First of all, I want to say that we made it to Temuco last night! I have been living in Arica, which is Northern Chile very close to Peru, so to get to Temuco we had to fly south to Santiago and then south another 700 kilometers to get to the city.
We will be here for 12 days, and during this time we’ll be learning about the traditional medicinal practices used by the Mapuche people. Temuco is located in Region IX, or La Araucanía, and it is known for being one of the most diverse regions in Chile due to the large population of Mapuche that live here, as well as immigrants from other countries such as Argentina. Temuco is also very different from Arica because instead of being the driest inhabited place on earth, it rains almost everyday here. Although there is a drought right now and I haven’t had to wear my raincoat yet. But everything is very green.
Yesterday morning, we had a class in the forest led by a Lawentuchefe. A Lawentuchefe is the person in Mapuche medicine who collects the natural herbs from the forest that are later used to treat sicknesses. Before we went into the forest, however, the Lawentuchefe explained that according to the Mapuche cosmovision, nature is alive, and there are spirits who live in the forest. These energy and forces are called Newen. Before we could enter, he asked the spirits if we could come into the forest to learn, and explained to them our intentions.
Once we had done this, he led us into the forest. We ducked under branches and over logs until we reached our first important herb, “menta poleo,” something that is many times used for stomach problems
However, one of many reasons why Mapuche medicine is different from occidental medicine is because it treats sicknesses based on the cause of the sickness, while occidental medicine treats symptoms. For example, the Mapuche believe that sicknesses of the body are caused by sicknesses of a person’s spirit due to a disequilibrium. To cure the body, you first have to cure the spirit, which can many times be accomplished with these natural herbs from the forest. The Lawentuchefe can prescribe herbs based on sicknesses of the spirit, but a Machi, like a doctor, is also needed to perform ceremonies to better heal the spirit in some cases.
After learning about menta poleo, we moved on to the canelo leaf. According to many textbooks about traditional Mapuche medicine, this is one of the most sacred plants to the Mapuche people. However, the Lawentuchefe said that he thinks that all plants are sacred, and not just this one in particular. He then explained how the leaves can be rubbed together in your hands until warm, and then placed on a person’s back to relieve sore muscles due to stress or strain.
Today in Chile, every person has access to healthcare through the public healthcare system. However, traditional Mapuche medicine is not recognized by the Chilean state. This means that people who want to use traditional medicine need to pay for the medicine themselves. While the Mapuche people are often times seen as poor by the Chileans, the Lawentuchefe told us that the Mapuche people live their lives to live and enjoy their life and nature. (This makes sense because “Mapuche” literally means “people of the earth or land.”)
Learning about the Mapuche vision and herbs was a super cool experience, and Lawentuchefe Miguel was the perfect guide. Soon it was time for lunch, and after a break it was time to go back to class. After a short lecture on how honey can be used to treat open wounds (also a very interesting topic), we had an orientation to our next big project, called the “estudio de pueblos,” or “village study.”
Usually I don’t get excited about group projects. But I could not be more pumped for our estudio de pueblos, which starts this Tuesday. For this project, we are split up into groups of five students, and each group has been assigned a village in region IX. On Tuesday morning, everyone will take our big bus to the bus station in Temuco. From there, each group will buy a bus ticket to their village, and once there, will be in charge of finding a house or hostel to stay in, food to eat, and learning about what it’s like to be a member of their village. We will be in there for three days, and during this time we will put together an ethnographic presentation about 12 different aspects of daily life in our village. Then we’ll have to find our way back to our hotel in Temuco on Thursday as a group, all on our own.
My village is called Puerto Saavedra, and is the best village in my opinion. It is the farthest away from Temuco, a little under two hours by car, and is also right next to the ocean. One piece of advice our professor gave us was to go to the comisaría when we arrive at our village, which is sort of like a police station. There, we can ask the police where the best place to stay is for students doing an ethnography project, and we may even be able to get a ride in their car if they’re not super busy. Talk about an awesome adventure!
Until next time,