Every year, the Mapuche people have an ancestral tradition. Indeed, between June 21 – 24, they celebrate the beginning of the new year.
Since inmemorial times, the day and night-sky stargazing has been one of the fundamental human activities. As a result, it has been possible to establish schedules, seasons of the year, weather forecasts, effective organization of sowings and harvests, as well as creating a complete system of spiritual beliefs.
Astro-bodies (like the Sun, the Moon, the shooting stars, the Milky Way, etc), are the stars understood from diverse cultural perspectives. Actually, they have a direct influence on the configuration of society.
Right from the start, the Mapuche People developed an extensive knowledge of astronomy and astrology. This has enabled them to have a complete notion of the changes in the position of the sun and other stars. And, in consequence, the variations produced in nature and human beings.
Thus, that understanding led them to grasp accurately the language of the earth, its evolutionary stages, and the beginning and end of each year.
In the Northern Hemisphere, where it is the longest day of the year in terms of daylight, the June solstice is also called the summer solstice. On the other hand, June 21 is the shortest day and the longest night of the year for those who live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Accordingly, it is also the beginning of winter season. The corresponding solstice points the largest distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Solstices happen twice a year, in June and December. The June solstice happens around June 21, when the Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer. The December solstice takes place around December 21. On this day, the Sun is precisely over the Tropic of Capricorn.
For the Mapuche, this coincides with the end of the harvest season, but also the beginning of the sewing period. According to their cyclic vision of the cosmos, the sun is the precursor of life. Consequently, their beliefs establish that the sun is born when the winter starts, is young during the spring, a grown-up in the summer and old in the fall, when the trees shed their leaves and the animals change their fur.
We Tripantu, the Mapuche New Year
The We Tripantu, or We Xipantu, is determined by the lunar cycle, which controls nature, the weather, rainfalls, the animal and plant life. Moreover, it also has much to do with the Mapuche daily life, their religion, philosophy, and their worldview.
In Mapudungun, the Mapuche’s native languague, “We Tripantu” means”new year” or “sunrise”. Actually, it is an important celebration coinciding with the Inca ceremony of the Inti Raimy. They perform a Nguillatún, during which they are thank, pray and honour to the sun, source of wisdom and renewal.
We can define the We Tripantu as the end of the old year, and the beginning of the first cycle of a new year or new life, characterized by the return of the sun. A new cycle of production begins, the beginning of the most intense rains that prepare nature to welcome and encourage the wonderful growth of new life.
The We Tripantu Ceremony
On the evening of June 23, the rites begin with the families gathering around a stove while they eat typical dishes and the elders of the community tell stories. In the early morning of June 24, all the Mapuche members of the gathering leave the heat of the fire to make contact with the cold waters of rivers, streams and springs near by. There, they purify their body and spirit before the new sun rises to coincide with the new year.
Traditionally, the We Tripantu ceremony is accompanied by prayers. Then, each family returns home playing their traditional instruments and singing allusive songs. Some communities include popular games, baptisms and rituals in order to affirm their beliefs, as part of the festivities, and also to strengthen ties among all.
Thank to this cultural expression, we come to understand the profound relation that the Mapuche people maintain with Mother Earth. Actually, they deepen the consciousness of the Human Spirit engaging in a dialogue from their heart to guide the bond with Ñuke Mapu.