninhabited islands; if they found other people already in occupation they would usually turn around and go somewhere else. This is precisely what is recorded in a Kiribati tradition collected in the 1920s. The people with the navigator Te Raaka found the land forbidding and cold, with tall black mountains reaching up to the sky like a great snow-topped wall; they turned and sailed back to their islands. Mapuche culture is shamanistic. These days the shaman, called machi, are mostly women although formerly they were often homosexual men. They perform ceremonies for curing diseases, warding off evil, influencing weather and harvests, and dreamwork. Machi have extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs, sacred stones and the sacred animals. As recently as 1960 there was a report of a human sacrifice among Mapuche—a five year old boy had his arms and legs severed and his body planted upright in the sands of the shore in order to propitiate the gods after the dreadful tsunami of that year. The waters of the Pacific Ocean then carried the body out to sea. Human sacrifice to weather gods is attested elsewhere on that coast: the Moche culture of Peru sacrificed young men whose throats were cut then their flesh carefully peeled from their bones during the heavy rains that characterize the El Niño phase of the Oscillation of the Southern Pacific Index. A judge ruled that those involved in the Mapuche event had acted without free will, driven by an irresistible natural force of ancestral tradition. Mapuche believe in twin spirits, Ten Ten-Vilu, goddess of earth and of fertility, creator and protector of flora and fauna; and Coi Coi-Vilu, goddess of water, origin of all that inhabits it and enemy of terrestrial life. Long ago the island of Chiloé was joined to the mainland. One day Coi Coi-Vilu manifested as a monstrous serpent and flooded the lowlands, the valleys and the mountains, submerging everything. Then Ten Ten-Vilu came out to contend with her, raising up the land to protect it from inundation. The battle went for a long time. Ten Ten-Vilu won but was unable to restore the land to its former state—it was left riven and dismembered as it is today. Coi Coi-Vilu fled but left behind as her regent of the seas and all they contain the king Millalonco, conceived during the battle when a beautiful Mapuche woman fell in love with a sea lion. It was that country dismembered by Coi Coi-Vilu—both the island of Chiloé, the mainland and the cordillera where the Pehuenche climb in their trees to gather piñone and listen to the murmurings of red-haired beasts—that is properly called Auracania and is remembered by that name even in places far away from there: anywhere Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree, grows with its spines evolved to prevent the too easy grazing upon it of dinosaurs of the Tithonian Jurassic. Anywhere where the dreams of the children of Millalonco, and the children of Tane too, with their intimations of ice and fire, earthquake and flood, endure.

The Transposed You

Araucania and Auracania are different places distinguished in nomenclature only by that transposed U—the fourth letter becomes the second and we, that is you and I, are in an another place. One is a simple act of colonial appropriation, the clayey waters or the rebel indigenes become a sign of the land where we live, which is then used to name a province of a modern state, a tree that grows there and even a fictional kingdom that continues its notional existence alongside its also partly real, partly notional adjoining territory of Patagonia—a word of disputed etymology that may mean Big Foot; while the Chankas of Peru, enemies of the Inca at the same time as the Mapuche, are said to have been seven feet tall and to have had red hair. (A curious rumour: that all red-haired people preserve in their lineage genes of the Neanderthal.) The derivation of Auracania is equally uncertain: aura from the Greek for breeze or breath? Latin, auris, ear? Or should we be recalling aurum, gold? What to do with the phantom K? I'm an amateur here, without credentials, but a subtle emanation or aroma, a distinctive atmosphere diffused by or attending a person or place is persuasive. Auracania as a country of the breath, a visible light surrounding a living thing, unbounded by space or time ... that is what I saw or seemed to see that desolate evening in Allman Park when the one I expected did not come. And now I think of Los Desaparecidos, whose stories remain for the most part untold:
Fell evening as the wind
scythes at your skin
on this far away shore
and bare corner of the world

where you wait on the steps
tap-tapping through the streets
of your lover who walks
the liquid arc of your eye

like a shadow on a stone
like the wind over bones
or the hulked emptiness
given out as a cry

when the corner is turned
and the one who was awaited
disappears in the absence
of the one who has waited ...

Well, perhaps. More likely this country of the breath can come back, does return and will continue to do so: the eternal recurrence of all things. Even the Neanderthal with their flowery memorials, their prehistoric rage, their grand passion that survives as a relict wherever we, that is you and I, find ourselves haunted by a place beyond the actual place where we are or seem to be. Whenever that old world, bone of our bone, blood of our blood, wakes within us. And we see forgotten things, of which we—you and I—are certainly two. Then we go home and this home calls and can be called ... Auracania.


The latest object scryed in the solar system is, although the astronomers do not yet know it, a part of Auracania. In an act of sightless intuition they have called it Make Make after the tutelary deity of nga tangata manu of Rapanui. Each season the names of rangatira are revealed in dreams to tohunga; each rangatira then chooses his hopu, who swims out to Motunui to try to be the first to bring back an egg of te manu tara. Many are killed by sharks, by drowning or by falling from the cliff they have to climb to the village of Orongo upon their return. Once the hopu has presented the egg to his rangatira, a fire is lit on the landward side of the rim of the great crater of Rano Kau. The place of the fire tells the whole island whether the new tangata manu is from the western or the eastern clans—the winner’s people have exclusive rights to that season’s harvest of wild bird eggs and fledglings from Motunui. In flickering firelight te tangata manu leads an ecstatic dance down the slope of Rano Kau and on to Anakena if he is from the western clans; or to Rano Raraku if he is of the eastern clans. The names of 86 tangata manu are still remembered, those men who have won for their people the right to feed on the year’s plenty of the sooty petrel colonies; while the others lament and starve, starve and lament. The Make Make of the astronomers is a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet not much smaller than Pluto. It is in the Kuiper Belt, that ring of icy bodies which orbit out there in fealty to a sun that does not warm them nor light up their perpetual night. Make Make is the third of the Plutoids, after Eris goddess of strife and Pluto himself, named by the International Astronomical Union Committee on Small Body Nomenclature; it is reddish, featureless and has no moon. Or so they say. Actually it is a piece of Auracania that came adrift and floated away from the main body: like our moon ripped from the molten earth, perhaps after collision with another heavenly body, leaving the giant scar of the Pacific Ocean behind. Make Make, the Plutoid, is our planet’s Motunui where ghostly manu tara roost and lay their eggs; where they raise their equivocal fledglings. Our sustenance is buried there in the frozen reddish soil, alkaloids of dreaming potency that will one day restore us to knowledge we have lost. Who sculpted the face on Mars for instance. What song the sirens sang. The true name of the angel of history. The alphabet of the language spoken before Babel fell. Why Venus arose from the waters and all the messages Mercury carries. And much else besides. But who will be our hopu? Which tohunga will dream his rangatira? How will that hopu navigate the solar wind past the asteroid belt, itself made up of large and small fragments of Auracania, and on by swollen Jupiter, Saturn burning and the blue and green gas giants of Uranus and Neptune? When will restoration of the ancient rites begin? I am impatient for their recommencement. I know that she for whom I waited in vain at Allman Park last year—if it was not aeons ago—waits as importunately as I do. She is watching the rim of the crater for the fire to be lit. Down in Anakena or else at Rano Raraku she longs for the food of the gods to be brought. I do not know her name. I do not know if she is from the east or the west; I think it is our task—hers and mine—to reunite the clans. Sometimes—Dans l’amacale nuit du Sud—I hear her voice. Que c’est beau le monde, she breathes. La Grèce n’a jamais existé. Ils ne passeront pas … and then I cannot remember if I am tohunga, rangatira or hopu. Or all three. Or none. Whatever it is, was or will be, let us begin the race to Make Make. Let us go down to the dark ocean of the sky and dive into its celestine waters. Let us swim out through magnetic storms, meteor showers, satellites, comets and the cosmic dust. Into the aching void. I do not even care where we are going, only that we go. Soon. By which I mean—now.

A collection of Martin Edmond's recent writings, The Evolution of Mirrors, will be published in August by Otoliths.

previous page     contents     next page



Post a Comment

<< Home