The Mapuche People 2
THE MACHI ( doctor, sorcerer, shaman) The machi is the mediator between men
and the divinity, and maintains the equilibrium between good and evil forces
on the Earth. In earlier times, this task was performed by homosexual men or
women, but later it became almost exclusively femenine.
Having a deep knowledge of their beliefs and traditions, Machis act as priests
and conduct ceremonies, specially in Chile. They prey for good luck and predict
future events. They elevate their spirit to get in touch with protective beings
in the celestial world. This trip takes place in a state of ecstasy or trance
provoked by the sound of the KULTRUN, dances, ritual songs and occasional hallucinations.
Diagnosis and cure of the sick are specially important tasks. Disease is considered
to have a supernatural origin caused by evil spirits (WECUFE) at the service
of a sorcerer (KALKU) who induces evil to go into the human body.
The function of the Machi is to drive evil away. In ecstasy, she receives help
from the good spirits, who also guide her in the administration and selection
of herbs and other healing techniques to restore physical and spiritual fitness
to the sick.
The NGUILLATUN is the main religious celebration of the Mapuches. They meet
every year to thank and ask deities and ancestors for the common welfare.
In agricultural communities, the celebration takes place in harvest time during
the full moon, at the moment when it gives fertility to farms. In Argentina,
since the communities of R¡o Negro, Neuqu‚n and Chubut live basically
on ovine and caprine cattle, prayers are generally offered in March to ask for
the fertility of animals. Floods, earthquakes, long draught or other calamities
may also be the reason to call for a NGUILLATUN.
The ceremony lasts four days. It is celebrated in a plain farm where they set
a ritual space in "U" shape open to the West., the sacred part of the World.
For the celebration, they set up an altar or REWE made of canes (Chusquea culeou)
forming a ladder decorated with yellow, blue or white flags and also with branches
of maitenes (Maitenus boaria), lengas (Notophagus pumilia), coihues (Notophagus
dombeyi) and other trees. In Argentina, the ceremony is conducted by the NGUEMPIN,
a lay celebrant, while in Chile it is directed by the Machi. During the celebration,
there are alternate rituals, dances, prayers, sacred songs, riding on horseback
around the sacred place (AWUN), and offerings to the Earth, where they spread
MUDAI or CHICHA, mate, tobacco and the blood of sacrificed animals. Traditional
musical instruments like the KULTRUN, the TRUTRUKA and the PIFILKA play a very
important role in the celebration of the NGUILLATUN.
To make the box of the KULTRUN, they generally use the bark of the VOIGUE (Drymis
winteri), a sacred shrub for the Mapuches. The drumhead may be made of guanaco,
sheep or colt skin. The Machi "introduces her song" in the Kultrun before stretching
the skin to leave her soul in it. She also introduces small sacred objects,
like stones, feathers or healing herbs, which make it sound as a rattle.
On the head, they draw different symbols representing the Universe. A cross
divides the head into four parts, the vertical line representing the cosmos
and the horizontal one the Earth. The intersection is the centre of the World,
the sacred place from where the Machi gets in contact with their Gods and ancestors
helped by the sound of the Kultrun.
For the manufacture of this wind instrument, they select a colihue cane (Chusquea
culeou) about 2.50 metres long and a diameter between 2 and 5 centimetres. The
dry cane is split longitudinally and hollowed up, the n both halves are tied
with wool or leather to form the sound tube. They close it hermetically by introducing
it in a fresh animal's intestine that seals the tube completely once it is dried.
A bull horn at one end works as a cornet. They slice the sharp end, insert it
in the cane and fasten it with a cord adorned with wool pompons or bundles of
During the NGUILLATUN, they pour MUDAY or CHICHA inside the tube, and the last
day they pour in the blood of the sacrificed animals. They blow it as strongly
as possible to get to NGUENECHEN and wake him up.
It is a wind instrument made of lenga (Notophagus pumilia), cipr‚s (Austrodecrus
chilensis) or oak wood. The external part is carved first, then the sound tube
is perforated with a hot iron rod and some fluid grease is poured into it to
seal any possible pores or fissures. According to narrations from the XVI century,
PIFILKAS were manufactured with the long bones of dead Spanish enemies and they
used to play them to express victory during ceremonies and before battles. Then
it was used as a religious instrument in the NGUILLATUN.
Weaving is an exclusively femenine task. Skilled weavers or DUWEKAFE are the
only ones who know the symbols hidden in colours and designs.
They generally use llama or guanaco wool to weave, but since the arrival of
the Spaniards, they use mainly sheep wool. It is washed, disentangled and combed
in such a way that threads are stretched. They use a spindle ( COLIU ) consisting
of a stick with a heavy stone or a piece of ceramics in one end called CHINQUED.
THE LOOM "STANDING ON THE FLOOR"
The Mapuche vertical loom is called HUICHA HUICHAHUE, which means "standing
on the floor". The most rudimentary one is formed by four sticks of varying
thickness, while the size of the frame depends on the cloth they are going to
A more evolved form of the same loom is made of square sticks. The vertical
ones have holes carved at a distance of 20 centimetres from each other, where
the pegs support the separator.
Parts of the loom:
Vertical sticks: WICHAL OR UCHA
Crossbar: KELO, KILO or KELOU.
Warp thread: TONON or TONONWE.
Separator: RAMIÑELWE or RAÑINWE.
Shovel: ÑEREWE or ÑIREWE.
Warp: UTRAL or WITRAL
They generally use vegetal and mineral elements, like dusts of several colours
to dye wool, and in earlier times, they used fermented urines to fix colours.
Yellow, green and gold are obtained from the roots and stems of MICHAY (Berveris
darwini); deep red from ROBLE PELLIN (Notophagus obliqua); purple from MAQUI,
dark brown from the bark of RADAL There are "negative" dyeing techniques practised
on a set warp or on a woven cloth. The IKAT is the technique used to preserve
a part of the wool from dyeing by a tie-and-resist dyeing of the white warp.