Published: November 4th 2010November 3rd 2010
I have made a change from the Atacama desert to the rainy, green South of Chile in the Araucanía region. It is home to the Mapuche, whose medicine and cosmovision are the focus of the final academic excursion for my program. Most of our classes and almuerzas have been in a Ruka, which is a traditional Mapuche house made of a wooden frame and straw, with a fire pit in the center. They are very cozy and warm on misty, rainy days. They are largely a tourist attraction now, and many Mapuche who live in the country hold cultural demonstrations or rent out Rukas to tourists who want to stay for a night or two. Another thing about this region is that it is very rural, and there is a lot of agriculture- wheat, berries, potatoes, various vegetables, livestock. Many of the animals seem to almost be roaming places, and occasionally our bus pauses to let a pig or a couple of sheep cross the road. There are also a lot of horse or ox drawn carts in the area, partly due to the poor quality of the dirt/gravel roads and partly because of the widespread poverty of the Mapuche, who
make up a large part of the population here.
Our classes have covered the cosmovision of the Mapuche, or their religious or spiritual view of the world. The two main concepts are duality or equilibrium and every thing in the world containing life, especially all parts of nature. The duality is very important in the Machi- sort of like a cross between a priest and a doctor- who work in the spiritual-physical health programs at Imperial Intercultural Hospital and Makewe Proyecto Intercultural de Salud, a rural hospital. Many Machi are women, and some are gay men who are well accepted in Mapuche society because of their equilibrium in "dual gender." Machi treat diseases, which can be physical or spiritual, but are always related to an imbalance in the social life of a person or their relation to nature. Diseases are diagnosed by a Machi looking at a urine sample and are treated with herbs and ceremonies. We were able to meet with a Machi, but not allowed to take photographs, and it was the first time in the history of any SIT Chile program- all of which come to Temuco- that a Machi was willing to meet with students
and present his practices. This same Machi teaches at Lyceo Guacolda, a technical school for intercultural paramédicos who will work in places like Makewe and Imperial hospitals in intercultural health. We visited the Lyceo and met with some students, many of whom are Mapuche. There has been a huge revival in Mapuche traditional culture in recent years, and the language is even being slowly incorporated in the school system in regions where there are high concentrations of them. All of the intercultural health projects have been created since the 1990s, and many are still struggling with development and implementation.
On our second day in the Araucanía we visited a rural town called Coi-Coi. We went to the small, local school to take donated supplies and meet the families and children. The population was entirely Mapuche, and they seemed very happy to share their culture with us. The children wore the traditional Mapuche dress, which is a black cape, rainbow headdress and silver medallions for the girls, and a poncho and head band for the boys. After showing us a few dances we spent the rest of the day eating soapapillas and an almuerza cooked by their families and playing
with the kids. We spent a lot of time playing football (soccer, for the Americans :) in a field with a couple of cows and a lot of cow pies. Coi-Coi is very close to the ocean, and during the earthquake this past spring the tsunami flooded a section. The beach we visited afterwards was completely flooded, and a lot of sea lions were left on the beach.
Outside of classes, we have been enjoying the change of scenery in Temuco- trees, grass, rain and so on. Also, we enjoyed celebrating Halloween in Chile. The traditions of desfraces (costumes) and trick or treat haven't entirely caught on in Chile, but their presence is a sign of the imposition of North American cultural norms. There are many other indications, such as McDonalds, Malls, Dunkin Donuts and MTV. The Chileans did show their spirit on Monday, All Saints Day, when many of them spent the day visiting their relatives graves for an almuerza and spending time with their families. But, being American college students we still couldn't resist the temptation of dressing up and visiting the other students in our hotel. Putting costumes together with the clothes from our suitcases and
some glitter glue we picked up at Jumpo Supermercado. I was very pleased with the results.
There are more photos below