Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf has won Chile’s highest literature award for helping to bring the southern indigenous people’s oral tradition to a wider public, the country’s culture minister announced Tuesday.
Consuelo Valdes paid tribute to the 68-year-old’s “capacity to instill the oral tradition of his people in powerful writing that transcends Mapuche literature.”
Chihuailaf, currently stranded in Barcelona because of global travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, is the first Mapuche poet to win Chile’s National Literature Prize.
“With mastery and through his own unique voice he has contributed in a decisive way to the spreading of his poetic universe around the world and amplifying the voice of his ancestors,” Valdes said in announcing the winner.
Twice nominated for the award, Chihuailaf’s writing highlights the Mapuche people’s relationship with nature and their place in Chilean society.
The recognition comes as militant Mapuches have increased their attacks on trucks and agricultural machinery in the south of the country.
Mapuche communities have long-standing land disputes with the state, especially in the southern region of Araucania, around 600 kilometers south of the capital Santiago.
Chihuailaf belongs to a generation of writers that began to emerge after Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 military takeover of the South American country, many of them in exile.
His poems, originally written in Spanish and Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, have been widely translated.
In addition to his poetry, Chihuailaf is also recognized as an essayist and translator.
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