As a young child, I didn’t need to watch the news to learn about the weather. My mom was my weather channel. “I feel pressure,” she would say, placing a hand on her head and legs to show where she felt it. That meant a thunderstorm was coming.
On Wallmapu, our territory, storms can turn bad real quick. On my last visit, there was so much rain one day that water came through the roof at my aunt and uncle’s house. Everyone had to scatter to place pots and bowls underneath each leak. When I stepped outside, the ground looked like a river with the water reaching well above my knees.
Despite the risks for chaos, whenever my family members and I hear a thunderstorm is coming, we smile so big that we look like squirrels with cheeks filled with nuts and eyes squinting.
And I just recently realized why. Because of what we’ve been taught they represent. Renewal.
Life experiences are a lot like storms. Except much more judged, especially if they’re your own.
For example, when people hear my story, more often than not, they’ll say something along the lines with: Wow. You’re so strong for going through that. But when you turn it around and it’s about their story and their strength- all they can see are the broken pieces. The chaos left behind. Failures and mistakes. Bad decisions.
I don’t know if this sounds familiar to you, at all- but can I suggest something? Plant that seed in the back of your mind and see if you notice it, either with yourself or others. It’s a good thing to pay attention to.
Because if we judge the storms in our lives, it has a tendency to freeze us in place. We get scared to make new mistakes and before we know it, we’ve spent the past 10 years under the covers because no one can judge us if they can’t see us. And if we do nothing, no one can say anything. I mean, who in their right mind would attack a ghost?
But spending your life being invisible because you’re scared to mess up isn’t a way to live.
What has helped me is an oral story from my people about two serpents; Kai Kai, the water serpent, and Treng Treng, the land serpent. It goes like this (short version):
A long time ago, the Mapuche faced a big problem of not having enough water for food to grow. They knew that their only solution was to make their way to Epuyén Lafken (lake of the two that go) to pray for rain and wake up Kai Kai. But Kai Kai did not like to be disturbed. The Mapuche knew his anger would cause a big storm, but they desperately needed water and knew that after the storm, calm would return.
During their journey, they met a stranger who told them that one day Kai Kai is going to send a downpour that’ll make the water rise and cover the entire Mapu (land). Not knowing it was Creator speaking to them, they didn’t think much of it and continued on their journey.
To wake up Kai Kai they hit the water with branches for almost a year, until one day, Kai Kai got so angry that he wanted to destroy everything. He moved his big body, shaking the water with his tail until huge waves came crashing and the lakes and sea waters started to rise. Everyone started to flee, climbing the mountain to save themselves, but not everyone made it.
The most fearful froze and turned into stones.
Those who got angry turned into pumas and jaguars.
The slower ones turned to fish and toads.
To protect everyone from the flood, Treng Treng, the land snake, pushed his back against his cave to lift the mountains and keep land above the waters. For a long time, this continued. Kai Kai unleashed storms of lightning and waters, and Treng Treng grew higher and higher up towards the sky to keep everyone from drowning.
But after a while, Kai Kai got tired of fighting and stayed still. It stopped raining, the water withdrew, and at last, everyone was able to return home.
It turned out that Kai Kai’s thunderstorms and waters had rejuvenated Earth. The ground was fertilized, there were new births, and among our people, there was no more fear and anger.
Life was better.
My great-uncle (the first Indigenous writer to receive Chile’s National Prize for Literature, and a big translator of our oral stories) teaches that we all have a bit of Kai Kai and Treng Treng within us.
I like to add to that and say our life experiences have a bit of Kai Kai and Treng Treng in them too.
Storms in nature, just like the storms in our lives, can sometimes be hard to go through. They can shake us up and leave us in a jumble of broken pieces. And no matter how hard we try to avoid them to keep calm and “perfection” in our lives– they still happen.
There are some Western interpretations of this story that only focus on the destruction Kai Kai brought, and even refer to Kai Kai as an evil monster. But so much good came from Kai Kai too: rejuvenation, new life, growth, freedom from anger and fear.
Also, Treng Treng grew because of Kai Kai.
Without Kai Kai, Treng Treng would have remained in his cave in the mountain- unchanged. He wouldn’t have grown. He wouldn’t be a hero, just a snake in a cave. Kai Kai’s storm saved our people and made us grow. And if you think about it, the storms in your life have probably made you grow as well.
Just how the Western interpretation of Kai Kai and Treng Treng focuses on the “good vs. evil” – it’s easy to do the same with both ourselves and others. To hide and push away anything that isn’t seen as good (enough) or perfect, and to feel guilty and ashamed about the storms we’ve been through or are currently going through.
But that’s not how we grow and move forward in life.
You might not be where you want to be right now. Maybe you’re still in the middle of your storm. Maybe you just made it out. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. But remember what my people said before waking Kai Kai:
After the storm, calm will return.
So don’t be so hard on yourself. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. We’ve all been through things we wish we could’ve been spared from. Give yourself time and you’ll see growth and new life from your storm too.
To me, our oral stories are like a package with so many gifts inside.
If it taught you something or brought up thoughts or questions, I would love to hear all about it- just write in the comment box below❤️
Pewkayal (until we meet again),