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Mapuche Machi’s kultrung (shaman’s drum)
ca. 1920
Horsehide, wood, horsehair, paint
18 x 47 cm
Exchange with the Museo Nacional de História Natural during the Thea Heye Chile Expedition led by Samuel K. Lothrop

Many Mapuche people still observe their Native rituals, although many also profess Catholic or Protestant faith. Especially in rural areas, many families practice Ngillatun (prayer, thanksgiving, or supplication) and Machitun (healing), and they turn to the Machi as their fundamental religious leader.

The Mapu, or land, has always been the central core of Mapuche life and beliefs. This view is represented by the kultrung, or ritual drum, which each Machi designs according to the particular knowledge and spiritual strength given to her or him by Ngünechen, a deity encompassing the spiritual family that governs and controls nature and life.

The circular shape of the kultrung symbolizes the world infinitum. The cross on its surface indicates the spaces into which the world is divided—the four natural and spiritual positive and negative strengths that correspond to the land of the east, north, sea, and south. The central part contains the core and strength that sustains equilibrium among the vertical spaces formed by Wenu Mapu (the land above), where the beneficial deities and the old ancestors live; Nag Mapu (the land downward), where all the living, both good and bad, are; and Minche Mapu (the land underneath), where some good and evil spirits dwell. Nature, life, and the astral zone are coordinated in a circular space that represents eternity and makes life possible in a world where good and evil live in communion.

The sculptor who makes a kultrung must be trustworthy, because he has to keep the carving process and the symbols secret. He first chooses a piece of dried laurel trunk for the concave base. The hide of a female goat is used to make the drumhead, in part because it represents fertility, but also because it produces a pleasant tune. The second step is purification and the installation of the Machi’s spirit within the drum. The secret language of the Machi calls the kultrung kawiñ kura. Kawiñ refers to the aureole that surrounds the moon; kura means stone. The inside of the kultrung contains small bright likan kura (living stones) that represent stars given by Ngünechen to illuminate and empower the Machi in rituals. Coins and herbs are also introduced into the new kultrung to promote positive outcomes, welfare, and protection, and to keep away negative feelings and power in times of war and other calamities. Sometimes these protections are taken from the tops of hills, because there they receive the most powerful energy. Then the cover of the kultrung is laced with horsehide twine to the laurel-wood base. Herbs are put on the surface of the drum and made to move in a special dance called purun. If the herbs stay on the drum, the Machi will have beneficial strength and many healing abilities given to her or him by Ngünechen.

As the Machi’s tongue is pierced, the kultrung-maker draws the design of the rainbow and the four parts of the world. A mixture of blue stones and mud taken from the hills creates a pigment called külmawe. Red, which is usually drawn using horse blood, represents the continuum of life and the strength of nature and people in communion with Ngünechen. The rainbow indicates the place of the best remedies and illuminates the Machi’s mind as she or he communicates with the deities in trance. This spiritual state, called Adelwekemachi, prepares the new Machi to learn. The new Machi receives the spiritual energy to continue along the positive roads that will guide her or him in becoming a healer and a mediator between the people and Ngünechen.

—María Catrileo (Mapuche), linguist, Universidad Austral de Chile; and Gloria Quidel (Mapuche), scholar of Mapuche language and culture, Universidad Católica de Temuco

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