In an article entitled “The Conception of Time in Mapuche Culture” (1987), the Chilean anthropologist María Grebe describes the spatiotemporal orientation of the earth according to the indigenous Mapuche people in the south of Chile. According to the Mapuche, the mapu—or earth (the literal meaning of the name “Mapuche” is “people of the earth”)—is divided into four quadrants whose axes appear, at first sight, to be analogous with the cardinal points of the Western compass: north (piku); east (puel); south (willi); west (lafkén). So far so good.
Yet Grebe also notes that in the Mapuche cosmovision, the mapu is oriented not to the north but to the east, from where the sun rises (tripapan-antü) and the snow-capped Andes lie in the distance, and towards which Mapuche rukas, or houses, are oriented. From this principal bearing, the Mapuche system follows the movement of the sun throughout the course of the day: north (rangi-antü, or midday); west (konün-antü, or sundown); and south (rangi-pun, or midnight). In this geocentric model, the traditional Western schema is subject to a double transformation: first rotated by ninety degrees and then inverted. From N–E–S–W, we get E–N–W–S.
In terms of translation, this difference has profound implications that lead us to the outer limits of representability. Consider a seemingly innocuous phrase such as: “he came from the north.” Immediately we understand a vertical axis, determined by the magnetic poles of the earth.… [ Continue reading → ]
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