In search of the aboriginal Mapuche machi

Although I in no way pretend to be an expert on Mapuche shamanism, this is the first of several posts in which I will attempt to present how I arrived at the shamans of my novel….

While in Chile in 2007, my wife and I stayed  in a Mapuche campground near Lake Budi, in the south.  The Chilean government was encouraging ethnotourism, and these were Mapuche attempting to keep their ethnic roots alive (presumably with government help).  We were fortunate to arrive  at a time when they were celebrating wetripantu–the New Year.  They performed traditional songs and dances, and a machi presided at the ceremony.  (You can click on this photo–or any other in the blog–to enlarge it.)
Machi ceremony:1

Above you see the machi playing on her sacred drum, the kultrung.  Behind her are two men playing a circular instrument, the  trutruka.  Another man plays on a bull’s horn.  Behind them is the thatched side of the traditional Mapuche dwelling, the ruka.

Worth mentioning is the fact that the men are wearing contemporary clothing, while the machi is ritually dressed.  She is barefoot, and wearing silver jewelry.  Also worth mentioning is that her apron is contemporary cloth, colored with modern dyes.

Here, the Mapuche dance around the sacred foye (or foiqui) tree, carrying branches taken from it….  Note the little learner, on the left, holding his own branch.

Dancing Mapuche


And now, a not quite so contemporary photo of three machi, taken in 1903….

Some things have not changed.  They are all dressed as women.  And their kultrung are pretty much the same.  Those are the constants.  However, all the silver jewelry, and all the contemporary cloth (save perhaps for the machi on the left), are simply just not there, in a clearly formal portrait.  Also, the brightly colored apron is gone….  In a little more than one century, at least the machi trappings have radically changed.

To be continued….