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Shaman's ladder

Mapuche Machi’s Rewe (shaman’s ladder)
ca. 1920
Collico, Chile
287 x 25 cm
Collected during the Thea Heye Chile Expedition led by Samuel K. Lothrop

The Mapuche medicine woman or man called Machi possesses ritual objects to carry out the ceremony for each medical treatment or pleading ritual. The Mapuche developed the art of stone and wood sculpture with the intention of establishing communication between Ngünechen (the deity that governs the world) and human beings. The new shaman provides her- or himself with a wooden pole called Kemukemu. This pole is transformed into a sacred Rewe (clean and pure space) when she or he is initiated into the realm of a devoted Machi in a ritual called Ngeykurewen.

The first Rewe of a Machi has four steps carved into its front, representing the four main sacred spaces. These steps end at the top of the pole with a carved head representing the human spirits involved in the pleading ceremony. The Rewe is placed to the right side in front of the Machi’s home. The Rewe is a means of transportation used by the Machi to reach Wenu Mapu—or the blue space above, where the deities live—to maintain communication with the sacred spirits.

With time, the Machi acquires new power and skills to appeal for the blessings of Ngünechen and fight against the evil spirits. Each new spiritual power merits a new sacred step carved into the pole. This eight-step Rewe seems to have belonged to an experienced, accomplished Machi with sufficient knowledge and strength to propitiate communication with Ngünechen. This necessary spiritual mediation allows her or him to face the strongest evil spirits and bring back the right equilibrium for the community in times of danger or calamity.

—María Catrileo (Mapuche), linguist, Universidad Austral de Chile

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