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Thunder Shaman

Thunder Shaman
Making History with Mapuche Spirits in Chile and Patagonia

The first study of how Mapuche shamans make history, this book challenges perceptions of shamans as being outside of history and examines how shamans themselves understand notions of civilization, savagery, and historical processes.

May 2016
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304 pages | 6 x 9 | 1 color and 21 b&w photos, 1 b&w map |

As a “wild,” drumming thunder shaman, a warrior mounted on her spirit horse, Francisca Kolipi’s spirit traveled to other historical times and places, gaining the power and knowledge to conduct spiritual warfare against her community’s enemies, including forestry companies and settlers. As a “civilized” shaman, Francisca narrated the Mapuche people’s attachment to their local sacred landscapes, which are themselves imbued with shamanic power, and constructed nonlinear histories of intra- and interethnic relations that created a moral order in which Mapuche become history’s spiritual victors.

Thunder Shaman represents an extraordinary collaboration between Francisca Kolipi and anthropologist Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, who became Kolipi’s “granddaughter,” trusted helper, and agent in a mission of historical (re)construction and myth-making. The book describes Francisca’s life, death, and expected rebirth, and shows how she remade history through multitemporal dreams, visions, and spirit possession, drawing on ancestral beings and forest spirits as historical agents to obliterate state ideologies and the colonialist usurpation of indigenous lands. Both an academic text and a powerful ritual object intended to be an agent in shamanic history, Thunder Shaman functions simultaneously as a shamanic “bible,” embodying Francisca’s power, will, and spirit long after her death in 1996, and an insightful study of shamanic historical consciousness, in which biography, spirituality, politics, ecology, and the past, present, and future are inextricably linked. It demonstrates how shamans are constituted by historical-political and ecological events, while they also actively create history itself through shamanic imaginaries and narrative forms.


Honorable Mention, 2017 PROSE Award for Anthropology
Association of American Publishers

  • Acknowledgments
  • Permissions
  • 1. Making History in Francisca Kolipi’s Bible
  • 2. Mobile Narratives that Obliterate the Devil’s “Civilized History”
  • 3. Multitemporal Visions and Bad Blood
  • 4. Embodied History: Ritually Reshaping the Past and the Future
  • 5. Shamanizing Documents and Bibles
  • 6. The Time of Warring Thunder, the Savage State, and Civilized Shamans
  • 7. Transforming Memory through Death and Rebirth
  • 8. Reconciling Diverse Pasts and Futures
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Buffalo, New York

Bacigalupo is a professor of anthropology at SUNY Buffalo. She is the author of Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power, and Healing among Chilean Mapuche.


Chapter One

Making History In Francisca Kolipi’s Bible

On May 22, 1960, southern Chile was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in human history—a 9.6 on the Richter scale. People in the Mapuche community of Millali, in the Araucanía region of southern Chile (fig. 1.1), believe that the colossal earthquake resulted from cosmic chaos provoked by the deplorable behavior of European settlers and by the state control, infighting, and sorcery that followed in the colonists’ wake. The earth serpent Trengtreng punished the transgressors with the earthquake and a volcanic eruption (both associated with the powers of the earth), which were meant to destroy the world. Alejo Huenchuñir, a great-grandson of machi Rosa who lived in Millali, said, “When the hill, the earth, is angry at us, it makes noises; it says huechii. It makes thunder, earthquakes, and breaks the world.”

Kinship, the ownership and inheritance of land, and social and political roles link the past with the present. In moments of great crisis this historical continuity is severed. The historicity of the present and the cosmic balance both collapse. At moments of crisis, the forces of the world boost the power of chosen Mapuche to another realm, initiating them as shamans (machi). The cosmic and temporal order is accessible only through the machi’s altered states of consciousness. In dreams, visions, and trances, machi simultaneously experience different temporalities—past, present, and future.

In 1992, seventy-year-old Francisca Kolipi, a Catholic machi, described how the force of Mapuche thunder machi was unleashed by the devastating earthquake of 1960, when at the age of thirty-nine she was struck by lightning and possessed by the spirit of Rosa Kurin:

My stomach fell as if they had cut it off. I ripped off my sweater and my shoes. I only wanted clothes from old times: chamall [woolen wrap], ükülla [shawl], people without makeup. I was trembling. I didn’t eat anything. I was skinny and yellow. I was like crazy. My head was drunk. . . . The sky opened and I was hit by lightning. [The spirits] brought me down my kultrung [drum] and my kaskawilla [sleigh bells], my wada [calabash rattle]. Then I looked upward, and there was a big stone—my likankura [spiritual stone]—a bull, [and] my horse. It was my power. They told me to get it. I held my apron out, and they brought down all the herbal remedies I should use. They got my eyes and my right arm and gave them power. People came here and slept outside and said that God was going to finish off the people. “No, the people shall live,” I told them. . . . My stomach swelled up. I could only eat boiled apples. I told them to cook sheep liver and stomach for the hill. . . . The hill burst, the thunder burst on the hills. The hills, they have power. . . . Every day it trembled, every day there was lightning and thunder, every day I played my kultrung. . . . The earthquake calmed down, and I saved the world. I was a powerful machi. Now Ngünechen [the Mapuche deity] bosses me. I cannot decide things on my own. (March 24, 1992)

Soon after, Francisca had a dream with Catholic significance:

I went up a big thick pole to the Wenu Mapu. Just like on the day of Saint Peter, the sky opened up. . . . And they gave me clover, beans, maize, potatoes, wheat, lentils. . . . And as I was coming down, old man God with a long mustache said, “I am going to give you luck.” (March 24, 1992)

Mobile, mounted thunder machi like Rosa and Francisca transcend the divisions of time; they travel to different worlds and times as masters of multiple realities. They use their multitemporal knowledges to reorder time and weave hope back into the world. In her initiation narrative, Francisca located herself and her source of knowledge in the past—“I only wanted clothes from old times.” She then described how she experienced herself in multiple temporalities at once. In the present she was a Catholic thunder machi saving the world from destruction and predicting that people would survive. But she also saw the future in which she would become this machi and simultaneously saw herself as a machi who had already saved the world. Francisca was given a drum, sleigh bells, a spiritual stone, and herbal remedies, but she also recognized them as already hers, and she had already used them in a future time. God gave her vista (psychic sight) and gave power to her right arm, which proved that she was a good Catholic machi espousing a morality in which good predominates over evil. But Francisca also experienced her right arm as already having power and as telling her about people’s thoughts and emotions. Francisca described Saint Peter opening the heavens for her and God promising to give her luck in the future; she also saw them as already giving her luck and abundance in the form of produce.

This multitemporality is expressed through machi’s unique ability to share multiple relational and individual personhoods with beings from different worlds and times and through machi’s inherent ambiguity, which allows them to cross boundaries. Like many indigenous people (Oakdale and Course 2014; Strathern 1992), Mapuche persons are multiple. They expand their personhood by incorporating aspects of others in a variety of contexts. At the same time they condense those aspects into a concrete, singular person with a fixed destiny. Machi complicate this process because they are never singular persons. Minimally, those who are machi are double persons: humans permanently inhabited by a machi spirit who preordains them as shamans and shapes their everyday lives and actions. By virtue of their shamanic destiny, machi are simultaneously collective ancestral persons and historical individuals whose personhood is embodied in material objects and living entities (Bacigalupo 2010, 2013, 2014). Machi also share this personhood with spirits, animals, and deities in diverse ways during both ordinary and altered states of consciousness. In trance, machi can become multiple beings at once—simultaneously shaman and spirit, human and divine (Bacigalupo 2004a, 2007:45–47, 68–69, 100–110).

Francisca’s acquisition of shamanic power—as well as others’ perceptions of her use of that power—was the mediating event of her life. Her thunderbased kinship with machi Rosa, her narrative about saving the world from destruction, and her dream of Catholic support legitimated her community-focused rituals, in which she gained knowledge about the world, killed evil spirits, challenged power inequalities, resisted state agents, and healed suffering. As a good machi who had the power of God in her right arm, Francisca would sit on the right side of God and be blessed on the Day of Judgment. But Francisca was also suspected of sorcery because the wild power of thunder is not subject to human morality and can be used by sorcerers to destroy and cannibalize their own spiritual and blood kin.

Francisca spoke and acted within her own social and political context. She sometimes sought personal gain, took sides in the conflicts among factions within Millali, and was said to hex her enemies, including the longko (community head). Some viewed Francisca as an awingkada (meaning “like a wingka,” or non-Mapuche). They questioned her legitimacy because she was a thunder machi initiated late in life and had no formal training. Others envied Francisca’s wealth and power and called her a sorcerer because she violated Mapuche and Chilean patriarchal gender norms: she made her money independently outside the home and did not distribute sufficient favors to the community; she refused to remarry when she was widowed; and she was considered by some to be manly, aggressive, and amoral (Bacigalupo 2010, 2014). Aware of these criticisms, Francisca feared that her spirit would not be reborn in a new shaman’s body after she died. To make sure that her spirit would not be lost, she demanded during our first face-to-face meeting that I write her biography as a “bible.”

Shamanic Historical Consciousness In Francisca’s Bible

Although Francisca and I had been aware of each other for years, it was not until November 1991 that we met—at her home in the community of Millali, a reducción (reservation) near the town of Quepe. Although Mapuche reservations have a defined land base and communal identity, they are not outside the purview of the state government. On the walls of Francisca’s home, posters of a bikini-clad calendar girl and Rambo with his machine gun, along with an award for third place from the local soccer club, competed with three Catholic images: one of the pope, another of the Virgin Mary that read “This is the house of God,” and the third of Saint Francis, Francisca’s patron saint and master of animals, ecology, and agriculture (fig. 1.2). There also were two framed photographs. One showed her in the full regalia of a Mapuche shaman, standing beside Francisco, her only son; the other was a wedding picture of her and her husband, José (Pancho) Calfuñir. Hanging from a nail was a kultrung, a drum made from a bowl of laurel wood covered by a goatskin. Francisca divined the causes of illnesses and invoked Jesus, the Virgin, and Mapuche spirits as she used herbal remedies, massage, and drumming to heal patients of a variety of ailments. She prayed for the well-being of her entire community, divined the future, and voiced local perceptions of the past and history in Mapudungun, the Mapuche “language of the earth,” and in Spanish, the official language of Chile.

Francisca stared at me quizzically, her gray hair braided neatly under a blue headscarf, her weathered brown face wrinkling as she spoke. “You are champuria [mixed race] like me, but you think like Mapuche. Your mother’s family is from Argentina, like mine. You will dream a lot. I will teach you about machi practice, and then you will help me heal. You will be my granddaughter. And then you will write a bible about me and I will never die” (November 3, 1991). Dumbfounded, I scanned Francisca’s bluepainted living room for clues about what a bible meant to her and why she wanted me to write one about her, since she could not read.

Crammed on a rickety shelf were a small black-and-white television, some gardening tools, and a large, dusty black Bible that some Catholic nuns had given her. Francisca also had on her shelf a copy of Enseñanzas de la primavera ancestral (Teachings of the Ancestral Spring), a book published a year earlier by the Chilean philosopher Ziley Mora. Although Francisca was not featured in Mora’s book, she believed that the picture of the two of them that appeared on the cover would legitimate her in the eyes of her non-Mapuche patients. “This way people know I am a good machi,” she boasted. “But now I need a bible about me.”

I first thought that Francisca was using the word bible because she saw her story as an authoritative divine truth that, through my ethnography, would mediate between God’s word and ordinary language. Perhaps, I thought, Francisca wanted me to create a shamanic bible to compete with the one revered by evangelical Christian Mapuche, a sacred text containing her divine words rather than those of God, Jesus, the apostles, or the devil. This assumption was not completely wrong, but as we worked together I came to learn that she saw a different purpose for the bible she wanted me to write. Francisca’s mutable and multiple identities, as well as my own, led her to think that if I learned about her shamanic practice through dreaming and rituals, I could write a text that would stand in for her—it would be a potent shamanic object with a performative function. The book would store and textualize her power, circulate it through time and space, heal, and enable communication between the living and the dead and between Mapuche and non-Mapuche. It would be a shamanic history, and it would challenge the dominant culture’s understandings about Mapuche and their society.

I gradually came to understand that Francisca sought to legitimate herself and her shamanic forms of history-making in local eyes and in the eyes of the Chilean majority. Francisca practiced a bold kind of history-making, not replicating the enclosed otherness with which indigenous practices are often described, whether for repression or romanticized celebration. Since the nineteenth century, Chilean settlers, priests, soldiers, politicians, historians, and other intellectuals have fossilized female and male shamans dressed in women’s clothing as symbols of the folkloric past.⁵ These perceptions have permeated the Chilean national imagination: machi are viewed as lacking historical consciousness. In this limited perspective, historical consciousness is conceived as a modernist assumption of the Global North about a linear temporal relationship in which events are organized into past, present, and future. Although most people do not experience the past through historicism, there is a great deal of tension among three distinct notions of the past: as events documented by professional historiographers through the discourse of fact and objectivity; as beliefs about a shared past experienced through collective memory (Seixas 2004:9–10); and as the machi’s achronological narratives about the past and their experiences of the past through altered states of consciousness.

Some historians of Latin America have used social historical approaches to refine national histories by bringing in local memory and popular struggles (see Mallon 1995, 2005; Stern 2001). But people in the Quepe area experience Chilean national history more straightforwardly as positivistic wingka history, which has often been used as a weapon of repression and control. This is the kind of national history learned at the local school, on the radio, and through the discourse of right-wing settlers. And this is the history people seek to obliterate with their shamanic narratives. Throughout this book I hold to a more general contrast between shamanic histories and the descriptions of Chilean history constructed by wingka through the chronological narration of archival “facts.” The machi’s experience of shamanic rebirth; the combination of cyclical and linear histories, temporal dislocation, and multitemporality; and the indissoluble links between spirituality, politics, and ecology challenge positivist, linear notions of history.

The Chilean national imagination has rejected machi narratives as premodern, nonobjective, irrational, and ahistorical in contrast to national linear narratives. That machi could be historical agents has been unthinkable for a Chilean state that has leveraged positivist historiography, secularism, and Judeo-Christian thought to eradicate machi practice—erasing it from the archives and from the making of Chilean history.⁶ As is so often the case, what is unthinkable is that which is too threatening to be comfortably acknowledged. As healers of both individuals and the body politic and as agents of history, shamans are marginalized because they challenge the colonialist institutions of authority and the secular ethnic histories that have been constructed for Mapuche. Machi can be males who often wear women’s scarves, jewelry, and shawls during rituals. Their machi activities often preclude them from performing the ordinary roles of women and men, and spirits expect them to be celibate, although some machi are married and have children. Machi embody cogendered identities and use this multiplicity in rituals to mediate between other times, worlds, and beings.⁷ Machi are morally ambiguous persons whose spirits are usually inherited through the female line and often by granddaughter from grandmother. Their powers are not controlled by chiefs, by the Mapuche patrilineage, by Chilean authorities, by Mapuche resistance movements, or by priests (Bacigalupo 2001, 2004d, 2007:140–163; fig. 1.3).

Because machi are marginalized by the state and are not tied to a specific place, group, or ideology—or even to a specific human body or life—they can offer what Steven Feierman (1995) has called a “partially autonomous critique” of local and colonialist authorities and structures of power. Machi use their matrilineal spiritual genealogies to weave what Michel Foucault (1979:31) called an alternative “history of the present” and to revive local histories that have been marginalized by positivist historiography in the context of current Mapuche circumstances and utopian ideas of the future.

Francisca defied academic categories about native histories and defined her own political struggles for decolonization.⁸ She endorsed the Mapuche notion that truth is tied to a world of values, not to the dichotomy of fact and fiction. Francisca argued that her narratives were verdadera historia (true history) that could not be reduced to “stories,” which for her were synonymous with lies, recalling Global Northern notions about myth (LéviStrauss 1987), “creative productions” (Lambek 1998:111), “historical imagination” (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992), and “discursive engagements with the past” (Course 2010). Francisca drew on indigenous knowledge as the point from which she created connections with researchers and their understandings of history.

Although Mapudungun has no term for “history” or “myth” and Mapuche do not always subscribe to the kind of history written by scholars in the Global North, Mapuche do understand shamans’ narratives and experiences historically and use the Spanish term historia (history) rather than memoria (memory) when speaking about them. Scholars have characterized memory as lived experience, as a particular perspective on the past (Nora 1989), as remembrance of past events and experiences, and as a past that is stored and transmitted (Battaglia 1992:14). Memory is seen as distinct from history, which is defined as a representation of the past that attempts to synthesize different perspectives. But machi reject this distinction between memory and history and focus instead on how different individuals and groups encode, understand, and reconstruct the past using multiple strategies and forms. The machi’s perceptions resonate with some anthropological perceptions of historical consciousness as the basic assumptions that a society makes about the shape of time and the relationship of events in the past, present, and future. Determining how people in a particular society assume the past to be and how they produce stories requires an ethnographic history of that particular society (Stewart 2012:2; Lambek 2003).

For machi and other people in Millali, historical consciousness is itself shamanic. They remember, experience, enliven, and sometimes deliberately disremember their past—that is, they produce history—through texts, ritual objects, spirits, embodied ritual experiences, and oral biographies of their machi. Francisca wanted all of this included in her bible. She and her community engaged different notions of time and history to produce multiple modes of shamanic historical consciousness. Mapuche narratives and embodied experiences of the past are often achronological and episodic and can be used in different forms in a variety of situations. They are constantly assembled and reassembled in relation to specific sociopolitical and historical circumstances and activities that are not explicit in the narratives themselves.

This book is Francisca’s bible; it is both a study of shamanic historical consciousness in Millali and an agent in the transformation of that history. It explores machi and community members’ assumptions about the nature of time and the relationship between past, present, and future. This book is also about the role of shamans and spirits as effective historical agents who transform and make history through healing and remaking the world— as seen through the life and ritual practices of Francisca Kolipi. Francisca’s shamanic history and practices propelled her patients from what they were to what they believed they were or would become. I have written neither a Global Northern–style history of the Mapuche and their shamans nor an ethnic history of the kind authored by Mapuche intellectuals to support their sense of identity in relation to the Chilean state.⁹ Rather, I seek to understand rural Mapuche notions of time, history, continuity, change, and agency through a shamanic lens.

Machi use the temporal simultaneity of altered states of consciousness to reshape history. Through ritual, they draw on and remake the powers of the past to heal in the present and to forge a better future. Machi fuse historical events with individual lives in order to contextualize local histories within larger Mapuche origin stories and cyclical processes; they then rehistoricize and resignify these origin stories in new, changing contexts. Mapuche use temporal dislocation to conflate their current realities, identities, and experiences with colonial and postcolonial events and figures from other moments in their histories. In doing so, they construct nonlinear histories of intraand interethnic relations and create a moral order where Mapuche become history’s spiritual victors. By exposing and reflecting on all of these, I aim to show how machi are constituted by historical-political events yet also actively and imaginatively constitute those events through shamanic imaginaries and narrative forms.

All of this helps clarify what Francisca Kolipi meant, and what she was seeking, when she asked me to write her biography as a bible. In the Global North, biography is often seen as separate from history, not as a form of historiography. In contrast, Mapuche—like many Latin American indigenous peoples (Basso 1995, 2003; Kopenawa and Albert 2013; Taylor 2007; Oakdale and Course 2014; Wright 2013)—see the biographies of prominent individuals as central to engagements with temporality and history-making in a variety of everyday, ritual, and political contexts. Francisca occupied a pivotal role in her community, and her biography is a testimony about historical processes: change and continuity, conflict and harmony, sorcery and healing, disremembering and remembering, death and rebirth. She was an active agent within a complex constellation of cultural logics, social fields, and modalities for constructing history. Focusing on Francisca’s story—on her position as a mestiza who was both within and outside the community and on her many transgressions—also reveals norms, practices, and notions of Mapuche personhood that might not otherwise become evident, including its relationship to spirits and to history.

Notions of personhood and individuality in the Global North differ from Mapuche notions, in which biographies are conceived as an oscillation between singular lives that condense the experiences of others and collective lives that incorporate the experiences of others and represent the collective. Shamans’ personal narratives make connections among different times, worlds, and beings by placing dreams and altered states of consciousness in the context of colonization, missionization, and urbanization.

Francisca embodied and resignified Rosa Kurin’s shamanic spirit, and through stories, songs, and spirit possession she told of the community’s past in order to interpret its present and grant it agency in relation to the dominant Chilean society. Francisca’s narratives about her life were therefore never just her individual memories but included those of Rosa and the other spirits she embodied. Shamanic histories aggregate the personal experiences of shamans, recognize the periodic embodiment of the spirits of past shamans in new machi, and identify shamanic spirits alternately as collective and individual identities. The names and identities of prominent shamans and chiefs are collapsed into those of deceased ancestors or primordial characters in the creation of regional histories (Bacigalupo 2010). In her bible, Francisca wanted me to include stories about how she and others in Millali obliterated political and economic ideologies in order to remake Chilean history in an achronological shamanic form. Like other spiritual practitioners around the world, machi mimic, parody, and oppose colonialism, and the themes of their stories relate to socialism, neoliberalism, and dictatorship.¹⁴ Machi subject the characters, events, and powers in these structures to their own spiritual ideologies, including a shamanic logic of temporal dislocation and a Mapuche moral history of engagement with nature and its spirits.

As a wild, drumming, thunder shaman–warrior mounted on her horse, Francisca narrated her mastery over time and space while her spirit traveled to other times and places to gain power and knowledge and to conduct spiritual warfare against enemies, including forestry companies and settlers. As a tame machi bride who was possessed by spirits and subservient to their sociospiritual order and demands, Francisca narrated her people’s attachment to the sacred landscapes of Millali, which are imbued with Rosa’s power and populated by the spirit masters of particular ecosystems, and to her shamanic tree of life, or rewe (axis mundi), a carved pole flanked by branches, which allowed her to travel to other spiritual worlds from that particular location in the landscape. As a daughter, wife, and mother, Francisca narrated her conflicted kinship history through blood and marriage and told larger stories about the Mapuche’s engagement with ethnic others and about the moral and social norms that shaped and constrained her shamanic practice. Francisca also became what she called a machi civilizada (civilized shaman) with a broad vision of the universe because she selectively incorporated wingka knowledges and technologies into her ritual practices and took their power to further Mapuche goals. But she also noted the ambivalent identities and conflicted histories that offer moral teaching for Mapuche themselves: Mapuche who act like wingka become selfish sorcerers.

The Historic Power Of Francisca’s Bible

My reading of Francisca’s political and intellectual motives for asking me to write a bible about her deepened considerably over time. But it was only after her death in 1996 that I came to understand the larger ritual implications of her request and its consequences for shamanic healing and rebirth. This involved my moving from appreciating the historicism and transformation of personhood embedded in her request to focusing on her choice of the Catholic Bible as the particular basis for imagining historical power.

Of all books, the Bible has had the greatest influence on native religions and governance in the Americas. A nonindigenous textual object, it has come to play a central role in indigenous Mapuche shamanic identity and power. Through her use of the Catholic Bible, Francisca recast the world of orality, shamanic power, and spirits, and in doing so, she reconstructed history.¹⁵ She displayed a copy of the Bible in her living room as an object of power that she could shamanically appropriate for the benefit of her patients.¹⁶ She prayed and smoked over her Bible to “awaken” God’s words. She placed leaves of the sacred foye and triwe trees in it to “activate” their medicinal properties before making herbal treatments. She rubbed the Catholic Bible on her patients’ bodies during healing and then slammed it shut when she managed to trap an evil wekufü spirit within its pages.

It was Francisca’s identity as a champuria Mapuche shaman, an expert in the control of the economy of alterity, that allowed her to effectively transform a non-Mapuche sacred text into an object infused with shamanic power that could alter the temporalities of death and rebirth. Mapuche have decolonized their relationship to Bibles, resignifying them to express complex local notions and practices, and they use a variety of Bibles as differentiated vehicles for memory, blending different streams of sacred knowledge. The Lutheran Bible stores the powers of devils and the landowners who destroyed Mapuche morality and sociality; the Capuchin Catholic and Anglican Protestant Bibles store the power of God and the magic of literacy; and bibles written by Mapuche prophets celebrate Mapuche rituals and an alternative ethnic and historical consciousness. Machi dream of celestial bibles that will narrate their biographies in the sky.

Francisca conceived the bible she wanted me to write about her as an intertextual object that would link biography, ritual performance, and personhood with graphic and alphabetic literacy. Through that linkage Francisca’s bible would have the ability to transform the world and the future, and her words would spread to a distant audience and continue to exert her shamanic power and agency—“the capacity for meaningful action” (Harris 1989)—even in her physical absence.¹⁷ She insisted that her bible have indented quotations of her shamanic prayers, “powerful little words like in the Bible” (July 15, 1996). When future shamans smoked and chanted over her quotations, the powers they held could be extracted, transformed, and used for a variety of ends.

This shamanic bible I have co-created with Francisca is somewhat like the shamanic antibible that emerged from the collaboration of Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa and anthropologist Bruce Albert (Kopenawa and Albert 2013). Francisca and Davi both appropriated the Bible to produce authoritative books about indigenous shamanic knowledge with the idea that white people would respect their texts as they respect the Bible. Both shamans have shown how spirituality, human life, politics, and ecology are inextricably linked, and they have integrated different political and academic categories, using multiple voices, in order to engage with and transform the reader and the world. But where Kopenawa experienced the fixing of his oral shamanic knowledge into a written form as an intellectual compromise justifiable only to convince a wide non-Yanomami public to support his political struggle on his people’s behalf, Francisca saw her bible as a dynamic, subjective object. The words in her bible would store her power and be activated by future shamans, who would smoke and chant over them to effect her most important shamanic transformation: the rebirth of her spirit in another shaman’s body, reincorporating her story into her community’s history.

For Francisca the creation of this bible would immortalize her powers in another way too. “When I die, my words will stay in the book,” she said (February 25, 1992).¹⁸ Although the speech, rituals, and lives of individuals are ephemeral, words printed on a page are more permanent. Thus, Francisca’s bible would both perpetuate Mapuche notions of historical continuity through spiritual rebirth and expand Mapuche notions of history and literacy.

It is this potential for rebirth that makes machi crucial to the transformation of Mapuche personhood and the production of Mapuche history. Machi are unique in the ways that death transforms their personhood. The historical process of disremembering them soon after death, and their eventual re-remembering, transforms machi spirits from individual figures into generic, ancestral ones, and then back. When machi die, their communities may depersonalize them as generic ancestor machi. This means stripping them of their individual thoughts, emotions, and personal relationships to others; merging their actions with those of earlier deceased machi; and remembering them for their positive social actions—such as having saved the community from an earthquake or a flood. Later, as their spirits are cleansed of their negative qualities, they can be reborn in the bodies of new machi. In this way machi are reindividualized and rehistoricized. The new machi will carry the temperament, skills, and ritual performance style of the machi whose spirit she inherits. Shamanic spirits are thus transformed and recycled at different historical and political moments in linear time, which gives them both relational-collective and individual identities. Narratives about Rosa and Francisca trace the history of their shared shamanic spirit as it has been transformed over time through remembering and disremembering.

It is in this particular sense that Francisca believed that the words and photographs printed in the book I would write could capture her essence, and in this way she would never die. But it is also why Francisca’s family asked me not to write her bible after her physical death in 1996. At the time, they felt that my writing her bible would call her spirit back. They were focused on deliberately disremembering Francisca’s controversial mestiza individuality so that her spirit would leave and merge with the collective ancestral spirit of all machi, the filew, to create historical continuity. They also sought to erase her memory because her life story reflected uncomfortable factional conflicts between hierarchical and egalitarian ideologies and included accusations of witchcraft in the community.

But in 2009, new circumstances caused Francisca’s family to change their minds: the factionalism had eased and the community had begun to flourish. Displaying the messiness of time, memory, and human agency, people now remembered Francisca in an altered form, recasting her as the benevolent shaman who had brought prosperity to Millali. They merged Francisca’s identity with that of her shamanic predecessor, machi Rosa. The family could now individualize her again within the new historical and political context. And so they asked me to write her bible after all. As part of the ancestral spirit of all machi, she would take a new textualized form. She would be reborn. This bible would constitute Francisca’s new indigenized identity, grounding her positive shamanic powers in her role as a mediator for the collective, and recording Millali’s history as traced through her.

This book is my response to Francisca’s and her family’s requests. Part “ethno-ethnohistory” (Turner 1988), part bible, and part a collection of my own interpretations, Thunder Shaman shows that for Mapuche, memory is a complex, heterogeneous process conditioned by local political circumstances, cosmic events, and shamanic transformations of personhood through death and rebirth. Unlike their Euro-American counterparts, the autobiographies and biographies of machi are generally not renderings of shamans’ historical lives, but rather episodic tales of their origins, dramatic transformations, shamanic power, suffering, and shifting personhood. Machi engage in complex relationships with others from different times and places, including Christian saints, Spanish conquistadores, German settlers, and anthropologists, as well as with animals, spirits, and spirit masters of the forest.¹⁹ I will maintain the fragmented, achronological nature of these narrations as I tell Francisca’s story and, in less detail, Rosa’s in Mapuche terms: as illustrations of particular modes of shamanic historymaking rather than as linear biographies.

Millali: The “place That Shines”

Francisca Kolipi (1921–1996) and her shaman predecessor, Rosa Kurin (1873–1955), both lived in a rural Mapuche community thirteen kilometers from the city of Temuco and five kilometers from Quepe, the nearest town. The longko who headed the community at the time was Pascual Calfuñir. Locals call the community Millali (originally Millaleu), meaning “Precious Place” or “Place that Shines,” because they believe that the hill that rises above it “has power and shines at night. It has a gold mine and a huge amount of water in it. When it bursts, it is like a water pump. At night it thunders, and you can hear the people who live in it talking and laughing.” Millali was first settled by hunters, gatherers, and horticulturalists around AD 1000 (Dillehay 1990:37). The different kinds of arrowheads, ceramics, tilling instruments, stone beads, ritual artifacts, musical instruments, and weapons found on the Millali hill indicate that this place was used continuously by Mapuche until the land was expropriated by the Chilean government and sold to settlers in 1885. Today, fifty-eight families live scattered over some 253 hectares of land, outside the bounded municipality.

Millali is an important site because of its sacred landscapes, which are populated by a variety of spirits. People in Millali and the neighboring Mapuche communities of Imilco, Chihuimpilli, Nahuelhual, and Huenchual—the last two partly subsumed within the town of Quepe—know Millali as a place of newen (power). Alberto Huenchuñir from Millali told me, “All the trees around here have power. If you cut one down, you die. The stones you see [on the mountaintop] are bulls that came down from the sky with a big copper bell and went to the top of Millali” (June 20, 2007). On the Millali hill are three places of enormous significance: the boldo tree where Rosa Kurin obtained her shamanic powers and where her spirit lives; RukaÑamku, Millali’s ancestral place of origin and the resting place of ancestral souls; and, adjacent to RukaÑamku, an old cemetery called Rüga Platawe, where Mapuche buried jewelry, ceramic vessels, and gold coins among the roots of a hollow laurel tree for the dead to watch over. The waterfall of Millali, the rock that machi Rosa once envisioned as a bull, and the streams where people in Millali panned for gold are also sites of spiritual power. In addition, each of the ecosystems in the forest on the Millali hill is guarded by a ngen (owner) of that particular ecosystem.

People in the neighboring communities also know Millali as a place of sorcery. “Dancing lights come down from the hill to curse people’s houses,” one person told me. “At midnight there is a standing horse and a dog [associated with the underworld] that stay there till dawn, and a fox [a trickster or sorcerer] roams and howls when someone is going to die. The machi from Millali are powerful, but they can also be bad witches,” and “last year eight people died from witchcraft” (June 5, 2007). Alberto Huenchuñir added, “Many things come out in the evening in Millali. The kids get evil eye and sickness every time they go there. My granddaughter arrived vomiting. My grandson had a cold with fever and diarrhea. We heard loud thumping and laments at night. So I grabbed my kids and got a knife and told the wekufü not to bother them. People in Millali are strange [and] distrustful. They are afraid of their own relatives” (June 20, 2007).

The inhabitants of Quepe draw on a language of urbanity, civilization, and rationality—as well as the influence of three evangelical churches, two Catholic ones, a biomedical health clinic, and three schools—to distance themselves from the spirits and shamanism that are prevalent in Millali, even though most people in Millali have been baptized and combine Catholicism and Chilean biomedicine with shamanic practices in their everyday lives (Bacigalupo 1996a, 2001). Chihuimpilli boasts two schools, a Catholic chapel, and a paved road, in contrast to the narrow, muddy dirt track leading to Millali, which has deterred both Catholics and evangelicals from building churches or schools there. People in Chihuimpilli claim that they are more secular and civilized than the people in Millali and that the spirits from Millali “don’t go” to Chihuimpilli. For people in Millali and Imilco, however, being “civilized” does not mean being awingkado—like a wingka, or outsider—which implies a loss of Mapuche culture. Rather, to them being civilized means having a broad knowledge of Mapuche and non-Mapuche ways of thinking that can be deployed strategically for the well-being of the community. People in Millali alternately construe themselves as civilized because they have a broad knowledge of the world and as wild because they possess ancient shamanic knowledge of native plants and of the spirit owners of the forests.

In terms of the chronology of the Global North, the community members of Millali share with all other Mapuche a post-Columbian history of loss of life and land. Before colonization, the lush Mapuche region in Chile stretched from the Andean foothills to the Pacific coast, between the Mapocho River and the southern island of Chiloé. These varied environments allowed Mapuche to develop economic activities that included hunting, fishing, gathering, and incipient agriculture. The men also were accomplished guerrilla warriors who resisted first the Inca in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and then the Spaniards from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; the Mapuche also expanded into the Argentine Pampas and Patagonia. They were one of the largest indigenous populations and remained sovereign until the imposition of the reservation system between the BíoBío and Calle-Calle Rivers in 1884. After the Argentine and Chilean armies defeated and massacred Mapuche groups in 1879 and 1883, respectively, the Mapuche lost 9.5 million hectares of land (Bengoa 1999:61).

The state originally sold the Mapuche’s fertile land to European settlers known as colonos, who established fundos (large farms), and more recently land has been sold to transnational forestry companies.²¹ Araucanía became a two-tiered rural colonial economy with large race, class, and cultural distinctions between the wealthy landowners of European descent and the poor Mapuche living on reservations (Richards 2013:2). More than a million Mapuche live in Chile today, 6.25 percent of the population.²² Sixty-two percent of Mapuche are wariache, or city dwellers, and 38 percent live in rural communities.²³ Thirty percent of Mapuche live in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Nevertheless, territory and the landscape remain central to Mapuche history, ontology, and identity.

The relegation of Mapuche to reservations combined the state’s modernizing project—to expand its economy and territories and to incorporate Mapuche as citizens—with a postcolonial project to control and “civilize” Mapuche by transforming their sociopolitical system, usurping their lands, exploiting their resources, and abusing the people (Mallon 2009). The Ley de Radicación de Indígenas (Law of Indigenous Settlement) was promulgated in 1866 to legally map the indigenous territories that were being incorporated into the Chilean state. Technically the law provided protection from usurpation by preventing the formal subdivision and sale of Mapuche lands. In practice it ushered in the largest expropriations of Mapuche land, which occurred during the granting of títulos de merced (land titles) between 1900 and 1930 (Bengoa 1991:372).

Between 1884 and 1929 the Chilean state issued to Mapuche lineage heads 3,078 titles for 475,422 hectares of land on the reservations (Bengoa 1991:355; Marimán 1990:1–13). But in 1927, the Chilean government produced a new document abolishing the legal inalienability of the reservations, and 784 of them, amounting to 131,000 hectares, were split into private landholdings and sold to non-Mapuche. A further 168 reservations disappeared from the written record (Bengoa 1999:59). In 1979 the dictator Augusto Pinochet wrote a law abolishing the communal character of the reservations, and many Mapuche who had rented their land to nonMapuche people never recovered it.

The policy of the Chilean state toward Mapuche and their lands has been consistently two-faced. On the one hand, Chilean legislation protects indigenous lands from usurpation and charges the state with mediating between the Mapuche and broader society. On the other hand, Chilean private property laws and the state both support entrepreneurial activity (Mallon 2005:234), and local governmental institutions favor non-Mapuche landowners. The land titles for Millali and Imilco, for example, recognize only a fraction of the Mapuche’s original holdings and include the worst lands. A man from Millali told me that the Mapuche received just a “pure stone quarry” because the government had already sold the best lands to the colonizers.

The democratic regimes that followed the Pinochet era, from 1989 to the present, have defined Chile as a multiethnic country and recognized Mapuche as an ethnicity in ideological and political terms, but they have failed to meet the Mapuche people’s needs. The indigenous law passed by President Patricio Aylwin in 1993 protected some land and water rights and created the National Corporation of Indigenous Development (CONADI) to implement the state’s policies relating to indigenous people. However, Mapuche quickly became disenchanted with this law because it does not grant them self-determination, autonomy, or significant political or participatory rights within the state; nor does it acknowledge their communal practices and traditional positions of leadership (Mallon 2005:225). Contemporary Mapuche have the right to vote, but they are marginalized from national politics, and their own political systems go unrecognized.

Although the democratic governments increased the number of development projects, they prioritized national and transnational economic interests, used Mapuche land for modernization projects, and sought to incorporate Mapuche into the global economy.²⁴ In 2008 the Chilean government ratified a key law on indigenous peoples, the International Labor Organization convention, but it has made little progress toward implementing the law’s provisions. The Mapuche’s political demonstrations, demands for self-determination and autonomy, and attempts to retake their previously seized territories from non-Mapuche landowners, timber companies, private energy firms, and state highway authorities have all resulted in escalating violence between the national police and the demonstrators. All democratic presidents starting with Ricardo Lagos (2000–2006) have used Pinochet’s anti-terrorist law to indict Mapuche activists, longko (community heads), and shamans as indigenous terrorists and threats to national sovereignty and security. The government of Sebastián Piñera (2010–2014) has built an international airport in the Quepe area despite the protests of local Mapuche. Mapuche in Millali view this project as a confirmation of their perception that all Chilean governments, regardless of their political leanings, are anti-Mapuche.

Today, the community members of Millali, like other Mapuche living on reservations, experience extreme poverty. They eke out a living by farming wheat, barley, rapseed, beets, and potatoes on small plots of eroded land; by raising sheep, pigs, and occasionally a few cattle; and by selling textiles at the bus stop in the city of Temuco. Land disputes among neighbors and with settlers and timber companies are common. Although in 2009 Millali recovered the acreage granted under a land title from 1909, these are the worst land parcels and only a fraction of the community’s original holdings; moreover, the population has increased exponentially since the early twentieth century and can no longer survive on the yields of the reservation lands. Consequently, at least some members of every family in Millali work as wage laborers for farmers or forestry companies or in the city as maids, bakers, night guards, or construction workers.

Mapuche from the Quepe area have a long history of ethnic intermixing, factionalism, and shifting alliances. Beginning with the arrival of Spaniards in the sixteenth century and continuing until the ultimate defeat of Mapuche in the late nineteenth century, the indigenous people fought a prolonged guerrilla war, and descendants of some of the guerrillas settled in Millali. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mapuche men from the Quepe area married Spanish and German women captured from farming settlements in Chile or Argentina in order to enhance their political and spiritual powers. Mapuche marriages to Chilean wingka increased during and after Colonel Gregorio Urrutia’s pacification campaign (1861–1883), the goal of which was to incorporate Mapuche into the Chilean state. Rosa Kurin, the most powerful and prestigious shaman in the area, was half Patagonian Mapuche and half German, and she incorporated both Mapuche and German powers into her practice. Colonel Urrutia embraced machi practice, had a son with Rosa, and in 1882 built a fort with no strategic value on top of the sacred mountain of Millali in order to protect Rosa’s shamanic powers and local history. And people in Millali engaged with me both as an anthropologist and as Francisca’s champuria ritual helper.

My Complex Relationship With Francisca And Millali

I first met Mapuche people when I was five years old, at my maternal grandparents’ farm in Rio Negro, Argentine Patagonia, where I spent my summers until I graduated with a degree in history from the Catholic University in Chile in 1988 and left for the United States to begin doctoral studies in anthropology at UCLA. Many of these Mapuche were seasonal workers from the Quepe area in southern Chile and knew Francisca well. My grandparents’ farm was next to Rosa Kurin’s birthplace, so Francisca had heard about my family long before we met.

Virginio Ancao worked as the foreman on the farm between 1952 and 1992, when it was sold. When I returned to southern Chile in 1991, I met Virginio’s brother Euladio Ancao, the longko of the neighboring community of Nahuelhual, on the road that connects Quepe to Chihuimpilli, where many people stop to buy beer and to purchase meat from the animals that he butchered on the back patio. Euladio adopted me as his niece, and his family began inviting me to community events and rituals and introduced me to a number of machi and other Mapuche, including Francisca. I shared an apartment with friends in Temuco, where I typed up notes on my laptop and bought supplies, but I often stayed with Francisca in Millali, which at that time had neither electricity nor running water.

Francisca described me as champuria—both the same as and different from her—because my father is part indigenous Peruvian Quechua and because I spent a lot of time with Mapuche. She refused to acknowledge that I was Peruvian because Mapuche had fought the Inca expansion from Peru to Chile (1483–1485), and instead she saw me as champuria from Puelmapu “where the earth ends” (Manquepi in De Augusta 1996) in Argentine Patagonia to the east, an area associated with Mapuche kin, allies, health, abundance, power, and good fortune. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Mapuche men gained wealth, power, and prestige by traveling to Puelmapu to exchange and ally with other indigenous groups, to obtain powers from sacred stones that made them invincible, and to raid other indigenous groups and colonizers to obtain cattle, horses, and white women captives (León 1991; Bello 2011).

However, Francisca and I were different kinds of champuria women: I stood apart because of my education and economic status, and she stood apart because of her shamanic knowledge and power. Because of our different backgrounds, we held different worldviews, but these expanded naturally and mutually as we worked together. I sought to understand Francisca’s shamanic historical consciousness on her terms and to analyze her contributions to larger anthropological understandings of temporality, agency, and power. Once I gained her trust, Francisca sought to understand my role as an anthropologist, to incorporate me into her world, and to teach me about shamanic lore because she believed I had the ability to serve her needs as a mediator between worlds. Francisca shared her life stories and ideas with me, and I reciprocated with my own stories and my long-term commitment to producing her bible. An implicit pact of solidarity developed, and the data I collected became both the product and the stake of the ethnographic relationship.

My friendship with Francisca combined disinterested generosity on both our parts with what we each hoped to gain from one another in this collaborative project. She was generous in providing information and knowledge and in asking me to become her ritual assistant, and she also sought small benefits from working with me: I drove Francisca to the hospital, to the local pension office, to the crowded farmers market, and to visit patients, friends, and family. I gave her and other people clothing, household items, medicine, farm implements, and food, which made their lives somewhat more comfortable. I did not give my Mapuche friends money because that would have implied that they were selling knowledge, something that could be associated with sorcery. But I often paid for repairs to the Mapuche homes in which I stayed, donated musical instruments, funded the performance of collective rituals, and, like her Mapuche patients, paid Francisca for her healing services. People in the Quepe area often used Mapuche kinship terms to create fictive kin relations with me, but they also referred to me as a friend who was outside of the kinship system. Francisca called me chuchu (granddaughter) and wenüy (friend), and other Mapuche referred to me as lamngen (sister, cousin), ñaña (an affectionate term for consanguineal sisters), or wenüy.

Francisca was sympathetic to my interest in learning about shamanic practices and historical consciousness, and she prayed for my success: “She is taking me everywhere in a truck and has come to help me heal. I ask you [God] to give her a lot of luck. She is a professor and wants to learn. Give her a lot of strength and knowledge about our culture. . . . She speaks well of me in other places. She defends me. She respects me. She is a good woman. I ask that you help her in all her work” (February 2, 1995).

As a woman I had easy access to the world of shamanism, which is dominated by women and celibate men and deals with domestic crises, with conflicts within families and between neighbors, and with ungrateful children, unfaithful spouses, and issues of fertility and childbirth. After my divorce in 1997 I enjoyed some of the relative freedom accorded in Mapuche society to separated women and widows. Yet as a single woman I could attend a machi’s public ritual performances and talk to people there only if a Mapuche man accompanied me. Often this was Euladio Ancao, one of his sons, or Domingo Katrikura, a longko from the community of Chihuimpilli. At the same time, my friendship with Francisca meant that I was unwillingly incorporated into the local web of machi alliances and accusations of sorcery, which barred me from developing close relationships with her enemies.

I also gained experiential knowledge as a patient of several machi. Francisca treated me holistically for melanoma, depression, bad luck, the stress of academic life, the emotional upheaval of marriage and divorce, and the uncertainty created by multiple moves in and between Chile, the United States, and Canada.

In some contexts, Francisca construed me as being “like a Mapuche” because of my knowledge of shamanic lore. Once she tied red wool around my arms and ankles and her own to protect us both from evil wekufü spirits. But I was a non-Mapuche when she asked me to go outside and shoot wekufü with her revolver while everyone else remained inside. Since I did not have any Mapuche ancestors, she reasoned that I was under no serious risk of evil-spirit possession. In still other contexts, Francisca saw me as Mapuche because I was able to re-create my identity strategically for my own benefit and that of Mapuche.

These different constructions of my identity were often entwined, shifting rapidly and strategically depending on the situation. One day we were coming home from an all-night healing ritual. I was driving my truck along a dirt road with Francisca beside me. She was wearing her ritual machi attire, but I had changed into my jeans. In the bed of the truck were other people in full ritual attire, two drums, two trutruka (horns), kaskawilla, and the payment for the healing ritual: a sheep, three decanters of wine, and a sack of flour. We came to an intersection, where a police officer stopped us. Because it is illegal in Chile to have passengers in the bed of a truck, we assumed he was going to fine us and make the people in the back get out. This would be a problem because on Sundays there were no other means of transport in the area. As we stopped, I adopted a heavy American accent, flashed my UCLA identification card, and said, “These people in the truck are working for me.” The policeman nodded and let us go on. Those in the truck cheered. Francisca said that now I was a “true Mapuche.” The problem was solved because I had assumed the voice of the privileged gringa in charge (whereas in the United States, ironically, I was considered a nonimmigrant alien, an outsider, the other). Although I had worked under Francisca’s orders all night at the ritual, I was quickly able to reconstruct myself and manipulate the situation in order to protect the group (Bacigalupo 2003:42).

Despite my honorary Mapuche status, Francisca and other people in Millali sometimes stressed that I could pass as a gringa because I am an urban woman with curly hair. I am also the granddaughter of a Hungarian farmer in Argentina for whom Euladio Ancao and other Mapuche men from neighboring communities had worked. I was particularly useful in the city because I possessed the car-driving, place-finding Spanish literacy that could help my Mapuche friends access banks and administrative offices.

When Francisca and I ran errands in Temuco, she played the role of a poor, ignorant Mapuche farmer and denied being a machi (which is looked down on by some non-Mapuche urbanites). Once, in the office where Francisca collected her monthly pension, she asked the secretary about a medicinal plant on the desk, an herb that Francisca knew well and used often in her own curing. Francisca listened and thanked the woman for “teaching” her, but later she told me that the secretary had no idea what she was talking about. Francisca thought this pretense of ignorance was necessary in order to avoid conflict in the city. However, the roles Francisca and I played were reversed in the community, where Francisca had the power and knowledge. When I learned and incorporated Mapuche knowledge and practice into my behavior, Francisca called me Mapuche. When I made mistakes or asked too many questions, she either got angry or excused me, saying that I could not learn everything since I was champuria.

I learned much about machi notions of history through my experiences as Francisca’s ritual assistant, but I did not seek to become initiated as a machi, 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 but then be unable to fulfill the commitments that machi make to their patients, community, and ritual congregation.

The Collaborative Making Of Francisca’s Bible

Francisca believed that with my connection to Rosa’s birthplace and my roles as her literate champuria ritual assistant and ethnographer-scribe, I could write a bible that would circulate her power after she died and would be read by literate Mapuche and non-Mapuche alike. Though nonliterate, Francisca understood the power of writing. “I need you to write my stories, to copy my force,” she told me (February 25, 1992).

Sometimes Francisca claimed control over the recording technologies and content of the bible: “Bring your recorder,” she would say. “I have something important to say.” Or, more directly, “Put it in the book” (November 21, 1991). She also believed that photographs and tape recordings capture a machi’s essence and could be used by a sorcerer to harm the machi. So she consulted with her spirit about which part of the rituals I should photograph or otherwise record. Assessing my intentionality when taping or taking photographs was crucial. “I wait and see if the spirit says you are working with the heart with good intention,” she explained. “Then it is okay to record so that you remember what is said, as long as it is written later in the bible about me” (November 21, 1991). Francisca asked that my photographs only be shown in my own articles and books. That way, presumably, my intentionality would protect her. Francisca’s spirit was apparently amenable to my presence, to my learning from her, and to my writing a book about her. But it had limited patience. When my photographs were blank or when my tape recorder jammed, Francisca would claim that “the spirit got tired and ate them” (fig. 1.4).

Francisca was pleased when I validated her shamanic histories and practices and when I participated in them. She nodded in approval when I understood her explanations for these histories and practices. Francisca agreed that I could add my own ethnographic and ethnohistorical analysis to explain Mapuche relations to the written word, to the Bible, and to her shamanic bible “for the gringos to understand the thunder machi” because she wanted her bible to have international reach. At other times she grumbled about my “stupid questions,” which seemed unnecessary to her but whose answers I needed so I could put her words into a non-Mapuche context. Francisca and I decided that this would be an intertextual bible with her voice, actions, and analyses in dialogue with mine throughout, just like our everyday interactions and ritual collaborations.

I believed that a collaborative approach with the explicit presence of the ethnographer in the text would be the most useful for illustrating how I came to know what I know, and it would make clear the kind of mediation occurring between the shaman and the reader. I have selected the quotes and observations by Mapuche that best illustrate Francisca’s and other Mapuche’s shamanic conceptualizations of history, and I intersperse them with my interpretations. My long-term connection with Mapuche and my close friendship with Francisca has allowed me the unique experience of crossidentifying with her. She trusted me to put her life and practice in writing in ways that would be meaningful to both of us, and I hope I have succeeded in bringing out the richness of her thoughts.

Francisca and I coproduced the knowledge included in this bible by building alternative shamanic conceptual frameworks and by showing how these relate to academic debates on historical consciousness and temporality as well as to Mapuche ethnopolitical struggles and efforts by activists and scholars to decolonize the production of knowledge.²⁶ Francisca’s discourses and practices challenge academic authority, the conceptual framework of historical consciousness, and the exclusion of indigenous shamans from the symbolic economy of power. She offered a moral critique of the indiscriminate, extractive forestry industry and the global economy, and she created new forms of exchange wherein spirituality is linked to broader sociopolitical and ecological changes and the production of knowledge.

Although Francisca and I collaborated in the making of her bible, her voice in this book is mediated by my own identity, the dynamics of fieldwork, and the requirements of academic writing. Well aware of the power dynamics of language, Francisca asked me to write both English and Spanish versions of her bible. The English version would circulate widely to legitimate her life and practices in the global textual community, whose perceptions hold more weight than those of the Chilean state in the worldwide economy of power, and the Spanish version would tell her story more locally, in the community, and serve shamanic temporalities by circulating her force to bring about her rebirth. This book about Francisca’s shamanic discourses and practices is therefore not just an academic narrative with shamanic content, but an example of shamanism in action, where Francisca can speak about spirits to Mapuche and wingka, and about Mapuche and wingka to spirits, all through a champuria intermediary who is at once anthropologist and ritual assistant.

Francisca’s bible—like other (auto)biographical accounts coauthored by scholars and indigenous people (for example, Kopenawa and Albert 2013; Raoni and Dutilleux 2010; Reuque 2002)—seeks to decolonize the unequal exchange that has marked ethnographic relations in the field and to serve as a local political instrument. But Francisca did not want to appear as the coauthor of this book. She wanted me to write about her as a spiritual authority in order to transmit her knowledge to the world after she died and to bring about her rebirth.

Because this book is the result of my relationship and collaboration with Francisca, it is what Deborah Reed-Danahay (1997:9) calls an autoethnography—a narrative that places the author within a social context and that is both method and text. It includes Francisca’s contextualized self-narrative as well as my own. Francisca’s tale of her life is in some ways what Lawrence C. Watson and María-Barbara Watson-Franke (1985:2) describe as a “self-initiated retrospective account.” Francisca did not prepare a long narrative about her life before speaking to an anthropologist, as did Prepori, a Kayabi shaman (Oakdale 2007:65). But she told many stories about her initiation into power as a machi, her suffering, her struggles with various sorcerers, her notions of who was Mapuche and who an outsider, her success at healing, and her relationships with Chilean presidents.

Francisca’s bible also contains a life history drawn from a series of unstructured interviews and informal conversations that I recorded between 1991 and 1996. Francisca told me about her childhood and her family genealogy; her relationships with family, friends, and the community; her analysis of community factionalism and sorcery; her social critiques of wingka and Mapuche; her shamanic historical narratives; and her predictions for the future. I have retained the texture of Francisca’s narrations: she used different discursive registers in direct and quoted speech and shifted from personal memories to accounts of historical events to visions and dreams to tales of spirits and characters from primordial times.

In addition to the archival research I conducted in Santiago and Temuco (2007–2009), I have drawn on my observations of everyday interactions, meetings, and rituals in Millali (1991–2013); the community’s collective memory after Francisca’s death (1997–2013); community members’ reactions to archival documents about them (2007–2013); and their perceptions of shamanic biographies and the use of my research over time. Throughout the book, I quote from my conversations with a variety of rural and urban Mapuche (farmers, artisans, community chiefs, professionals, intellectuals, and people who work in nongovernmental organizations), and I have integrated these conversations with archival documents about Millali and machi, academic work by anthropologists, reports from the Chilean media, and my own experiences in what Lila Abu-Lughod (1991) calls an “anthropology of the particular.” Finally, I have drawn on the methodologies of narrative and dialogical anthropology to reflect on my participation in Francisca’s life as her friend, ethnographer, and champuria ritual assistant.²⁷

In writing their histories, I have followed community members’ requests that I use the real names of people and places rather than pseudonyms. They criticized my previous works on machi hybrid healing practices (1996a, 2001) and on shifting gender identities and performances (2007) for my use of pseudonyms to protect the identities of subjects talking about sensitive topics. Community members saw this as withholding credit from the speaker; this “took away the person’s power” and “made the conversation unreal.” They explained that in order to revive the machi spirit’s power and allow it to come back, I should use Francisca’s name and the real names of all the people appearing in this book. I have honored this request, although in a few cases I have obscured the identities of people who made controversial statements that might provoke retaliation; in such instances, I refer to “a Mapuche man” or “a Mapuche woman.”

Making History In Francisca’s Shamanic Bible

This book includes my analysis of the various strategies Francisca and other Mapuche in the Quepe area used to create a shamanic historical consciousness. Each strategy is presented in its own chapter, each focuses on specific kinds of temporality or forms of reshaping history, and each is expressed through one or more modalities that cut across the various strategies: object, narrative, ritual, text, dream, factional conflict, landscape, and death and rebirth.

Chapter 2 shows how settlers’ perception that they are bringing “civilization” to the “savage” Mapuche are countered and obliterated by Mapuche shamanic narratives that mythologize shamans and other historical characters, and also by the employment of rehistoricizing and politicizing narratives about primordial times in new contexts. I demonstrate how Mapuche in Millali resignify colonial and modern binaries about the “time of civilization” and the “time of wilderness and warfare” as meaningful coordinates for moral and political self-fashioning. Mapuche and settlers both practice forms of temporal dislocation and intergenerational memory that conflate specific moments of the past and present. But they take opposing positions, highlighting different historical moments to justify their contrasting temporalities. Machi Rosa and other Mapuche in Millali countered German settlers’ notions of the “time of civilization” by collapsing the identities of men from the German Schleyer family into one savage, immoral devil. They have created Rosa as a multitemporal machi who restores the cosmic order. Machi Rosa’s transnational shamanic and ancestral mobility has obliterated Chilean national history while legitimating a Mapuche ethnonational project that transforms outsiders into local personages and defines Mapuche as the spiritual victors of history.

Chapter 3 introduces Francisca’s multitemporal dreams, which she used to narrate the origins of her powers and paraphernalia. She used these visions to synthesize and mediate between time periods, producing and reshaping the world and its history, as well as to justify my role as her ritual assistant. I show how this multitemporality is grounded in machi’s multiple perceptions of personhood. Francisca exemplified the tensions between different relations of kinship—constructed socially, spiritually, or through blood—and the process of awingkamiento, which is associated with sorcery.

Chapter 4 explores the ritualized relationships between illness, healing, embodiment, and history. I show how Mapuche in Millali understand illness and healing as the history of interethnic conflict and how Francisca ritually embodied ancestral spirits of the past and ritually reshaped the present and future, battling colonialist spirits from different historical periods. Francisca’s complex healing strategies used and were propelled by three ritual modes of historicization: divinations in which she embodied the past to see the future through dreams; sacrifices to effect healing in the present and construct a better future; and multitemporality to assert her position as a prestigious machi from the past and to then reinsert herself back into machi history.

Chapter 5 analyzes how Francisca and other Mapuche have engaged the Bible and official documents as objects of power, using them in both political and spiritual ways to challenge the way the Global North perceives historiography and postcolonial relations, as well as to produce Mapuche history and new forms of shamanic literacy.

Chapter 6 shows how Francisca and other Mapuche have reinterpreted the achronological times of civilization and savagery through the lens of thunder shamanism in response to the shaking of Mapuche communities by military power, state violence, neoliberalism, transnational forestry companies, and the discourses of terrorism. I explore how Francisca and other Mapuche have linked unmediated thunder from the time of wilderness and warfare to the spirit masters of native forests, ancient warriors, and even the contemporary Chilean military, enlisting these to conduct spiritual warfare against their enemies. Francisca and other machi have created a Mapuche cosmopolitics that combines spiritual, ecological, social, and political factors with realpolitik in order to counter settlers’ construction of Mapuche as “savage terrorists.” This cosmopolitics is deeply intertwined with Mapuche experiences of state-sponsored violence and their struggle for self-determination. I show how the Mapuche dream and create revisionist historical narratives to end violence by drawing on an existential form of civilization focused on human capacity and on forms of being rather than geopolitical histories.

Chapter 7 explores the local processes of remembering and disremembering Francisca’s shamanic spirit following her death, and the transformation of her personhood and objects through death and rebirth.

Chapter 8 ends the book with the community’s reflection on reconciling the multiple modes of historicity coexisting in their lives with what I argue are their contributions to current studies on history and memory.

In many ways Francisca’s biography is representative of Mapuche culture. But her champuria identity serves as a counterpoint to it, and her contested identity and practices and her varied relationships with people and spirits illuminate some of the internal divisions in native communities. Francisca’s mutable and multiple identities—and my own—led her to think that I could write her bible, which offers a lens through which to see how Mapuche shamanic historical consciousness is produced and mobilized; how shamanic narratives of the past construct the present and rewrite local history; and how change and its agents are conceived in shamanic practice. Francisca’s bible calls for a rethinking of pan-Mapuche notions of history and this people’s complex relationship with non-Mapuche, with whom they have intermixed for generations and whose world Francisca understood they might transform through a shamanic historical consciousness.


“In this fascinating ethnography, Bacigalupo (anthropology, SUNY Buffalo) draws on decades of field research among the Mapuche, an Indigenous people in the Araucanian region of Chile.”

“...a well balanced and unique text. Readers interested in religion, memory, indigeneity, or modern Latin America will find themselves pushed in new and challenging directions.”
Reading Religion

“[A] fascinating book on the embodiments of Mapuche history, shamanism, and continuity in changing contexts…One of the book's main strengths is the light it sheds on shamanism as active indigenous and gendered politics, rejecting the notion of machi as ahistorical and apolitical.”
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“By contextualizing her own multicultural experiences within Mapuche reality, Bacigalupo opens a window into the life of a Mapuche shaman and her people’s spirituality, history, and worldview.”
The Americas

“It's not every ethnography that is so convincingly captivating—a book containing a shamanic spirit that makes the reader fall in also. The kind of anthropological connection Bacigalupo forged with Francisca Kolipi Kurin is rare and precious. We are fortunate to have a book that enables us to briefly lay our hand along that charged cord and thrill to it, too.”
American Ethnologist

Thunder Shaman includes both the narrative and embodied dimensions of shamanism and is more personal as it weaves together the experience of shaman Francisca and the author. Students, scholars, and all who read Thunder Shaman will certainly be transformed as well. One cannot help but feel the power of Francisca being transmitted through the image on the cover and the illustrations throughout the book.”

Thunder Shaman is an ambitious, engaging, multi-purposed text…should be of great interest to scholars of indigenous social movements, shamanism, and the Mapuche.”
Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“Stunning . . . a coherent, thoughtful, and compelling work that advances our knowledge of shamanism, the processes of memory, and the construction of history. Thunder Shaman is a model for doing anthropology in the twenty-first century.”
Paul Stoller, West Chester University, 2013 Anders Retzius Gold Medal Laureate in Anthropology

“Bacigalupo's book is a tour-de-force in studies of shamanism, indigenous historicity, and relations of indigenous peoples to colonial histories.”
Robin M. Wright, University of Florida, and author of Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon


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