The Ngillatún

On December 4th we had been invited by the family of a teacher to a Mapuche ritual ceremony called a Ngillatún. We felt very privileged to be invited to this ceremony, and we were told by the family that it is important to the Mapuche culture. Because of the nature of the ceremony, we wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures, or record any of it, as it is a sacred ceremony. It goes on for two days, and we were invited to the second day. The family had slept overnight in a ramada, made of metal sheets, branches, and wood, and we arrived early in the morning (around 7am) for breakfast. Breakfast was two massive sopaipillas, that had been cooked in what looked like a witch’s cauldron.

After breakfast, the ceremony continued (it had started before sunrise) with some prayers around the Rewe. The Rewe was a large cross-like structure made of wood, with lots of branches, and leaves attached to it. Around the Rewe there were sacrifices to the gods, these were a horse, two cows, a sheep, two chickens and bottles of Muday – a really weird tasting drink of milk and mote. The animals were alive, and were tied to the Rewe for the day, they were not killed or eaten. Rachel asked where the toilet was, and she was told that you just have to go find a bush!

We then went to the river to make ofrendas (offerings) to the gods. The Machi, and the elders threw money, mote, a strong alcohol, and cigarette smoke into the river, whilst playing their typical instruments, and singing in the Mapuche language, Mapundungun. We had to wave branches in time with the rhythm, amongst all the people dressed in the typical Mapuche dress, some with barefeet. We went back to the Rewe and started circling around the animals, the poor horse seemed really frightened of us all. Then it was time for the ‘dancing’, which involved walking very slowly back and forth in alternating lines of women and men. We walked in time with the music, back and forth for a good hour and a half, during which, women came along the lines offering Muday and hot mote. We’d been told that you have to accept everything you are given at a Ngillatún, even if you don’t like it. Then it was time for the most important part of the ceremony, the Machi‘s trance.

The Machi is a special person in the Mapuche community who has a special connection and ability to speak with the Mapuche gods. She leads the Ngillatún, and if the Mapuches do the ceremony incorrectly, or badly, the Machi gets punished by the gods, and she gets ill. The Machi, and three other important people were in a circle, surrounded by the musicians. The Machi had two knives in her hands, and she kept hitting them together in the air, then she threw the knives to the ground, and ran to the Rewe. She held onto the Rewe, and started speaking in Mapundungun, in a sing-songy way I felt. The music had stopped by this point, so that people could hear what she was saying, and so that they could translate it, because afterwards, the Machi has no recollection of what she did or said in her trance. We stood around the Machi and the Rewe, in the blazing heat for around twenty minutes, before I fainted. It was just the heat, and the standing up and dancing for such a long time, but I was quickly picked up by some guys, and taken to the shade and fussed over. They made me stay inside for a while, so I missed the next dance, where men dance around mimicking birds. Chileans and Mapuches are both quite health concerned people so they were urging me to go to the hospital after fainting but I really didn’t want to as it was just from heat exhaustion.

Then it was time for lunch, which had been cooking for most of the morning, roast beef and sopaipillas. Each family of Mapuches had invited guests, whom they had to serve. Then, the families would send plates of beef and sopaipillas to all the people they knew. Obviously, a lot of the Mapuches know each other, so each family had previously killed one (or in our case two) cows to cook and give to their friends. So me and Rachel sat eating our yummy meat and sopaipilla, and we saw more Mapuche people coming into our ramada and just giving plates of food to their friends. You have to take all the food you recieve, and the families have to give out all the food they’ve cooked, so some people went home with carrier bags full of enough meat to feed a family of five for three weeks! We haven’t got any Mapuche friends, it seems, as we only got one plate of food.

We went home, and were really tired, it had been a really hot and intense day, taking in all these new smells, people, and tastes. When the rest of the family arrived home, they had a whole mountain of washing up to do, but when it was done, Miriam sat and told us more about the background of the ceremony, and also what the Machi said in her trance. She said that the ceremony is done to ask about the next two years (everything in the Mapuche world is always done in pairs, and even numbers). This includes if anyone is going to get ill, if there will be a good harvest this year, and she also said that last year in a Ngillatún in Imperial, the Machi said that something really bad would happen to the whole country for example, an earthquake.

The Machi said in her trance, that they had completed the ceremony well, and that the gods were pleased with their dancing. She said that in the field where the Ngillatún was, it was a new location, and they lacked a specific plant which should have been there. This is why we went to the river, to beg forgiveness and to say sorry for not having the plant. The Machi said how one of the elders in the Mapuche group was unwell, and this was true, as he was having an operation. She also explained that the Machi would have a dream that night, so people from the group would have to go and see her early in the morning, before sunrise to talk to her about her dream, and make sure that she was okay; because if they had done anything wrong, the Machi would be the one who would get ill.

We learnt a lot about the Mapuche culture in this ceremony, and we enjoyed ourselves, even though it was really hot. We felt so privileged and grateful for being invited by them, and it is a day which I’m not going to forget anytime soon.

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