Although the Machis, religious authorities and healers of the Mapuche people, emphasize that their job is to protect life above all else, they do not hide that indigenous wisdom had detected hundreds of years ago the existence of herbs that function as contraceptives.
It is not about the well-known booze, mixed with pumpkin seeds, it works as an abortifacient, but about vegetables that, taken before and after having sexual relations, served the Mapuches to avoid unwanted pregnancies. There were even emergency contraceptive herbs.
"There are trees, herbs, roots. There are several. It is a bit complicated to work with contraceptive herbs, but there are," says Margarita Carilao, a well-known machi from Pantano, a town in the Araucanía Region. While he cannot name the herbs used for these purposes, "because a machi cannot reveal their natural secrets," he acknowledges that women used certain vegetables to ensure they did not get pregnant after having sex.
The Mapuche researcher Juan Ñanculefassures that his grandmother, the machiMargarita Marinao, recommended taking "mutxir water" - a shrub less than two meters long, which is usually found in streams - after sexual intercourse, to avoid pregnancy. The same with the roots of the feñ-feñ.
Although the historian assures that the remedy was much more effective if it was taken the same night of the relationship and the following days (in four doses), it was also used in emergency cases, although at the risk that it would not work. "Women took it when they went to bed, because they knew what could happen," he says.
"There are at least 30 herbs or vegetables for gyneco-obstetric use (within the Mapuche ideology) and at least 20 are related to the expulsion of uterine elements," says Ziley Mora, ethnographer, educator, writer and specialist in ancestral Mapuche worldview and mestizo culture in Chile.
Two years ago, Mora published the book "Magic and secrets of the Mapuche woman: sexuality and ancestral wisdom", in which - after fourteen years of research in indigenous land - she managed to capture unknown aspects of that culture, referring to pregnancy, childbirth and contraception.
According to Mora's research, chavalongko natural herb alters estrogens and is used to inhibit ovulation. The same is true for the flower of chicoria or chuguilla de la vaca, molle (Schinus latifolius) and elcalle-calle (Libertia chilensis), which also functioned as contraceptives, taken daily - just like the pills - until the woman decided to be a mother.
For those who did not take the herb every day, the ethnographer maintains that the red culle (Oxalis rosea jacq), an effective menstrual stimulant, was recommended. Dissolved in boiled water and drunk for three days before intercourse and three days after, Mora says, it was another herb similar to the controversial morning-after pill.
The MapucheFlorencia Canupai, intercultural facilitator of the Maipú commune, affirms that elbochi-bochi, another native herb, is used "when pregnant women have had their baby" and do not want to get pregnant again. "It is dangerous to take it when you are pregnant. After nine months our body is not the same, so it is to throw away that blood accumulated during the nine months. This herb is good to do all that cleaning," he says. It also serves as an emergency contraceptive, he says, "if you have a sexual relationship and drink a cup of bochi bochi water, it prevents pregnancy."
In any case, Margarita Carilao maintains that any contraceptive, abortifacient, premenstrual or stimulant herb for pregnancy or lactation should always be recommended by a machi. "There are herbs that are used, but sometimes they have an effect and sometimes they don't. We all have different bodies, hormones, as the Chileans say," he says.
"All our herbs have contraindications, it is not to arrive and take them. That is why we have to be careful to give a recipe," says Canupai. "When a woman is already pregnant, she cannot take contraceptives, because she can have an abortion and we, as we work with nature, are careful with her, the children, the family, we cannot give them anything," he says.
"The Mapuche woman in many cases has not stopped practicing the specialty of obstetrician (piñentuchefe) in the process of pregnancy and birth," said María Calimil, in her speech to the European Parliament on reproductive health, last year. Then he claimed that a style of medicine was imposed on Mapuche women in the treatment of their reproductive health, ignoring the ancient knowledge of their culture, on the conception of life and on natural treatments for birth control.
Florencia Canupai assures that elbochi bochi, for example, few people know her, "I think that in the Metropolitan Region I should be the only one who knows her. There are plenty of people who work on health issues at the regional table who don't know her. I have talked to them about this topic, I have made them aware of how it is given and how it is used, "he says.