A KITE EXPERIENCE AMONG EARTH ANCESTRAL SONGS OF A MAPUCHE COMMUNITY
Professor Maria Elena García Autino
From Discourse 10
A delta Argentine flag kite, generously lent by Alberto Barrero for the children of Aluminé, Argentina to enjoy. The Mapuche (“people of the Earth”) are a native South American people inhabiting south Chile and southwest Argentina.
“I have a vision of the Songlines stretching across the continents and ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song…!”
– Bruce Chatwin
There are times at the “Cordillera de los Andes,” especially in Aluminé, Neuquén, Argentina, when the wind is not particularly “kite friendly…”
On a beautiful mountain morning during our last visit, the community children hoped to enjoy flying their own kite creations and some simple models we had brought from as far as China. Especially anticipated was the flight of a tiger kite, evoking for the Mapuche native tradition the strength and courage of the puma, which they call tiger.
But the wind refused to blow smoothly, until some of those present recalled the tiger’s “tayil,” an ancient ancestral singing of theirs. Soon, a melody was climbing the gorges, a mixture of hum, singing, and scream. The tiger was then there with us, his marvelous power managed to evoke the wind and it flew at last.
We traveled to Aluminé, Argentina this year to build kites, to participate at the 95th anniversary festival of this charming small town, continuing with many previous experiences we had there. It was an opportunity to learn more about the ancient myths and traditions of the native community living in the “barrio intercultural” (intercultural neighborhood).
Flying kites together is often a wonderful occasion to share feelings, beliefs, and experiences with others, and to learn about their surroundings, their dreams, hopes, and difficulties. This time we would like to communicate what we learn about “tayil.”
The tayil is one and many. It is earth’s secret hum and also the voice of the tiger, the lion, the condor, the gull, and also it is the voice of stones, winds, pehuen trees…
When evoked by humans, tayil are groups of articulated sounds, repeated at will. These are not words of human language, but songs. Like traditional Australian Aboriginal people, all land here is regarded as sacred, and the songs must be continually sung to keep the land “alive.” The Mapuche natives consider that the tayil preserves the god’s voices, their inherited spirit inside everything.
The whisper of the river, the shriek of the wind, the squawk of the gulls, the croak of the frogs? It is not noise, but sung tayil! It is the language of their ancestral gods perpetuated in living species.
Tayil isn’t a common song or a prayer. It is an ode to mesmerizing. His little variation lends this effect, which becomes more blurred in the sweet and particular way in which it is sung. That’s why it is also used to raise the trance of “viewers.”
As a peculiar singing way, the tayil follows, without doubt, the Aboriginal concept of choral singing. It is considered not purely Araucanian but spread very far in the American continent and even outside of it.
Women are those who sing tayils, although at ceremonies there is no shortage of men, particularly those who are “viewers.” Tayils, in spite of their transcendental nature, are not necessarily old. From time to time, some new tayils appear. Others are reserved for public ceremonies, accompanied by dances and family prayer.
The Mapuche culture was represented on our kite train by the kultrun, a ceremonial drum, the most important musical instrument of the Mapuche culture. It is used by the machi (healer) for cultural and religious rituals, along with tayils, as well as during the Ngillatun (annual rite of fertility).
It is a hemispherical membranophone, membrane bounded, played by direct percussion, roughly between 35 and 40 cm (about 14 to 16 inches) in diameter and 12 to 15 cm (about 5 to 6 inches) high. Its body is made of laurel or lenga. It is built by hollowing out a trunk into a concave cone shape. A lamb or horse leather patch covers its mouth, strained tight with leather ties.
The kultrun is held in the hand and played with a stick or supported on the ground and played with two sticks.
In the Mapuche worldview, a kultrun or cultrun represents half of the universe or the world as spherical. The four cardinal points are represented on the patch, which are the omnipotent Ngenechen (god) powers represented by two crossed lines. Its endpoints branch into three l ines representing choyke (Rhea).
I had the privilege of listening to the sound of the tayil a few times, and I have always been touched by its mysterious charm and the deep wisdom of this myth: each single being on earth has its own sound that we must pay attention to and respect. Every animal, every plant, each river deserves our care and protection.
When we build kites with native children, each time we discover their concern for nature. This is reflected by their paintings and written messages and also by the enthusiasm they show towards a collective project.
What is a kite for? To discover the wind secrets, and the Mapuche wind tayil is one of them. It tells us about the wonder of our incredible universe. The message through kultrum or didgeridoo music teaches us again and again, in Argentina as well as in Australia, that we don’t own the land, that we are part of it.
On this experience, my thanks to:
Hugo Daniel Negro
…for teaching me everything I know about kites and lending me unconditional friendship, knowledge, models, materials, and help.