The El Telmo Lafkenche Mill Museum is located at kilometer 13 on the Carahue to Puerto Domínguez highway, in the district of Saavedra. It used to process the wheat harvest of the local Mapuche communities, and is now a showcase for the traditional rural practices and the Lafkenche culture.
The Lafkenche (the sea people, in Mapundungun) are one of the main groups that make up the Mapuche native people. They live in the Lafken Mapu (“the lands near the sea”, in the coastal mountain range of Chile’s Araucanía Region). For years, they were the primary users of El Telmo mill.
This flour mill, operated by the Muñoz Necul family, has a history dating back well over a century. After suffering the flood caused by the 1960 tsunami, Jorge Muñoz Necul moved the mill to its current location. Starting in 1970, his wife María Riquelme Peña provided the milling service to the Mapuche and Chilean farming community who needed their wheat to be milled.
“Many people would come by boat, mainly from the coastal communities,” says María Albertina Huaracán Llankafil, a daughter-in-law of the founder, who today is in charge of the museum.
In its heyday, the mill produced flour and byproducts for the entire region of Carahue, Puerto Dominguez and Puerto Saavedra.
When this mill, which dates back to the early 20th century, ceased its operations in 1995 due to competition and the improved road network, people thought it would end up being a warehouse for the family, that being the usual fate of most rural mills in the region. But, thanks to visionary Gabriel Muñoz Huaracán, María’s son and Jorge Muñoz Necul’s grandson, that fate would change.
Following a field outing with his university classmates to visit the El Telmo Mill, Gabriel started converting it into a museum. Some time later, after being awarded a seed capital grant from SERCOTEC, (Technical Cooperation Service which provides support for small and micro businesses), he opened its doors in January 2011.
“I stayed on as the museum guide,” says María Huaracán. “My job is to show visitors what our life was like in the past for our community and the sacrifice involved at that time in stocking up on flour and other byproducts for winter because one couldn’t travel due to poor access,” she adds.
María tells us that at present, many older people who now live outside this area, come to visit the museum wishing to relive their childhood memories. “This is where I would come by oxcart or by boat to mill our wheat,” reminisces many a visitor. “Many of them ask whether they can bring the family to show them what life was like in the old days, how our mothers and grandmothers would knead the dough and bake the bread,” says Maria.
For María Huaracán, the Lafkenche Mill Museum is not only important, it’s a fundamental part of Mapuche heritage for future generations, and they should keep it alive.
“This project is a dream, it’s priceless. I always tell my children to take good care of it because its greatest value is their grandfather’s vision, who built this mill. My son was also a visionary, converting it into a museum. And so it should remain and they have to continue with it,” she says.
Today, visitors to the Lafkenche Museum, apart from stepping back into history and learning about Lafkenche culture, can also sit down and relax at the museum’s cozy café.
By exploring every corner of the old mill, by listening to the guide recount its history, and by observing the process through which the wheat grown on the local farms would be milled and then made into bread, visitors can learn about a different way of life. One that existed somewhere between lake and land, and speaks of boats and carts, of wheat and flour, one that existed for many years in Lafken Mapu, Araucania Region.
Llelliuquen is a Mapudungún word that means the maximum expression of love and respect for Mapuche culture. Mapuche businesswoman Genoveva Neculman, who lives in Piedra Alta in Puerto Saavedra, seeks to imprint this concept onto the experience that she offers the visitors who come to her property, which is named for the term.
Ügnü Llelliuquen is the tourism project that Neculman manages with her husband and three daughters. It has cabins for lodging, a ruka or communal structure and a garden where they grow murtillas, a local fruit that is the main raw material for the organic products that they sell.
She describes this initiative as much more than merely a vacation destination, explaining that it is a family experience. “My visitors are not visitors. They are part of my ruka. They are my family,” Neculman explains, adding that her greatest wish is to provide excellent service to those who pass through Llelliuquen: “That is everything to me. That is what fulfills me.”
In addition to offering lodging and handicrafts, Neculman tells stories and shares her culture’s worldview with her visitors. “They drink mate (a tea that is enjoyed communally) with us, and talk to us. I give them talks,” Genoveva explains about the days spent by the bonfire, adding that one of her main lessons is that anything is possible. “If you can dream it, you can do it. That is what I have tried to do throughout my whole life. I am a 61 year-old woman, and I am proud of it because those years have not passed in vain. It has been a struggle.”
Genoveva reflects on how the social unrest in Chile and the pandemic that followed have impacted her business. Although the number of visitors has decreased, she prefers to look at her situation optimistically. She believes that these are simply signs from her creator: “This is supposed to tell us something. Hopefully, something beautiful is coming our way- something that will allow us to come together.”
Neculman’s final reflections are about the values that motivate her, her culture and her tourism business. She says that respect, which is part of the word Llelliuquen, is essential to her life. Respecting others regardless of their culture, politics or the color of their skin.
“I am a Mapuche woman: a woman of the land, of work, of struggle. Our visitors experience that, and they end up wanting to return,” Genoveva explains. “I’m not putting on a show for tourists. This is just who I am.”
In southern Chile, specifically in what is now the Araucanía Region, there is an ancient culture that has devoted thousands of years to observing not only nature here on Earth, but also the universe. The Mapuche people developed an extensive knowledge of the cosmos, due to “inarrumen”, a learning methodology based on conscious observation to understand nature.
This conscious contemplation of the cosmos allowed them to discover stars, comets, asteroids, planets and galaxies. They named the constellations based on the elements of nature and drew them on textiles, ceramics and jewelry. The Mapuche people also discovered the translation of the Earth around the sun and the heliocentric system, which they called Tüway Mapu. They developed their own calendar and detected cosmic phenomena also studied in the Western world, such as the winter solstice on June. Thanks to the “inarrumen”, solar eclipses were also observed.
Juan Ñanculef, a Mapuche historian and researcher, explains that although this astronomical phenomenon in which the sun hid for a few minutes was perceived as an imbalance in nature, the light quickly came back and it was celebrated with ceremonies.
“A great Mapuche principle says that after the negative comes the positive. Indigenous peoples celebrated when the sun came out again and believed that there was good weather ahead”, says the researcher and also author of the book ““Tayiñ Mapuche Kimün, Mapuche Epistemology: Wisdom and Knowledge”.
After the solar eclipse, lots of “guillatún” took place, the Mapuche’s most important ritual ceremony, in order to restore the balance between the Earth and the sun.
Ñanculef explains that, due to their art of observation, this indigenous community discovered that everything is energy, and the balance in nature can be found in the convergence of the four elements: water, earth, air and fire. He adds that human beings represent the cosmos in miniature. “We are the synthesis of the cosmos”, he says.
“According to the Mapuche culture, human beings are a walking cosmos. We are permanently spurred on by the positive energy from above and the negative energy from below. That was the cosmic mindset of the ancestral Mapuche. Everything had a meaning for them”, explains Ñanculef, who hopes that the solar eclipse in the Araucanía Region at the end of the year will help make the Mapuche culture more visible not only in Chile, but also abroad.