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Mapuche Mütrüm Purun
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Purun means dance in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people, who live in the western coastal areas and valleys of Chile’s Araucanía Region. The Mütrüm Purun, or Guest Dance, is the welcoming dance performed at the beginning of a two-day ceremony of thanksgiving and pleading called the Ngillatun, which each Mapuche community holds every two or four years during the months of November or March. The Mütrüm Purun is a friendly way for the host community to welcome their guests, who may have traveled from other rural Mapuche communities or from the urban areas in which many Mapuche live and work. The dance encourages everyone to gather, reinforces a sense of belonging to the group, and serves as a means of giving thanks and pleading to Ngünechen (the Almighty deity).

Once the date of the ritual is settled, the hosts and guests prepare their transportation, clothing, and jewelry, which in the past included silver ornaments for the horses. At the beginning, usually very early in the morning, the guests stay away from the host community’s ritual site. Their leader, called the Ngenpin, reminds them to respect the last agreement made with the host group and asks them to behave accordingly. Men and women stand in separate lines facing each other. The Machi (healer) beats the kultrung (ritual drum), and some of the men play the pifüllka (ritual flute). The dancers face east, which is considered a beneficial direction.

Once the host group reaches the guest area, the Mütrüm Purun starts. The two groups face each other, dancing frenetically and mixing together. The Machi continues playing the kultrung, and everybody dances joyfully in jumping steps, carrying small branches of a tree called lon. This fücha purun (solemn dance) also includes lively and cheerful ritual shouts. The men and women of both host and guest groups dance separately, keeping an even distance from each other. They dance with stern but welcoming faces, beginning with continuous leaps, and then stepping slowly, lifting their feet and hitting the ground twice with right and left turns. With flexing and bending movements, they nod toward the visitors in amiable greeting. The visitors start to dance backwards, and the hosts dance forward, facing them. Then the two groups separate themselves until they are a couple of yards apart, when the Ngenpin asks them to stop. Soon the lively dance begins again. Now the hosts move backwards, and the visitors dance forward until they reach the sacred altar. Standing in separate lines, the hosts and guests face each other behind jugs of muday (a ritual drink) placed by the alter.

The Mütrüm Purun does not include songs. The musical instruments used are the kultrung and the pifüllka. The kultrung is a ceremonial drum that belongs to spiritual leaders and respected chiefs. The pifüllka is a ceremonial flute played by skillful male musicians. Each player has his or her own playing style and tunes. In the Mütrüm Purun, they alternate a series of strong rapid beats with slower rhythmic notes or cadences, which the dancers follow in perfect harmony, with leaps or slower steps, touching the ground and lifting the heels.

Men, women and children wear their best clothing in this ceremony. Men wear traditional woolen makuñ (ponchos), pants, and white or blue shirts. Women wear black shawls and dresses, adorning their heads and clothes with silver jewelry and colorful ribbons and beads. In this dance, the main colors are black, white, blue, violet, yellow, and green—all considered to be positive shades that please the deities.

—María Catrileo

María Catrileo (Mapuche) is the author of many articles and books about the phonology, grammar, and lexicon of the Mapuche language, and various aspects of Mapuche culture. She was born in Boroa, on a Mapuche reservation, and graduated as an English teacher from the Universidad de Chile in Santiago. In 1971 she obtained a Fulbright Fellowship and a grant to do graduate work at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she received an M.A. in linguistics. She is professor emerita of sociolinguistics, Mapuche linguistics, and intercultural communication at the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia.

Mapuche traditional dress is worn on ritual occasions and for ritual dances. The traditional dress for a woman is the chamal or kepam. It is a square or rectangular cloth that is wrapped around the body and pinned over one shoulder, leaving the other shoulder bare if a blouse is not worn. A trarihue, or belt, is tied around the waist. A woman also wears an ikulla, a black shawl, and a colorful apron. A silver breast ornament is always part of a Mapuche woman’s traditional attire, as are silver earrings and a silver headband. The hair ribbons she wears are rich in symbolism. Blue ribbons represent the sky; yellow represent the sun; green represent the fertility of the land; and red ribbons represent power.

2005. Southern Chile. Wool, cotton, polyester, silk ribbon, dye, silver. Photograph by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. EP0953