Comunidad Catrileo+Carrión: Mapuche Non-Binary Utopias for an Epupillan Present

As a call for other ways of living beyond the heteropatriarchal regime, Comunidad Catrileo+Carrión draws poetics to imagine epupillan utopias, tides of planetary solidarity that go beyond the binary.

We have spent many hours of our time asking our people about our non-heterosexual Mapuche ancestors. We have spent days searching in libraries and archives for some trace of those who came before us. It seems that the more we look, the less we find. Linear time is playing a capricious trick on us. The little that we know has been written by white men who didn’t understand these experiences beyond a notion of heteronormativity; gender is a colonial imposition that has persisted. It was necessary to eradicate other, more complex modes of being that fit neither inside our contemporary idea of gender identity, nor inside Christian morality. For these experiences, bodies, and practices threatened a colonial mold that sought to correct and straighten out those who moved along other coordinates distinct from those that delineate binary thinking. These practices of our ancestors cannot be found in archives or in the annals of history.

Our ancestors have been described in historical passages as abhorrent beings, their experiences clumsily linked to the devil and witchcraft. We know little of them. Some of them played a political-spiritual role, they were the machi weye, beings with abilities and knowledge that the white men (winka) didn’t understand. More heartbreaking, even today they are still not fully understood by a contemporary conservative Mapuche society that resists opening itself to understanding them.

(…) the machi weye began a spiritual war against the Spanish. They summoned the spirits of the Mapuche warriors and the spirits of the machi (spiritual warriors), who continued fighting the souls of the Spanish in the heavens, using such weapons as lightning, thunder, and volcanic eruption (Rosales 1989: 155-161). With curses, the machi weye blew tobacco smoke towards the enemy territory. They would divine the location of the Spanish and determine the outcome of battles, making magic using water in a pot (Rosales 1989: 135). In their military predictions, they called upon the moon, the sun, and the planets so as to generate the power to cure the wounded and take revenge on their enemies (Ercilla 1933: 45, 147; Oña 1975: 15, 21). The machi weye systematically advised their Reche chiefs so that they could eliminate the Spanish (Rosales 1989: 384) […] they also used words as weapons.[1]
We would like to keep this spiritual war in mind and use words as a different kind of weapon, one we can use to heal a history of our people that has been effaced, calling the memories of our ancestors into the twenty-first century. This is our task and this is our medicine. They have worn themselves out calling us whores, vile sinners, sodomites—words that have negative connotations—in an attempt to liquidate the potential for transformation and resistance of those who practice the ways of the machi weye. And today they also tell us that we don’t exist, that the names that we have recovered along with our kimün (knowledge) are not valid.[2]

The brutal persecution of our ancestors lasted for many centuries. There are colonial letters and chronicles that describe this—“indecorous” passages that winka history has sought to exterminate. According to these chronicles, anyone who committed the sin of sodomy had to be sought out, captured, burned at the stake, and refused the right to be buried. Everything that questioned the values of evangelization had to be corrected, straightened out, and channeled in the straight line of progress and civilization.

These brutal histories have been little recounted in present day. They constitute a B-side that the more conservative Mapuche don’t want to recognize. Even so, we have persisted in our search for our non-heterosexual ancestors. We want to find their forgotten names, their photographs, or whatever other index that can allow us to activate our political imagination. This is the motivation that has led us to write this text; we yearn to return our ancestors to the earth, to perform ceremonies that, like the waves touching the sand, let us dissolve all that is solid into a mass that will one day become the Pacific Ocean—the tides that come and go, currents of pain and forgetting, of memories in resistance and solidarity. For part of the “punishment” that those who were accused of sodomy were made to suffer was to have their ashes thrown to the wind so that they could never find rest, so that they could never return to the earth.

Out of this context of invisibilization, persecution, pain, and erasure, emerges a possibility that we have plotted communally, recuperating it from the situated experience of Mapuche living on the Chiloé Archipelago: epupillan. We embraced the word epupillan because we learned it from other Mapuchi-Williche people who shared with us their experiences, their memories, their modes of understanding and respecting all life forms.[3]Epupillan means “two spirits,”[4] but it has a distinctive feature: pillan[5] is a spirit who is more than human, who is infinite. They send us signals that help us to connect with itrofilmongen (biodiversity) so that we can come to understand life that doesn’t center around humanity. They allow us to move not only between the known, like the masculine and feminine, but also to think about all inanimate and animate life as intimately connected through the flow of the matter or the mapu that “is in everything.”[6] Reflecting on the condition of parriache in dialogue with the power of epupillan, Adriana Paredes Pinda (2019) writes:
In this way, we discover the parriache, those of us who do not fit into the paradigm of race, those of us who are not prototypes of purity nor essentialities untouched by history or colonialism, those of us who recognize ourselves as awinkaos—colonized, those of us who live fighting against contempt as a form of art, converting it into fabric. Do we come from these maternal lineages? From these one-armed, silent, stammering, renascent “traces” … always searching for a territory where we can settle our madness, the poetic and political delirium that is born from our transgression. For, as the Papay say, “—the champurria, those are the worst, water with flour, neither one nor the other…” (11)

Our Catrileo+Carrión Community is made up of non-heterosexual people who will not have children. Our lineages have been interrupted by our decision to seek out other ways of living. We imagine ourselves politically as an archipelago that has enough space for infinite possibilities of being, a gift that has been given to us by those with whom we have shared the situated knowledge called epupillan. We harbor a simultaneously generative and destructive power within us, and through this vital exploration we are able to understand the many sensations and memories of a wound that has been transmitted to us as part of a colonial and patriarchal legacy. We must ask ourselves, what is the destiny of a Mapuche epupillan community like our own if we do not reproduce? How can we contribute to the processes of indigenous political self-determination from this position? Will the autonomous territories we one day gain as indigenous people also be organized according to an obligatory heterosexuality? Do any of these intellectual or political projects include us or promote our pariah voices?

We imagine again the destiny of those who refused to reproduce human life because of their different desires, because they had links with the community that weren’t structured by sexual reproduction, but rather on reciprocity with nonhuman forces, knowledge, and specific practices that contributed to the general community.

Politically, we can only imagine the time that our non-heterosexual ancestors were able to access as an unproductive time that not only threatened the extractive colonial project, attacking it with curses, erupting volcanoes, and illnesses sent through water, but also resisted the formation of new enslaved bodies— resisted reproduction.

This same strategy of persecution is linked to the demonization of Pillan, that force that flows out of humanity on a whole other scale. The ancient Mapuche called volcanoes Pillan. This fed the idea among the Spanish that calling upon this spirt was synonymous with making a pact with the devil. The transformation of non-heterosexual indigenous bodies into sodomite bodies was marked by the colonial influence of the fifteenth century, a time when the interests of the nascent monarchic Spanish state were tied to the interests of the Catholic church. This pact helped to forge an association between the declared sin of sodomy and a moral project as well as a legal and territorial one. Pillan is not only understood as a telluric and igneous threat, but also as a system of ethical relating that structures ways of existing.[7]

This tie resulted in the designation of all non-reproductive sexual practices as sodomitic acts. This new equivalence not only explains the persecution of non-heterosexual beings, but also illuminates the imposition of the imperative of heterosexual reproduction upon the whole colony, a mandate that was especially harshly inscribed on the bodies of women and continues to be so to this day. In these terms, to refrain from reproduction is to inflict damage on the state and colonial administration, a conceptual equivalence that was used to justify war against sodomites as a legitimate defense of the state.

We ask ourselves where our political place lies as part of a constellation of ancestral dissidents that skirts the whole of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire. What are the possible alliances, points of intersection, connections, and shared experiences? In his poem Cántaro roto (Broken Jug), Leonel Lienlaf (1989)[8] writes:

Now this red jug
has met its end
it has broken into pieces.
It will sleep in the earth
and one day
another potter
will reconstruct it.

The response that we might formulate to the above question, this interpretation from the perspective of a situated epupillan experience, is to imaginatively trace an account that, tapping into the flow of magma, connects with the terrestrial telluric-geological network of the Ring of Fire. Here, the imagination gets lost in the vast Pacific Ocean and melts with the heat of the lava that flows liquid under the tectonic plates. We find pieces of an unknown artifact that has similar features to those of the red jug that Leonel Lienlaf evokes for us, but which, in its catastrophic encounter with Pillan, is reduced to dust, impossible to put back together again. Yet this finality confers upon us a particular kind of calmness: the possibility of melting clay, melting rocks, melting the jug in Pillan’s “demonic” jaws, delivering us into the liquid logic of magmatic flow and connecting us to the nonhuman in two senses: touching, filled with desire, the nonhuman life that both makes us up and exceeds us, but also confronting the dehumanization with which our experiences and deviant communities have historically been met. Here, we would like to distinguish categorically processes of dehumanization from nonhuman processes. Dehumanization is a colonial mechanism for maintaining white or white-mestizo supremacy. It is against this hegemonic system that we have decided to call ourselves epupillan—in order to explore the limits and territories of nonhumanity, finding the outlines and fragments of an eradicated epupillan past. Just as an earthquake will leave a groove in a valley or cause a cliff to collapse, so epupillan time makes its mark in the impact of its absence, in its silence drawn like the fog of our memories.
This is a gesture of epupillan utopic speculation. How can we read history beyond the events narrated by winka chroniclers and historians? In the absence of an archive dedicated to our ancestors, we propose reading volcanic events as moments of chaos, of the suspension of colonial norms. Our strategy for invoking and ensuring the survival of our ancestors’ memories is made possible through political imagination, looking at Mapuche history with epupillan eyes, a deviant look that is suspicious of the official history that omits us.

Pillan’s geological force—engendering explosion, fire, lava, earthquakes, and smoke in a generative/destructive reordering of all which experiences its awakening—interrupts the colonial logic in the same way that we epupillan beings obstruct the advance of the heteropatriarchal machinery. The erupting volcano/Pillan brings into being a material disorder that is not only centripetal but also magnetic, communicating with atmospheric plasma flows in a gravitational geography that includes stars, tides, moons, planets, and celestial bodies whose trajectories are in dialogue with our own—dialogues and relations in which we also would like to take part.

Several joint eruptions have occurred in the geological volcanic history of the Mapuche territory, from which this epu-pillan power emerges. In 1640, 1750, and 1765 Rukapillan, Ketrupillan, Lanin, and Mocho Chozwenko jointly erupted at moments when the Mapuche and the Spanish were at war. The time of the volcanoes makes us think in epupillan time, as a time that alters the social, gender, and spiritual norms regulated by coloniality. In 1790 the volcano Llaima came into conjunction with the volcanoes Rukapillan, Puyew, and Peripillan. In the twenty-first century these volcanic intervals have continued, with Llaimo being one of the most active. A series of eruptions in the last age has involved two volcanoes almost simultaneously: Llaima and Chaiten (2008, 2009), Planchón and Llaima (2010), Puyewe and Hudson (2011), Llaima and Kopawe (2012), Rukapilan and Kalfuko (2015), Chillan Antü and Rukipllan (2016), and Plancon and Kopawe (2018). We would like to try out an epupillan utopia, inhabiting the time of the mountain, of the volcano, of other Pillan: what’s a human life when a volcano is as old as the earth?

This perspective is utopic not so much because it offers an impossible universal, modern-colonial ideal of inhabiting the body. It is an epupillan utopia in action today, one that has all the members of our community—displaced, yet connected—articulating affect in every one of the spaces where we have built community. For us, the future is in the past and vice versa. Indeed, our utopia lacerates colonial ties and our position empowers epupillan here and now in order to be able to deviate the flow of matter. Just as when a volcano/Pillan erupts and begins a material dialogue of transformation with its surroundings, so we wish to spit these words in a generative and destructive ceremony. Because we know our power in all its multiple vectors, we are open to experience and share our reflections communally, since these energize, mineralize, and keep us alive.

We care for ourselves with the word as an act of radical love, of celebrating the life which flows out from us. We are interested in thinking, feeling, imagining, and collectively creating utopias that for the moment we will call epupillan, understanding this word as an open question, one that is still being formulated, about our experiences that go beyond the binary as sea currents, as tectonic plates in motion, in a constant contact that blurs the lines between solid, liquid, and gas.

Through the invocation of the volcano/Pillan, we call for the flow of magma that engenders eruptions as plasmatic disorderings of matter. We wish to trace a poetics that allows us to imagine politically what these concrete utopias would be like, as tides of planetary solidarity with other human and nonhuman beings. In these waters, we will invoke our ancestors who were burned at the stake and thrown into the sea.[9] This is an invitation to make a revolution that goes beyond binary thinking, beyond patriarchal affiliation.

How much can we learn from the time of the volcanoes, the time of the sea currents? How can we dialogue with all the nonhuman energy that flows out of us and which connects us with multiple experiences of resistance against the modern colonial order?

We hope that through this gesture of reciprocity we can also affect our readers: splashing this magma against the corrosive forgetting that results from not having a history, not having a genealogy. We are learning as we go, looking to heal centuries of memories that have not been written, have not been spoken. Colonialism has not vanquished our epupillan memories, and it is for this reason that we extend this invitation to think of ourselves as constellations that weave networks of solidarity with others.

Antonio, Alejandro, Constanza, Manuel.
Comunidad Catrileo+Carrión


  1. Ana Bacigalupo, “La lucha por la masculinidad del Machi: políticas coloniales de género, sexualidad y poder en el sur de Chile” Revista de historia Indígena 6 (2002): 29-65. https://revistas.uchile.cl/index.php/RHI/article/view/40145/41707

  2. We are aware that speaking about this could be seen as a serious transgression against a system that appears to be so rigid and unquestionable, but we do not accept the idea, based in an argument of duality, that tradition can only be upheld through heteronormativity.

  3. Willy Morales, Sonia Catepillan, and Ruth Antupichun shared these situated epupillan experiences with us. They were later developed in greater detail by Antonio Calibán Catrileo in his book of essays Awkan epupillan mew. Dos espíritus en divergencia (Pehuén Editores, 2019)

  4. We were able to learn other words that also describe our epupüllü experiences from Carmen Zapata Lancucheo’s account. On her podcast Orig-ke?, she explains that in her community in Didaico, Chile, the word is used by those who define themselves as neither heterosexual nor LGBTIQ+. On the other hand, Aliwen (curator, art critic, and writer), with whom we had the opportunity to engage in conversations and alliances during the seminar “Descentrar lo Humano” (Decenter the Human), which we organized in in June-July 2020 at Tlaxcala 3 along with the Global Center for Advanced Studies Latin America, has also visibilized epupüllü experiences in the Mapuche-Williche territory of Panguipulli.

  5. Pillan is a powerful spirit in the Mapuche mythology

  6. Juan Ñanculef, Tayiñ Mapuche Kimün. Epistemología Mapuche (Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 2016)

  7. In September and October of 2020, we participated in the seminar Otras formas de existir (Other Ways of Existing), led by Adriana Salazar in MUCA ROMA, Mexico City. In a session there, we presented on our critical epupillan as a means of exploring other modes of relating that look critically at colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, and extractivisim.

  8. Leonel Lienlaf, Se ha despertado el ave de mi corazón (Santiago: Universitaria, 1989)

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