Interculturality is the communication between two or more cultures to achieve harmonious relationships between their members. It also means exchange, reciprocity, solidarity between the different ways of understanding life in these groups, guaranteeing the development of a better life within the framework of a multicultural reality.
In Ruca Choroi, near Aluminé, an Intercultural Health Center is being built which today is almost finished. It is planned to integrate academic medicine and Mapuche medicine, relating the different visions of health to achieve coexistence in a single center, incorporating machis, medical experts in healing, into the office. Mapuche medicine takes into account aspects that are left aside by official medicine, such as the family, the past or the environment. In the area it is practiced ancestrally, it is freely accessible and shared in the communities, but always outside the hospital systems.
In Chile there are already intercultural hospitals in operation with regulations that endorse them, the same happens in Bolivia and Ecuador. In Argentina, until now, health laws do not contemplate the ancestral practices of native peoples, although there is an initiative with a bill that would promote intercultural medicine in the region.
A pioneering entity in the field of intercultural health in the neighboring country is the Mapuche Medicine Center of Nueva Imperial "Ñi Lawentuwün". 14 machis work there, five bone composers and a midwife who care for more than a thousand people a month. The initiative has been in operation for eight years.
In addition, Víctor Caniullan Coliñir, a machi from the Nueva Imperial intercultural hospital, teaches in a high school, sharing his knowledge with nursing students with an intercultural mention, a recent career that explores the visions of each health system, Western, Mapuche and popular.
Lorenzo Loncón, testimony of a werken health expert.
Lorenzo is werken (messenger) of the Neuquén Mapuche Confederation and lawentuchefe (person specialized in plants and their use for health). He tells us his vision about the conception of Mapuche medicine, interculturality and its legislation.
What do you think about the creation of the Intercultural Health Center in Ruca Choroi?
Lorenzo: What we see is that the building is prioritized and not the human resource. They want to make a law urgently for an election, but health and education issues have to be carefully studied so as not to leave things half done.
What is the conception of Mapuche medicine? How is the work of the machis?
Lorenzo: Here in Argentina we cannot talk about machis, because after the conquest of the desert many chiefs and these spiritual guides were killed. There were not only machis but also ampifes, people who had visions. They practically extinguished them.
The machis just by seeing a person already know how things are coming, they are specialist people, they look for the origin of the disease. Each Mapuche person has a newen of origin (newen means strength); it can be a tree, or a stone, or a star. The machi is in tune with all that circular organization of nature, that is why their role is very important, they not only see the physical but everything spiritual, looking for the beginning of the disease linked to your origin and the territory, that is why the people Mapuche is intimately linked to it. Those of us who are near the lakes are lafquen, which in Mapuche means either a huge lake, or the sea. Then there are the Pehuenches, in the Aluminé area, and the Nanches, people from the lowlands.
Mapuche medicine is still oral, the fastest way to learn is by listening, smelling the plants and having a memory of what they are for, the Lawentuchefe have to have that ability. In contrast, machis have a specific disease process called perimontun, where they have special dreams, not common dreams like the ones we all have. There is a force of this circular organization of nature that determines that that person is going to be a machi, the person cannot be denied because they can get very sick and can die. Whoever gets that destiny has to accept it yes or yes.
How is it different from Western medicine?
Lorenzo: The conception of Western medicine is to separate everything, man from nature, culture from nature. And for us it is a unit. Ancient medicine has shown that if it is natural it is much better than a chemical or synthetic combination. And furthermore, if all cultures are different, medicine also has to be appropriate to each culture and there has to be availability. Nature gives us that, that it is something that is close to people and that if you take care of it, nature takes care of you. You don't have to bring a drug from Buenos Aires, because you can find it near your home. Then the whole issue is solved of what today is the cost or logistics of bringing a remedy from so far away, when sometimes the solution may be close to your home where you do your life, where you have your garden.
The other difference is that for us medicine is for sharing, it is not for having a patent system and making a product more expensive. We do have knowledge and we can help a neighbor, even if he is not Mapuche, we do it. We have plants for fever that are infallible, you take them at night and the next day you can go to work, to university. If you take a drug, I don't know one that is as effective and fast.
Do you think the regulations of intercultural medicine are working in Chile?
Lorenzo: It is biased, because it progresses slowly. They make agreements at the national level when in reality the agreements would have to be based on territorial identity, so as not to bypass anyone. That's what diversity is all about, valuing the knowledge that people have accumulated for thousands of years. That is why systematizing for us is dangerous, because we do not want a world of equals, if not a diverse world. The Mapuche people are not an equal whole, but rather there is a lot of diversity and each territorial identity has its own way of solving things and their protocols, their ceremonies. For millennia the Mapuche people exchanged things from their territory with others. When the border between Chile and Argentina was created, there were diseases that previously did not exist because the state borders broke this exchange of goods for consumption of the medicinal or food type.
Today we have to walk around with hidden medicines if we want to bring plants from Chile or if we want to take plants to Chile. That is where we say that the laws are not followed. There is an article of Convention 169 that governs both countries, which says that indigenous peoples can travel with medicinal plants.
That does not apply. Partly due to the State and partly due to our lack of management. This is the case of the machi Victor himself, they always requisition him because they know what can happen with medicine.
What would be the ideal? A law that regulates the coexistence of ancient and western medicines?
Lorenzo: What would be good is that they let the people of millenary medicine participate in legislation, with time. Convention 169 speaks of free and educated consultation. We want that to be applied, not a law that is done quickly, without being able to participate or have an opinion. Because, for example, if we have to systematize, perhaps we will do it the way native peoples do, orally. That it is a practice where the Mapuche people's conception of health is really based on territorial diversities, we are not a homogeneous whole either.
That is what health systems need, that other knowledge be respected. For thousands of years it has been proven that it is an effective knowledge, they do not have to do a test to see if ours is scientific or not. We have maintained the balance as a culture for a long time.