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Title: 'My work is more mental than medical' : the Mapuche Machi of Santiago de Chile
Author: von Donhoff, Elena
ISNI:       0000 0001 3549 087X
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2005
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Machi are the traditional healers and spiritual leaders of the Mapuche Indians of Southern Chile. Over the last decades, 200,000 Mapuche have migrated and now live in the capital of Santiago. These urban Mapuche have transformed from a self-sufficient agricultural people to being urban individual unskilled workers. Consequently, their lifestyle, beliefs and behaviour have assimilated to western, Chilean society. Apart from a small group of active and organised individuals who keep Mapuche customs and rituals alive in the capital, the overwhelming majority of urban Mapuche have little interest in their roots. Assumedly, there is no need for an "antiquated" institution such as the machi in an enlightened urban environment. Yet the number of machi working in Santiago is steadily increasing, their presence being essential for the reassertion of Mapuche traditions and the redefinition of urban Mapuche identity. After years of vilification and ridicule, machi are now in demand as effective healers. Several machi have been employed by the Chilean government to work in primary health care centres alongside doctors, officially to provide adequate health care for the neglected urban Mapuche. In effect, the majority of patients seeking the service of the machi are not Mapuche, but ordinary Chileans. These patients consult the machi for complaints and discomforts where biomedicine has failed or not been able to find a plausible illness. The machi often manage to cure these patients with the help of herbal brews and prayer rituals; they claim to cure their patient with "faith", while western medicine cures with "science". This thesis examines the current machi in Santiago, their background and personalities, how they have been affected by globalisation and urbanisation, how they work, and what is their social role, their self-ascribed purpose and efficacy. I will also look at the patients of these machi and analyse with what kind of illnesses they decide to go to a machi as opposed to a biomedical doctor. The Mapuche religion and world-view as well as the traditional role and background of the machi will be taken into consideration in order to understand the controversy surrounding the urban machi and explain their success. Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Santiago, data for this paper were collected mainly by in-depth semi-structured interviews, conversations and participant observation with machi, their families, their patients, with active and organised urban Mapuche, officials at the Health Ministry, biomedical doctors and health care centre personnel.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available