We are aware of how serious to talk about indigenous cultures is and the relevance of not falling into cultural appropriation. This is why it is of utmost importance for us to tell our community the real story from the very beginning about our name, logo (as reinterpretations of ancestral symbols) and the relationship we are step-by-step creating with the Mapuche culture today. Here is the complete story.
By: Thomas Kimber
Ever since the start of our company, our vision has remained untouched: to live in a world that is in harmony with ourselves and our natural environment.
Our purpose was born out of this vision: to inspire our customers into reflecting on the question: what would the world look like if we understood that we are all nature?
Since the early beginning, we have believed that the perspective from which we see the world defines our way of thinking, and our way of thinking defines the way we act - our actions create the reality around us. If we perceive ourselves as something separate from the rest of nature, we will build a world separate from it. If we perceive ourselves as a part of nature, we will build a world in harmony with it.
These thoughts made us realize that our globalized culture and modern-day society has a deep-rooted separation from nature and that this is the foundation of most of our problems.
“If we perceive ourselves as something separate from the rest of nature, we will build a world separate from it. If we perceive ourselves as a part of nature, we will build a world in harmony with it”
So, would it actually be possible to live in a world that is in harmony with ourselves and our natural environment or is it just an idealization created by new-age hipsters?
In today’s world it seems almost impossible unless we look deeper into other cultures; cultures that have already mastered a deeper connection with themselves, their natural surroundings and every living being; indigenous cultures. Sadly, these people have mostly been displaced of our world, but there are still some which are that carry the knowledge of thousands of years of wisdom that has been passed from generation to generation. It is from this ancient knowledge that we have decided to learn with the hopes of incorporating parts of their worldview into our modern society.
In Chile, the main indigenous culture is the Mapuche. “Mapuche" means “people of the land” and they are guided by a cosmovision that has shaped the way they understand the world which is inherently different from the worldview our modern society has. It is from this culture that we have humbly borrowed the name “Karun” which its literal translation could be: “to be nature” (The Mapuche culture is of spoken traditions and many of the words in their language (Mapudungun) can be interpreted in different ways or have several different meanings, so every translation is one interpretation, which doesn’t mean that the definition is exact).
“(Indigenous cultures) have already mastered a deeper connection with themselves, their natural surroundings and every living being”
Our logo is a reinterpretation of the so-called “kultrun” or “cultrún” -a Mapuche symbol and sacred percussion instrument that represents in its design, shape and content the Mapuche’s knowledge of nature-. We simplified the design, in a respectful way, talking to the Mapuche people we have met in this path, to make sure we were not destroying meanings or sacred symbols while reinterpreting. Our simplified version represents natures’ 4 seasons (summer, fall, winter and spring); the idea of having life and death as part of the same cycle; and having all living beings and species as part of the whole: nature.
“Karün” is not the name of our brand, it is a perspective from which we see the world which is rooted deep into the Mapuche people.
We started learning about the wisdom of the Mapuche people thanks to the work we did back in 2012 with a local NGO called Fundación Memoria Azul, which had been working with different Mapuche leaders in Chile for many years. We created a program together with them where we worked closely with rural indigenous women who didn’t have any access to economic opportunities and lived in distant areas with low access to basic needs, including transport.
“Karün is not the name of our brand, it is a perspective from which we see the world which is rooted deep into the Mapuche people”
The program consisted in co-developing products such as cases for our handmade wooden sunglasses that were completely handmade by these women in their own huts (Rucas) using only wool from their own sheep and natural dyes made with roots and vegetables such as onion, beetroot, chili, berries, and others. The cases were made in a loom by them, and the program had a driver that collected these looms from their huts, paying them fair prices and helping them to work from their houses with their traditional looms and materials, supporting in the conservation of their traditions and saving them hours of travel time per day while offering a secure source of fair income.
In the photo: Packaging and cases of wool produced between 2013 and 2015
The model worked and it was beautiful until modern-day stress broke in. After several months of hard work, the program couldn’t continue to operate as reality struck: our business wasn’t going well partly because of the cost of operating this program while trying to remain profitable. After a lot of hard work, we had to make the sad decision of freezing the program until we could recover financially.
“We created a program together with them where we worked closely with rural indigenous women which didn’t have any access to economic opportunities and lived in distant areas with low access to basic needs, including transport”
The financial struggle wasn’t short - it lasted for years. During these years not only did we learn about our products, value chain, messaging, and others, but we learned a lot about how to better materialize our purpose. We realized that the program we had created back in 2012 lacked one key ingredient: listening and learning.
We wanted a deeper connection with this millenary culture, so we are now building a new path that enables us to understand the foundations and principles of nature and how the Mapuche people have been acquiring this knowledge for thousands of years and living accordingly. These new initiatives are only beginning, and they are all about listening and understanding through conversations and classes of Mapuche cosmovision, history and language; we hope we can start sharing with our community everything that we learn in this journey.
Our professor is Javier Milanca, he is a “Mapuche huilliche” (from the area of Valdivia), a poet and professor of Mapuche history. He taught us how a few years back it was common sense in his community to keep their knowledge and understandings secret, only to themselves, as a way of protecting their culture; but nowadays he thinks sharing this knowledge it’s actually a way to protect it, if they can spread their message there is a better possibility that it doesn’t disappear in this globalized world.
In the photo: Javier Milanca and part of the Karün team celebrating We Tripantu; a ceremony that marks the beginning of a new year in the Mapuche culture
“These new initiatives are only beginning and they are all about listening and understanding through conversations and classes of Mapuche cosmovision, history, and language; we hope we can start sharing with our community everything that we learn in this journey”
Among other initiatives towards learning from the Mapuche people, we’ve become great friends of Karina Morgado, she’s an amazing woman from the area of Llanquihue (Pellines). Karina is a goldsmith, she creates beautiful Mapuche jewelry, made with different materials -like silver- and full of symbols. Karina is a great counselor for our Brand and R&D team, she teaches us the traditional symbols and the intention they have, so we are aware and respectful of the message we are giving with our brand and our products.
In the photo: Karina Moraga with the Karün team in different meetings and activities
There are many otherwise indigenous cultures around the world, with so much to say and explain on how to live in harmony, respectful of every living being; we hope this humble step we are making into the Mapuche world is only the first of many others.
This is a new beginning for our team, and we feel deeply honored to have found teachers to enlighten us in their understandings of the world. This awakening reminds us of what Joanna Macy and Molly Brown refer to in their book “Coming back to life”: “We may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples (…); we hearken to their teachings as to some half-forgotten song that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission”.
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