In Search of the aboriginal Mapuche machi (II). The drum, or kultrun.

This is the second post of a series on Mapuche shamanism.

In the first, I argued that many machi “trappings,” particularly the silver jewelry, are modern.  In effect, the present day machi wears what the Mapuche woman (domo) puts on for special occasions.  Here’s a wonderful  postcard of a contemporary domo in her “finest.”

Mapuche domo

Mapuche domo



The reader will note that the machi of the previous posting wears much the same silver jewelry.  The head band is a trarilongko … the pectoral pendant is a trapilacucha.





IMG_3754 - Version 2 - 2007-02-25 at 10-23-44



Here’s the machi at the wetripantu ceremony I photographed, for comparison.



Until fairly recent times, it seems, Mapuche of both sexes wore some sort of cloth headband (trarilongko).  But the wearing of silver is a consequence of Spanish contact.  The aboriginal Mapuche knew both gold and silver, and had their own words for them.   Perhaps they had some idea of what these “precious” metals meant to the Inca, with whom they fought.  But the wearing of silver was ultimately a consequence of trading with the Spanish once they were there to stay.  Having no use for money as itself–at least at the outset–such coins as the Mapuche acquired were beaten into ornament.

So, having stripped the contemporary Mapuche machi of silver and modern cloth, what is left from ancient times…?  I propose that what has survived has to do with what is indispensable to their calling….  And I think myself probably right in assuming that the drum of the machi (the kultrun, or kultrung) is the first of these things, and even in these days much as it was in times aboriginal.  Rare is the machi portrayed as such at any time–say for portrait, or postcard–who does not hold drum and drumstick.  And this drum, to all appearances, has remained more or less the same in size, construction, and decoration of the drum skin.  Here”s a typical example …


which demonstrates that the head of the drum is always ritually divided by paint into four sections (although other elements vary).  The body, traditionally carved out of solid wood, is hemispherical and represents the universe: the drum skin is the surface of the earth; the space above is wenu mapu, the heavens; and the base is the underworld.  The lines dividing the quadrants of the drum skin figure forth the cardinal directions, and the quadrants themselves represent the four seasons and the four winds…. In short, the drum represents the Mapuche universe, in a way that allows the shaman to play a kind of “music of the spheres.”

The design which divides the drum skin into four varies (as well as the elements depicted in each quadrant–which frequently represent the sun, moon, and stars).  Here are some other examples:


It is worth mentioning that machi place pairs and ‘quadruplets’ of small objects inside their drums, so that they add their part to the noise produced.  These objects are divided into ‘male’ and ‘female,’ according to their qualities and attributes.  For example, the seed of maize, wool, the leaves of laurel and kopiwe, llanka and lican (sacred stones) are added as ‘female,’ because of their association with fertility and life. Some objects considered ‘male’ are chili and foye leaves, charcoal and volcanic rock, because of their association with exorcism and fire.  Interestingly, therefore, the drum not only figures forth the universe, but also contains within itself the representation of both sexes, and thus adds this additional element to its totality.

Endnote: This post contains much material taken from Ana Mariella Bacigalupo’s book on Mapuche machi: Shamans of the Foye Tree

To be continued….