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Nahuel Pan

The Old Patagonian Express steams to the station platform at Nahuel Pan. Its passengers debark and the train chugs past a few retired engines parked on the sidings, rusting into the barren earth. In the log buildings along the main track, the museum and artisan shop are open. The Mapuche-Tehuelche of this village are ready to welcome visitors.


This small hamlet consists only of the former railroad workers’ cabins where a few of the community’s 25 families live. Most of Nahuel Pan’s inhabitants reside out in the countryside. Nahuel Pan is named for the cacique (ruler) family of the community, whose clan name means either tiger (nahuel) puma (pangui), or tiger’s back. This community, like all indigenous communities in Argentina, suffered a long history of repression. Today it is blooming into life, recovering its traditions.


Nahuel Pan reservation was established in 1908 for the “tribe of Francisco Nahuel Pan.” Initially it encompassed 19,000 hectares but in 1922 was enlarged to 21,000 hectares. For only 30 years, however, did its inhabitants live in relative peace. In 1937, an official decree ordered the 300 residents of the Reserva Indígena Nahuelpan forcibly removed. Their homes were burned and the people beaten. Because of shady land transfers, with many parcels ending up in the hands of the influential Amaya family of Buenos Aires. The government ordered that a portion of the territory be returned to the Mapuche-Tehuelche. Part of the original Nahuel Pan lands were used for infrastructure for the Old Patagonian Express: station, workers’ housing, rails, water tank. In 1993, with then-president Carlos Menem’s provincialization or the trains, the entire area was returned to this indigenous nation. Recent government’s have encouraged original peoples to recuperate their traditions. The effort has been concerted here. The school will begin teaching Mapuzungún (the Mapuche language).


In the former train station is the Museo de Culturas Originarias Patagónicas, a well-laid out museum explaining the histories, legends and culture of the Mapuche and Tehuelche nations. The collection of pottery, weavings, stonework, silver jewelry and other items is excellent. Members of the community are on hand in each gallery to answer questions. (Open the days La Trochita runs 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; January and February daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Esatción de Ferrocarriul. Entry: by donation). A few buildings north of the museum is the Casa de las Artesanías. Here, the renowned textiles of Nahuel Pan’s women may be purchased, including knitted hats, socks and gloves, as well as woven sashes and shawls. Other artisan works made by the Mapuche-Tehuelche are also available.


Nahuel Pan is one of the few Mapuche-Tehulche reserves yet to observe Kamarikun (Camaruco), a religious ceremony. Twice yearly, on March 20 and June 24, the community gathers to pray to to Futa Chao (Great Father) for the well-being of the people who inhabit the earth, the harvests, health, for a good year. A rewe, or sacred space, is created facing East, with 12 boughs of colihue (Chusquea culeu). These represent the 12 months of the year. Two flags, one representing the sky and another purity (plus, perhaps, a third banner for the sun) are raised. The prayers, sacred dance (purrĂşn) and songs (taiel) are done, as well as four horserides around the ritual circle.


Other places nearby Nahuel Pan : El Huecu, Cholila, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Moquehue, San Martín de Los Andes, Villa La Angostura, Villa Pehuenia, Lago Huechulafquen, Quillén and Neuquén .

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

12 Aug 2009

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