A Day with Chile’s Mapuche
If you ever get the chance to visit a Mapuche reservation it is one you will not want to pass up. The Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group, who rarely open their homes or land to outsiders. Luckily, my school program was able to set up a visit at a reservation not far from Santiago.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by men and women dressed in the traditional Mapuche attire. This consists of dresses, capes, head wear, and for women – lots of jewelry (strictly silver). The Mapuche only wear silver because long ago the Spaniards robbed them of their gold. In a way, the silver jewelry is further separation for the Spanish rule they had to endure.
Upon their entrance we got to experience a traditional Mapuche dance and offering. The Mapuche have many of their own instruments that they play during these dances. They are all handcrafted from wood, yarn, and animal tusks and make a variety of different sounds. The instruments are played at many different times including during dances, offerings, and sports games.
The main Mapuche sport is called “Palín” and it is similar to field hockey. Each player has a stick (like a field hockey stick) that has been whittled out of a tree branch. Each player also has a partner who is more like an enemy. Palín can be played in teams of five up to fifteen as long as each player has a partner on the other team. Each pair of players must begin the game together and watch each other because the pairs are of opposing teams.
Palín is played on a rectangular field where the end lines (the shorter sides) are goal lines. All one must do is get the ball over the line for it to be a goal, no nets are used. The game begins in the center circle where the ball is placed. One player from each of the two teams is on the circle. The rest of the players line up in equal amounts on either side of the center circle. To start the game each pair of players must hit sticks three times. Then, the two players in the center duel for the ball. The objective is then to pass the ball to players on your own team and get it over the end line while the other team tries to steal it from you and go the opposite direction. If the ball is ever hit over the sideline then the game restarts from the center.
My group was able to play this game and I must admit, the “good natured” spirit of the game quickly evaporated. It is an easy sport to pick up and extremely fun and competitive. The members of our group who were not on the field were on the sidelines playing Mapuche instruments and cheering. Each time a goal was scored the team who scored would hold their sticks in the air and yell “rah rah rah” while running back to the center. At the end of the game, which my team luckily won, all players circle up and touch sticks in the air while yelling another Mapuche chant.
After Palín, we got to enjoy a traditional Mapuche lunch consisting of potatoes, a rice-like dish, meat, and Cochayuyo (seaweed). Of course fresh squeezed orange juice and wine were also offered. The lunch was very delicious and took place inside a traditional thatched hut with a fire pit inside. While it might not have been the best thing for our lungs, it was cozy.
Before leaving we got to take part in a traditional leaving dance where we divided into two lines and then ran towards one another like two red rover teams. There was more music and dancing after and we watched an Ostrich dance (video below). All in all it was an eye opening cultural experience and, if given the chance, I would recommend trying to spend some quality time with the Mapuche while in Chile. The Raku Mapuche reservation where my group went was very welcoming and eager to share different aspects of their culture with us including their history, dress, dances, sports, and food. It is a full day trip but a good close trip to make while in Santiago. The Mapuche also have internship opportunities and service projects for those looking to help out. To find out more you would have to contact a member on the specific Mapuche reservation where you hope to visit or volunteer.