It was a singular experience, unlike any I had ever had seen before. We were in Chile, and were invited to visit a Mapuche woman in her own home. Through an interpreter, she told us about the proud history of her people, and how they fared today.
At one time the tribe was isolated from other nearby cultures because of a wide river that separated them. Once a bridge was constructed the Mapuche were drawn into the educational system and wider cultural opportunities of the Chileans.
Our hostess, Sayen, (meaning “sweet woman”) welcomed us into her home. She was cheerful, friendly and warm, and, through a translator, spoke of her tribal history.Sayen, her husband and seven children lived in this one room structure, where they slept, cooked and ate their meals. Sayen spun cloth out of sheep’s wool, dyed it with berries and plant dyes, and wove the family’s clothes. Here you can see the dyed wool being stretched on the loom, the logs prepared to cook the next meal and the ponchos hanging on the wall. Children walked barefoot until they entered adolescence. The roof had to be replaced approximately once in twenty years. On top of the structure was an opening that drew smoke out of the dwelling.
Sayen invited group members to dress in Mapuche gear.
Each Mapuche family was given its own piece of land for growing crops. As each child reached maturity he was also given a small plot of land for his family.
Medical care was administered by a local healer, who relied on herbal medicines and tales of healing techniques handed down from Mapuche history.
Here Sayen demonstrated the instrument used for tribal ceremonies. She blew through the ram’s horn attached to hosing covered with colorful woolen strands of thread, while drumming on a tautly pulled sheep skin secured to a basket.
The Mapuche fought the Spaniards for land. Mapuche fighters were renowned as brave and clever warriors, finding ways to ambush and defeat the enemy for many years.
Sayen invited us to a home prepared meal of herbal tea, fresh baked bread, a spread made of mashed beans, and a dessert of lemon pie. It was a feast!
We had a meaningful day, unlike any we had witnessed before. We all felt respect and affection for the Mapuche.