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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
October 2002
Traditional wisdom:
Ask a Machi

The fusion between regular Medicine and the mapuche healing tradition is clear on the work that for five years has been going on at a consulting room of La Pintana, in the Santiago suburbs. There, one can find the hut of machi Manuel Lincovil.

By Paola Guajardo and Rosario Mena


"We respect traditional medicine because it comes from long studies about the body, physiology, biochemistry. It knows a lot about life by means of investigation. But we have our own experience of how to make Medicine, and want for it to be also respected. Both practices shouldn't compete but complement. What we cannot do, maybe they can. And the other way round. What matters is for people to benefit".

That's how Machi (mapuche healer) Manuel synthesizes the reason why, for more than five years, he has been receiving the patients that come to his hut at the La Pintana consulting room, in one of Santiago's areas with the largest mapuche population. He conceives sickness as the expression of an unbalance between body, spirit and mind. The machi answers a lot of questions from people that suffer the consequences of a poor lifestyle, full of economical and personal problems.

"The most frequent sicknesses are what we call spiritual diseases, those that traditional Medicine think are mental. When somebody has a son who is a drug addict or an alcoholic or violent husband, the mother will no doubt have headaches, insomnia and emotional instability".

There is a Peruvian doctor who treats patients at the same place. He believes the efficiency of mapuche medicine lies on the use of the active principle and the natural substances in all medicines.

Though the incorporation to the official system requires from the machi some formalities, the ancestral practices suffer no alteration. "Our sources are natural herbs, prayer, music and also techniques similar to Reflexology and Aromatherapy", he explains.

The praying is addressed to the mapuche God, a creative force called Ngnechén who governs the Universe. "Under him there are a lot of guardians who can be compared to what Christianity calls angels. They are Nature's spirits of light, water, earth, plants, air and life".

Dreams, visions and experiences give the machi the knowledge. He does not receive a formal preparation, but inherits his condition from his ancestors and improves with practice. "I believe myself to be a person with special aptitudes. My ancestors' spirits, who were also machis, protect me. They help me detect sickness and its causes, its pains, its spiritual problems. My maternal grandfather was a machi, also my aunt, great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother. It is a spirit that goes from one body to the next, through generations. My descendents will also inherit it".

The mapuche kultrún (percussion instrument) has a central role in the machi practice. The same as in all shaman practice, it requires a trance-like state, in which one contacts the spirits and receives the illumination and powers to heal. "The kultrún is like the earth, an open plate to the sky. The sky is somewhere else, at the wenu mapu. When we speak about the Mapu, we make reference to a place in the cosmos. It's not just the Earth. Wenu Mapu is up, Nae Mapu is here. Minche Mapu is the earth's fond. The kultrún is orientated to the wenu mapu and gets all of its energy from it. And through it, the machi gets the messages and then elevates his messages to the wenu mapu. The Kultrún is the instrument. With it we harmonize with the environment for the healing and the praying, to connect ourselves with the cosmos and elevate our spirits".

Rhythm and sound combine with the power of the spoken word. Water, earth and fire are also gathered to help the one who's sick. This communion with the spirits justifies the negative of the machi to be photographed during his prayers. "When I'm working with the sprits they don't like it, because it separates us", he says.

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