Chile Bahá’í Radio: National sound archive of Mapuche culture comes to life


LABRANZA, Chile — Situated amid communities rich with Mapuche heritage, Radio Bahá’í in Labranza, Chile, has embarked on an extraordinary journey to connect past and present through the power of sound. The recent launch of a national archive project by this radio station has transformed decades of sound recordings into a living repository that reflects the spirit of the Mapuche community.

“The archive goes beyond conservation,” said Nabil Rodríguez, the project’s coordinator. “It harmonizes ancestral knowledge with spiritual principles found in the Bahá’í teachings, aiming to inspire both present and future generations.”

The archive, titled “Oral Heritage of Wallmapu: Identification, Inventory, and Memory of the Mapuche Sound Archive of Radio Bahá’í,” was established in collaboration with the Chilean government’s National Service for Cultural Heritage.

Harmonizing voices through a shared identity

On 12 November 1986, Radio Bahá’í aired its inaugural broadcast, celebrating the anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s birth.

“The station was established to help address the spiritual and material aspirations of local communities, notably the Mapuche people, who are among Chile’s largest indigenous populations,” said Mr. Rodríguez.

The regional newspaper El Diario Austral announced the opening of Radio Bahá’í on 12 November 1986, coinciding with the anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh.

He reminisced about the station’s beginnings: “A new platform emerged where these aspirations could flourish through music, stories, and conversations.”

Mr. Rodríguez added that among the principles underpinning the station’s programs has been unity in diversity. “The broadcasts explored that, in our diversity, we all have a shared identity as members of one human family.”

From its start, Radio Bahá’í has aired programs in both Spanish and Mapudungun—the Mapuche language—covering themes such as agriculture, health, and education while also exploring how spiritual principles can enrich these fields. This initiative has allowed communities to share experiences and foster spirituality in the personal and professional spheres, catering to a wide array of interests.

“The content was shaped by residents of local communities, while drawing on ideas from other Bahá’í radio efforts worldwide where suitable,” said Mr. Rodríguez.

Radio collaborators recording programs in the station’s early days.

“This approach,” he continued, “ensured that programming would be locally resonant and enriched by a global perspective.”

Alex Calfuqueo, coordinator of Radio Bahá’í and a member of the Mapuche community, highlighted the Mapuche’s vital role in shaping the endeavor. “The spirit of keyuwün, or mutual support, has been integral to how we have been operating—sharing traditional wisdom, reporting on community events, and being part of the storytelling process,” he said.

Radio collaborators volunteering as reporters at community events.

Mr. Calfuqueo described the expansion of Radio Bahá’í’s efforts, connecting this to the station’s evolving engagement with the community. “Initially, our broadcasts were 5 to 6 hours long. As we developed more bilingual content, we were able to extend our airtime to 16 hours daily, reaching out to a wider rural audience, including farmers, women, children, and entire families,” he explained.

Archiving for the future

The dedicated efforts of those involved in Radio Bahá’í’s early days laid the groundwork for a project of profound significance several decades later—the establishment of a national sound archive of significant cultural value.

Alex Calfuqueo (left) and Nabil Rodríguez (right).

Mr. Calfuqueo shed light on the archive’s scale, describing a comprehensive database with some 3,400 indexed audio recordings. These recordings amount to roughly 120 hours of the Mapuche community’s invaluable cultural expressions.

He added: “It has emerged as one of the most extensive collections of its kind, rich with Mapuche musical and cultural expressions.

“The archive, built from years of dedicated work, serves to enrich humanity’s diverse heritage.”

Left: Analog recordings from the archives. Right: Messages from community members addressed to the radio station for broadcast.

Katherine Zamora, a musicologist who assisted with the digitization of analog recordings, said that the direct involvement of the Mapuche community in the cataloging process underscores the initiative’s collaborative ethos, “As a researcher, I found the collaboration between the Bahá’í and Mapuche communities in establishing this archive to be groundbreaking.”

The cataloging process, as Dr. Zamora highlighted, not only involved the Mapuche community but was also deeply influenced by some of its forms of social organization. “The way materials are named—noting the individual, their family, and place of origin among other details—reflects the Mapuche’s pentukun,” she explained.

Pentukun is a formal introduction among people to establish connections, share knowledge, and maintain social bonds. This approach within the archive does more than organize materials—it encapsulates the Mapuche’s profound sense of belonging and interconnectedness.

Dr. Zamora added, “The collaboration in establishing the archive has fostered a shared sense of ownership.” She explained that the project’s approach transcended conventional subject-observer dynamics to foster a partnership where everyone contributes equally to “what is the largest repository of oral traditions of the Mapuche people in Chile.”

The radio station featured diverse musical expressions.

The archive not only offers a unique window into the Mapuche culture through sound but also connects it with the broader historical context of written literature and documents, as noted by Nekulmañ Núñez, a Mapuche journalist and archivist.

“While many historical documents exist from the 1600s onwards, it’s through Radio Bahá’í that we gain access to a living dimension of our heritage from this century, encompassing memory, oral tradition, and spirituality,” explains Ms. Núñez.

Members of the Mapuche community share stories, music, and conversations on the radio.

Revitalization of the Mapuche language

From its inception, Radio Bahá’í recognized the precarious state of the Mapudungun language, already experiencing a decline in speakers. This fueled a commitment, woven into the aims of the station’s broadcasts over the years and now into the heart of the archival endeavor.

Mr. Calfuqueo highlighted that “these initiatives aim to contribute to the revitalization of our language and to safeguard our traditional knowledge.”

A former coordinator of the radio station, Roberto Jara, added, “The archive plays a crucial role in celebrating Mapuche cultural narratives.”

Nestor Chavez, a local radio station director, expressed his appreciation for Radio Bahá’í’s role in nurturing the Mapuche’s linguistic heritage. “Radio Bahá’í’s efforts in revitalizing Mapudungun go beyond merely preserving sounds.

“The project allows us to embed ourselves in a rich culture and its history at a time when fostering indigenous heritage has become an issue of national and global significance,” he said.

Felipe Duhart, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Chile, highlighted the significance of the national archive in contributing to social betterment. “This initiative stands as a source of hope for a community striving to overcome historical challenges and forge a future rooted in both their ancestral heritage and a common human identity that transcends differences,” he said.

The continuing role of Radio Bahá’í in promoting oneness

Over the years, the radio station has become an integral part of community life, contributing to the devotional spirit of communities in the area and promoting service to society.

Through its programs, the radio station promotes moral educational   endeavors that build capacity for service to society.

Mr. Calfuqueo described how the radio station features programs for morning prayers, including some that are broadcast from the Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile. “These inspire people with noble ideas and assist them to reflect on how they wish to serve their society,” he said.

Jose Toro Cariqueo, a youth from the Mapuche community, highlighted the significance of the radio station in his life. “My great-grandmother used to listen to it, then my mother, and now we follow that tradition, every day.

“It’s beautiful listening to the radio because it carries a powerful message of unity to so many people.”

Another member of the Mapuche community, Aurora Cayuman, shared her hopeful outlook, saying, “Radio Bahá’í is a source of great joy for us, offering insights from the Bahá’í teachings in Mapudungun—our own language—connecting us deeply with our cultural and spiritual roots.”

Provided below are a few more images from the efforts of Radio Bahá’í over the years.

The construction of the main building for Radio Bahá’í in the city of Labranza.

The construction of the main building for Radio Bahá’í in the city of Labranza.

Young people gathered on the premises of Radio Bahá’í to attend a workshop for volunteers.

Young people gathered on the premises of Radio Bahá’í to attend a workshop for volunteers.

The radio station’s inauguration ceremony, which was held on 20 December 1986, brought together over a thousand people.

The radio station’s inauguration ceremony, which was held on 20 December 1986, brought together over a thousand people.

Left: Volunteers with the station reporting on stories in surrounding communities. Right: A group of translators who assisted in preparing bilingual programs.

Left: Volunteers with the station reporting on stories in surrounding communities. Right: A group of translators who assisted in preparing bilingual programs.

Dr. Zamora digitizing and cataloging analog recordings for the national archive.

Dr. Zamora digitizing and cataloging analog recordings for the national archive.

The archive features a vast collection of sound recordings captured over four decades.

The archive features a vast collection of sound recordings captured over four decades.

A Mapuche song about the Bahá’í principle of oneness of humanity composed by Chachay Manuel Levipil.

Members of the Mapuche community visiting the Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile.

Members of the Mapuche community visiting the Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile.

The Chile temple stands as a symbol of the oneness of humanity, bringing together diverse communities to pray and contemplate how they can contribute to the progress of society.

The Chile temple stands as a symbol of the oneness of humanity, bringing together diverse communities to pray and contemplate how they can contribute to the progress of society.

A celebration of the station’s 30th anniversary with musical performances.

A celebration of the station’s 30th anniversary with musical performances.

The sound archive features four decades of recordings of Mapuche culture through music, storytelling, and conversations.

The sound archive features four decades of recordings of Mapuche culture through music, storytelling, and conversations.



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