In search of the aboriginal Mapuche machi (III). The rewe (or rehue).

rehue2As the kultrun, or drum, is inseparable from the spiritual vocation of Mapuche machi,  so is the rewe.  But, although shamans of many cultures utilize drums, the rewe is, I think, unique to Mapuche shamanism.  And there is no doubt in my mind that it was an inseparable part of a machi’s life at the time of the Spanish advent.

What, then, is a rewe…?  Physically, it is a pole carved from the trunk of a tree (usually laurel or oak) and buried in the ground, with steps hewn into it that the shaman can ascend.  The number of steps varies from three to nine, with seven being perhaps most typical as significant in Mapuche symbolism.  The rewe is situated so that the machi climbing it faces east–with its rising sun–and at the summit a face is carved.

Digimax A50 / KENOX Q2

Spiritually, the rewe is an axis mundi, the center of the shaman’s spiritual life, and that of the community.   Made from a tree, and “rooted” in the earth like a tree, it rises toward the heavens.  Branches of klon (maqui, in Spanish–Aristotelia chilensis), triwe (Laurelia sempervivens) and bamboo are tied to the sides of the rewe. Like the sacred tree of Norse mythology, the Yggdrasil–it unites lower realms with higher. Standing upon it, the machi  becomes a conduit between realms physical and spiritual, human beings and spirits, enabling them to communicate.


Since the rewe centers the community’s spiritual life, religious ceremonies are held around it. But above all the rewe is the center of the spiritual life of the machi.  It is an important part of the initiation ceremony.  Thereafter, the machi ascends the rewe to face the rising sun and pray.  The rewe can be part of the machitun, or healing ceremony.  And the ancestral, counseling and guiding spirit, the filew is thought to live in the rewe, so that when it grows decayed or begins to topple, the machi  falls ill.

In my next post of  this series, I will refer to the remarkable book of Ana Mariella BacigalupoShamans of the Foye Tree, which on its cover portrays a male Mapuche shaman….

shaman bacigalupe

In our search for the original Mapuche machi, we have already discussed the clothing he wears, as largely anachronistic.  We have also discussed the kultrun the machi holds, and the rewe by which he sits, as essential to his being and practice, as shaman.  Still to be discussed is the complex, fascinating question of machi sexuality.

Why is he dressed as a woman…?





The ruka of the Mapuche

In the sixteenth century, Mapuche lived in windowless thatched dwellings called ruka.  I doubt that these days any more Mapuche live in ruka than Lakota Sioux live in tipi, but they are still built here and there by Mapuche keeping ancient traditions alive.  Remarkably, these simple, quickly built dwellings, keep people dry in a very wet climate.

Here’s one from the lake district of Chile, erected at a place where indigenous crafts were sold….


And here’s another my wife and I came across by the side of the road, during our travels in southern Chile in 2007:

That same trip, we stayed in a campground run by Mapuche, where not only were we the only gringos … we were the only tent campers.  The other guests were Chilean; they were staying in a ruka.  And the Mapuche were in the process of building another ruka for future guests, so that we were fortunate enough to witness the process of construction.  Here’s the view from our tent….In the background is the ruka the chilenos were staying in.  In the foreground is the ruka being built.  And, in the immediate foreground, are some chickens.

Here are Mapuche at work, thatching the side:

And here’s the ruka, both sides thatched:


The roof structure:

Finally, some interiors…. First, one with a Mapuche loom.

A ruka roof (note the smoke hole).

And last, our young host at the Mapuche campground, Carlos, playing a trutruka for us.  Note the fire built in the middle of the ruka floor, by his feet.