Foye tree, I am calling your path to the high sky, your path beside the transparent earth. I am invoking you, Father God Foye; I am giving you signs, Mother God Foye. Put yourself in front of his heart, of his head, Old Man Foye of the eastern lands from above. Old Woman Foye of the high sky, of the earth, of the four directions. Old Man Foye of the four dawns, warrior of the four wars. Send us from above water from waterfalls; lighten up the powers of the original earth.
—Rogation by Machi José, December 21, 2001 (all translations into English are mine)
Since 1991, when I first began working with Mapuche shamans in the Bio-Bío, Araucanía, and Los Lagos regions of southern Chile, I have been intrigued by the myriad meanings of the foye tree, also known as canelo (Drimys winteri), and its connection with the many gendered dimensions of shamanic powers, identities, and practices (Figs. 1.1 and 1.2). Foye trees are sacred trees of life that connect the natural, human, and spirit worlds and allow Mapuche shamans, or machi, to participate in the forces that permeate the cosmos. They are symbols of machi medicine, and machi use the bitter leaves and bark to exorcise evil spirits, as an antibacterial for treating wounds, and to treat colds, rheumatism, stomach infections, and ringworm. Foye trees also serve a political purpose. During colonial times Mapuche used them as symbols of peace during parleys and for deceptive purposes in setting up ambushes.
Today, machi use foye trees to bind ritual congregations together in collective ngillatun rituals and as symbols of Mapuche identity and resistance to national ideologies and practices. Foye trees also express spirits' perceptions of machi's gender identities. The masculine and feminine aspects of the foye tree and its white, hermaphroditic flowers legitimate machi's ritual transvestism, their sexual variance, and their co-gendered ritual identities (during rituals they move between masculine and feminine gender polarities or combine the two), which mark machi as different from ordinary women and men. Chilean national discourses construe machi as sexual deviants who voluntarily engage in gender crossing. Mapuche believe machi gender identities are determined by spirits who subject machi to a series of hierarchical gendered relationships which sometimes result in sexual variance among machi (Fig. 1.3).
The night before he said the prayer quoted in the epigraph to this chapter, Machi José had performed a healing ritual at his home in which he mounted his step-notched foye tree altar and pounded his painted drum (kultrun) to propitiate ancestral and nature spirits, as well as Catholic and national figures, to help him divine and heal. He wore women's clothes to seduce the spirits. José donned a purple head scarf and a black shawl pinned by a silver brooch. He flattered the spirits with stories of power and begged them for spiritual knowledge: "You have all the power . . . You have power of the heart. You have power of the head . . . Look at me. I am not a machi because of my own choice. I am your bud, your child, your humble servant . . . I kneel before you. I beg you to blow me your healing knowledge, your remedies. Have pity on me."
José rocked from side to side as he beat his drum. His head rolled loosely as he entered into trance. Once the spirits were present, José assumed masculine, feminine, and co-gendered identities for purposes of healing. When he mounted his step-notched axis mundi, or tree of life (rewe), which connects the human and spirit worlds, he traveled in ecstatic flight to other worlds as a masculine master of animals and a mounted warrior. José called on male ancestral warriors, Chilean generals, and Jesus to help him exorcise illness and misfortune from his patient's body. He placed crossed knives behind his patient's head and sprinkled firewater first around the patient's bed and then around the outside of the house.
José also became a feminine bride possessed by spirits, embodying Old Moon Woman, the morning star, and the Virgin Mary, in order to reintegrate patients into their communities. He rubbed this patient's body with soothing laurel leaves and told his parents they had to be kinder to the boy: "He wandered around and lost his soul because he doesn't feel supported. He will find a job and will help you, but you have to embrace him or the evil spirits will get him."
José's ability to move between genders also enabled him to embody the four aspects—male, female, young, and old—of the Mapuche deity Ngünechen in order to become whole, create new order in the world, and transform sickness into health and unhappiness into well-being: "Father God of the sky, Mother God of the sky, Young Man and Young Woman of the sky. You exist in the transparent earth above and you are looking from there . . . you take hold of me, my breath and body . . . You powerful people who know the destiny of the universe, help me heal." José's hierarchical, gendered relationships with spirits, deities, other machi, and animals, expressed through spiritual kinship, marriage, and mastery, reflected historical ethnic and national relationships, social and gender dynamics, and complex understandings of personhood.
In his everyday life, in contrast, José dressed in jeans and a sweater and responded to the heterosexual normative gender model of Chilean society by reinventing himself as a celibate Catholic priest, a heterosexual spiritual doctor, a man of politics, and a masculine spiritual warrior. Female machi, in turn, often present themselves as Mary-worshiping mother figures, moon priestesses, chaste nuns, apolitical housewives, and moral angels. Since colonial times, machi have been women or partially transvestite men who assume co-gendered roles, but today they respond to the gender expectations of Chile's male-dominated Catholic society and of the country's biomedical discourses. They carefully negotiate the political practices considered acceptable for men and women, trying not to endanger their spiritual roles, which Mapuche view as antithetical to roles of political authority. José and other male machi masculinize themselves by drawing on the image of the spiritual warrior, through which they synthesize their spiritual authority and their political practices. Female machi develop nonpartisan, shamanic reinterpretations of political authorities for their own pragmatic ends, offering a new understanding of the workings of power.
Machi, Gender, and Sex
I initially became interested in the gendered dimensions of machi practice because I wanted to understand why women and partially transvestite men predominated as shamans and held spiritual power in Mapuche society, whereas descent, succession, and inheritance were traced through men, and men held positions of political authority. I was interested in the cultural assumptions that motivated machi and in the meaning of their practices for both Mapuche and Chileans—among whom the legality and legitimacy of machi medicine is disputed. I supposed that I would find significant differences in the healing therapies and practices of male and female machi that expressed men's and women's roles in everyday life, as well as their goals, concerns, and authority within the family, the community, and Chilean society at large. I assumed that male and female machi's negotiations with the spirits echoed the types of social relationships they had in their everyday lives and that accusations of witchcraft reflected conflict and jealousy.
Although these assumptions held true in certain contexts, I discovered that machi's experiences and practices were also shaped by gendered relationships that had little to do with their sex or their roles as women or men in everyday life. The spirits were interested in machi's gendered discourses and performances, not in the sex under the machi's clothes (Fig. 1.4).
In this book, I show how machi use paradoxical discourses about gender, as well as notions of spirituality, health, politics, and power, to legitimate themselves as prestigious, co-gendered shamans and as either modern, masculine men or traditional, feminine women. Gender is one of the metaphors machi use to mark boundaries and connections between local and national ideologies, to link ordinary worlds with spiritual realities, and to facilitate health and healing. I argue that machi's bodies, their desires and gendered performances, and their possession by or control over spirits become sites for local conflicts and expressions of identity and difference between Mapuche and non-Mapuche people—the places where power, hierarchy, and healing are played out.
Shamans of the Foye Tree is about the cultural construction of gender and sexuality through the lives and healing practices of machi and the contested understanding of their gendered powers and practices. It is also about how machi engage their marginality, relative to the gendered discourses of the state, by protesting, reinterpreting, and parodying those discourses for their own ends. I argue that gender—the assortment of attributes and predispositions considered either feminine or masculine—takes precedence over biological sex in constructing the machi self in ritual contexts and in shaping machi's erotic relationships with spirits. In everyday contexts, however, machi's identities are further complicated by the more biologically oriented hegemonic discourses of Chilean society, in which sex is "naturally" associated with gender and male sexuality is determined by who penetrates whom. Machi's sexualities—the ways in which their genital acts with other humans are viewed—are interpreted from various perspectives and are often contested and contradictory.
The Chilean state stigmatizes machi as witches and sexual deviants regardless of the sexual acts they perform, and it constructs them as exotic folk practitioners in spite of their hybrid healing practices. Machi, in turn, reinterpret and contest these images and draw on national prestigious gendered positions to legitimate themselves. They shape their gendered occupations, healing practices, and political activities according to the expectations Mapuche and Chileans hold of women and men. I am concerned with the dialectic between gendered meanings, knowledge, and power as filtered through these various lenses. I analyze the ways in which the dynamics of gender and power explains the complex gendered relationships between machi and the spirit world, their communities, and the Chilean state.
In this ethnography of the shifting gender identities and sexualities of machi in a variety of ritual, everyday, and political contexts, I address a crucial aspect of the anthropology of shamanism and studies of gender, sexuality, and personhood that to date remains unexplored and undertheorized. The idea that gender is culturally constructed, performed, and enmeshed in relations of power is generally accepted in anthropology, but the ways in which gender and sexuality relate to spiritual experiences and change in different contexts are often ignored. Although anthropologists have long recognized the existence of different cultural representations of selfhood (Appadurai 1990; Desjarlais 2000; Ewing 1990; Geertz 1973, 1983; Langness 1987), rigid notions of "permanent" personhood persist where gender or sexuality is concerned. I believe anthropologists' preoccupation with anatomical sex as the guiding component of gender and sexuality has clouded other issues central to the gendered construction of sexuality and personhood and the discontinuities in shamans' gendered and sexual identities. I want to question received wisdom about the gendered and sexual nature of shamanism and personhood and offer new ways of thinking about the relationship of gender, genitals, sexual acts, and sexualities in the context of everyday, spiritual, and ethnic-national power relations.
Judith Butler, in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), argues that gender slippage is limited to that between "normative gender behavior" and its re-creation in performance. She maintains that few possibilities exist for subverting gender. I hope to demonstrate that machi subvert various gendered ideologies as they move among three notions of "normative gender behavior" and perform different gender identities in everyday, ritual, and political contexts.
The three gendered binaries that shape the way machi see themselves and the way others view them are structured by different principles. First is the male-female binary of the majority discourse, defined by biological sex and associated with men and women; second is the binary defined by the sexual-penetration paradigm, in which penetrating men are opposed to receptive nonmen and women; and third is the binary defined by machi's ritual performances of the feminine and the masculine. These polarized gender referents are not antagonistic to gender fluidity. Indeed, the polarization of the masculine and the feminine is precisely what allows machi to move between the two or to collapse them. Machi's juggling of different genders adds an important dimension to the ways in which national and Mapuche discourses conflict, overlap, are transformed, and are appropriated. My goal is to offer a new perspective on current discussions of personhood, gender, and sexuality and on the connection between gendered social relationships, altered states of consciousness, and shamanic performances.
The Making of an Experiential Ethnography
The shifting gendered practices and subjectivities of machi are the most controversial aspects of Mapuche shamanism. Anthropologists have widely misread them, and the Chilean majority has shunned them as the practice of homosexuals and witches. Mapuche see machi practice as both sacred and gender deviant, and machi themselves have reacted to Chilean national and Mapuche prejudices against gender variance by shrouding their shifting gender identities and sexualities in silence. I learned about the ways in which machi complicate notions of personhood, gender, and sexuality gradually over the span of fifteen years (1991-2006) as my friendships with machi grew and I participated in discussions and rituals. I shared my life stories, preoccupations, and ideas with machi, and they reciprocated. Like Jill Dubisch (1995:47), I believe that, by revealing myself to my consultants, I participated in relationships that were more equal and allowed for the emergence of a more authentic other.
I became a patient of several machi, who treated me holistically for hormone imbalances; melanoma; "thin blood"; depression; bad luck; the stress of academic life; the emotional upheaval of a marriage, a divorce, and a new partnership; and the uncertainty created by multiple moves in Chile, the United States, and Canada. I learned much about machi practice through my apprenticeship to Machi Pamela and Machi José and through my experiences as their ritual assistant. I did not seek to become initiated as a machi because I did not desire shamanic power and because my dream experiences were those of a ritual assistant, not of a shaman. Nor did I try to develop shamanic power through drum-induced trances and visions. I felt it would be unethical for me to assume a spiritual role and be unable to fulfill the commitments that machi make to their patients, community, and ritual congregation.
I met most of the Mapuche I knew through Eugenio, a community chief (longko; the word also means the head of a body) who owned first a butcher shop and then a liquor store on the outskirts of the town of Quilmawe, near Temuco, the capital of the Araucanía region. I met Eugenio through his brother Vladimiro, a Chilean Mapuche who moved to work with my Hungarian maternal grandfather and Anglo-Indo-Argentine grandmother on a farm in Neuquén, Argentina, to earn better wages and benefits. Vladimiro knew me and my family well. I spent all my summers in Neuquén until 1988, when I graduated with my licenciatura in history from the Catholic University in Chile and left for the United States to begin doctoral studies in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. When I returned to Chile in 1991 to begin my fieldwork, Eugenio and his family invited me to community events and rituals and introduced me to a number of machi and other Mapuche. I met other Mapuche through Mapuche and non-Mapuche friends and colleagues.
My experience as a Peruvian woman of paternal Quechua and Italian descent who had lived in Chile as a student (1978-1988) and as a professor and nationalized Chilean citizen (1991-1996), and, later, my experience as a Chilean feminist anthropologist living in the United States since 1996 shaped my interactions with machi. As a woman, I had easy access to the world of shamanism, which is dominated by women and celibate men and which dealt with household crises: conflicts within families and between neighbors; ungrateful children; unfaithful spouses; and issues of fertility and childbirth. As a single woman, however, I could only attend the public ritual performances of machi accompanied by a Mapuche man. My divorce in 1997 granted me some of the relative freedom accorded to separated women and widows. At the same time, I was unwillingly incorporated into the local web of machi alliances and accusations of witchcraft; my friendships with some machi barred me from developing close relationships with their enemies.
As a Chilean woman, I was familiar with the dominant national gender ideologies with which machi struggled every day. I was aware of the traditional expectations for proper behavior on the part of unmarried women, and I behaved accordingly. My aversion to the Chilean national patriarchal and homophobic discourses that discriminated against Mapuche women and marginalized male machi who did not meet national standards of masculinity facilitated my relationships with machi. Yet, in other ways, I was always a different kind of woman. And as a non-Mapuche Chilean anthropologist living in the United States, I was an outsider who stood apart from the Mapuche I worked with because of my education, ethnicity, economic status, and the power I had to represent them once the fieldwork was completed. My curly hair and Jeep were a constant reminder of what my rural Mapuche friends were not and did not have. I possessed the car-driving, place-finding, literate knowledge of Spanish and the physical presence that helped my Mapuche friends gain entrance to banks and administrative offices. My status also allowed me to negotiate with policemen to help my Mapuche friends avoid fines for selling grains and vegetables without permits.
In the homes and communities of my Mapuche friends, this power relationship was reversed. I was at their mercy, and they determined whom I could talk with and when, what they would tell me, what our relationship would be like, which rituals I could go to, what and when I could record and photograph, and how and when I was to learn certain types of knowledge. Machi Pamela, for example, demanded that I learn about machi lore through experience as her ritual helper. She highlighted what she thought was important: "Bring your recorder; I have something important to say." Machi had local knowledge and prestige and the ability to see spirits, perform rituals, and heal. I depended on my Mapuche friends to guide me.
My friendships with machi reflected the unequal power relationships between us and combined disinterested generosity with what we hoped to gain from each other. Machi were generous in helping me with my project and sought to gain small benefits by working with me. Machi José boasted: "I have an anthropologist, so I'm better than all other machi." Machi Pamela asserted her power by claiming: "Mariella comes to see me because I am the only real machi. When I become angry with her, she clings to me." I drove my Mapuche friends to the hospital, to the local pension office, to the crowded farmer's market, and to visit patients, friends, and family. I gave them clothing, household items, medicine, farm implements, and food, which made their lives somewhat more comfortable. I did not give my Mapuche friends money, because other Mapuche would have construed it as my friends' selling knowledge and would have associated it with witchcraft. But I often paid for repairs in the Mapuche homes where I stayed, gave donations for collective rituals, and, like other Mapuche, paid for healing services by machi.
My ethnographic work, based on my friendships with machi and other Mapuche, was not entirely disinterested either, but was for the purpose of understanding machi's gender identities and practices and their multiple, contextual representations. My worldview expanded and I was transformed by my experiences with machi, but I was also an anthropologist who documented and analyzed other people's lives. In the process, I learned as much about machi as I did about myself and my own culture, which was both similar to and different from theirs.
Machi sometimes felt that I understood their predicament and asked me to write a book that would legitimate their gender identities, lives, and practices in the eyes of the Chilean majority. At other times Mapuche and machi themselves appropriated Chilean patriarchal and homophobic discourses to slander machi they disliked or feared. They attributed my resistance to these accusations to my "being too much like a gringa." As Kirin Narayan points out (1993:672), the loci along which we are aligned with or set apart from those whom we study are always multiple and in flux.
In this experiential ethnography I combine the empirical doing of ethnographic research—observing what went on in front of me—with my subjective experience of the research—participating in and heeding what was happening to me. Barbara Tedlock calls this intersubjective methodology "the observation of participation," in which ethnographers combine the historical, political, and personal in a single account (2000:455, 459). I try to combine detachment and engagement in what Nancy Scheper-Hughes labels a "highly disciplined subjectivity" that accounts for the understanding produced by the encounter between different worlds (2001:318). Like Don Kulick and Margaret Wilson (1995) and Karla Poewe (1996:179-200), I believe this methodology is epistemologically productive because it brings up the question of how we know what we know. It encourages anthropologists to examine their assumptions, methods, and theories and to formulate hypotheses that can later be disproved. I explore the epistemological productiveness of experiences and social action as well as their representation through various discourses of power. I include my experiences and interactions with Mapuche to the extent that they contribute to a deeper understanding of machi's gendered identities and practices. But this is not an autobiographical, confessional ethnography, and my subjects of study are machi, not myself.
Shamans of the Foye Tree weaves together the different voices through which machi's gender identities have been experienced and represented. I combine the accounts and experiences of three male machi and three female machi, in particular, with those of their patients, families, and communities, in order to explore how machi negotiate their gendered identities and practices in a variety of ritual, everyday, and political contexts. I also include the testimonies and ritual practices of other male and female machi that illustrate specific machi gender ideologies and practices, and I quote from conversations with a variety of other urban and rural Mapuche: ordinary women and men, community chiefs, weavers, farmers, professionals, intellectuals, and Mapuche who work in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). I combine these readings with ethnohistorical documents about machi, reports by anthropologists, reports from the Chilean media, and my own experiences. I am interested in what Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) calls the "anthropology of the particular," seeing context as an ongoing construction. I draw on the methodologies of narrative and dialogical anthropology (Bahktin 1981; Tedlock and Manheim 1995), and, like Anna Tsing (1993), Ruth Behar (1993, 1996), and others, I include my role as ethnographer in the text.
Because of the highly controversial nature of machi's gender identities and practices in Chile, I have, as mentioned earlier, used pseudonyms for all the people and communities mentioned in this book, to protect their privacy. I have included the real names of important geographic referents for Chileans and Mapuche and the cities of Temuco and Santiago (the capital of Chile), and the city of Neuquén in Argentina. Several machi asked to be identified by their real names in order to gain additional prestige and clients. Machi Sergio wanted me to include his name and that of his community, as well as his cellular phone number. Machi José asked me to take a color photograph of him facing the camera and publish it in my book. I chose to retain pseudonyms for all Mapuche interlocutors and not to publish photographs in which the faces of individual machi are easily identifiable, because I am weary of the way machi's multiple, shifting gender identities and special sexualities can be misinterpreted and misused by others and with the unforeseen consequences this can have on machi's lives. I have combined the life histories of two machi to make them more difficult to identify.
The Organization of the Book
In the following chapters I unravel the dynamics of gender, healing, and power in southern Chile in different contexts and through various lenses and experiences. In Chapter 2 I draw on my experiences as Machi Pamela's ritual assistant and my relationship with Machi Jorge to illustrate how machi conceive of witchcraft and its relationship to colonization, non-Mapuche people, and modernization. In addition, the testimonies of other machi and Mapuche aid in exploring the ambiguous powers of machi, the ways in which they are called to healing, and how they diagnose natural and spiritual illnesses.
Chapters 3 and 4 unravel machi ritual gender identities and their relationships to cosmic powers, colonization, and contemporary social contexts. Chapter 3 explores the relationship between the gender and generational aspects of Mapuche persons, the cosmos, the Mapuche deity, and machi symbols. I analyze the various bodily and performative dimensions of holistic personhood in a sample of machi divination, healing, and collective fertility rituals officiated over by Machi José, Machi Ana, and Machi Pamela. I analyze the implications of these diverse expressions of ritual wholeness for Mapuche identity politics and for theories about gender and embodiment. Chapter 4 examines machi spiritual kinship ties, spiritual marriages, and relationships of mastery between machi, animals and spirits in initiation, healing, and death rituals. I show that machi spiritual experiences of becoming spirit brides through possession, or becoming masters of animals and mounted warriors who travel in ecstatic flight to other worlds, are gendered according to hierarchical historical and sociopolitical power dynamics rather than a machi's biological sex or everyday gender identity. I show how machi ritual relationships contribute to current discussions on the gendering of shamanic experiences as well as to theories on embodiment, "ensoulment," and personhood.
Chapters 5 and 6 discuss how machi gender identities and sexualities are represented in colonial and national discourses of power and how machi respond to these discourses by resisting, reinterpreting, and transforming them. In Chapter 5 I analyze the gender identities of male and female machi in the colonial period by considering ethnic, gender, and power dynamics. I contrast colonial Mapuche perceptions of machi as co-gender specialists having alternative sexualities with the discourses of sodomy, sorcery, and effeminacy used by Spanish and criollo soldiers and Jesuit priests. I explore the process by which the categories of the two groups gradually merge and how they shape contemporary Mapuche and Chilean majority discourses about machi as well as machi perceptions about themselves. In Chapter 6 I look at the ways gendered national discourses and the discourses of Mapuche resistance movements coerce and construct machi and the ways machi appropriate, transform, and contest these images. I explore the contradictions between the hybrid practices of machi and their traditional representations of self, and why they choose to represent themselves as they do.
Chapters 7 and 8 explore how male and female machi negotiate the gendered expectations of the spirits with those of Mapuche and dominant Chilean society in their everyday lives, healing, and political practices. I organize these chapters around particular issues in the gendered practice of machi and compare and contrast different machi experiences and perceptions on these particular questions. In Chapter 7 I explore how three male machi (Jorge, Sergio, and José) have either fulfilled or challenged the gendered expectations of their spirits, the public roles assigned to males in Chilean society, and Mapuche notions of gender and sexuality. I explore the different ways in which they have reconciled their ritual co-gendered identities, partial transvestism, and special sexualities with the need to masculinize themselves in their everyday lives. I look at how these three machi have reinvented themselves as celibate priests, spiritual doctors, and politically active spiritual warriors in order to deflect accusations of homosexuality or witchcraft. I show how these newfound roles also allow male machi to legitimate their spiritual and healing practices and regain their political roles. In Chapter 8, through the lives and practices of Machi Nora, Ana, Tegualda, Hortensia, Javiera, María Cecilia, and, particularly, Rocío, Pamela, and Fresia, I analyze how female machi sometimes fulfill and sometimes challenge gender roles, Catholic norms, and perceptions of Mapuche tradition. I begin with the intimate realm of sexuality, marriage, motherhood, and paradoxical gender roles before moving to healing practice and the national arena of New Age practitioners, national and Mapuche political figures. I show how female machi are continually faced with balancing their ritual practices against their roles as daughters, mothers, and wives. They must cope with the ever-present tension between the social legitimacy they gain through marriage and motherhood and the opposing demands of spirit husbands and spiritual power. Female machi resort to diverse strategies to reinforce their image as representatives of tradition, yet equally engage with the modern political world. I show that the nonideological political practices of female machi can contribute to current discussions of power and resistance, agency and structure, and the practice of power itself.
Finally, Chapter 9 discusses the politics, paradoxes, and conflicts of representing machi gendered identities. I include my discussions with machi and other Mapuche on "witchcraft" and "homosexuality," foregrounding the difficulty of generalizing between machi and the stakes of different machi in presenting themselves and being represented by clients, anthropologists, the Chilean nation, and the New Age audience.