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The mapuche, or Araucano, are an indigenous people in Latin America (Chile and Argentina) who con-tinue to struggle against modern in-fluences to preserve their culture and traditions. The Ma-puche are a strong people and were one of the rare groups that were never successfully con-quered by the Spanish. While out-siders have imposed themselves on the Mapuche, native lifestyle and culture continues to play an important role in their lives. The Mapuche, like most indigenous groups, have been invaded by Christianity; while Catholicism has been able to eat its way into the lives of the indigenous group, traditional spirituality still thrives.
The Mapuche spiritual leader is called a Machi and are mainly women. A Machi is one that is able to communicate with the Gods and is the mediator between humans and ancestors, spirits and Gods. She is the manifestation of the earthly battle between good and evil, and she or he possessed the knowledge to use both powers to help the sick and dying.
A Machi must complete vigorous initiations before she or he is accepted as a spiritual leader. A person can enter initiation if she or he has dreams or visions of certain white animals and then falls ill. A Master would then take the future Machi under her/his supervision and would train them in traditional healing, plants, rituals, and ceremonies. After many years of initiation, the in-itiate must "marry a cinnamon tree" (nik-urrewen) in the forest. The tree will provide branches for her/his ceremonies and healing work.
Machis conduct machitun, or healing sessions, and treat victims of spirits or kalku, mali-gnant witches. They also lead Nguillatun, the great community festival and prayer sessions, to ask the ancestors and deities for land/animal fer-tility and the well being of the community.
The Machi plays a central role in the Mapuche community, as neither man, animal, nor insect can live without the grace of the Great Spirit. The Machi is the one that communicates with the celestial family: Elmapun, Elchen, Ngunemapun and Ngunechen (Old God, Wife of the Old God, Young God, and Wife of the Young God), who are the creation Gods. The role of the Machi was essential, for these powers are able to express themselves in chaos or destruction or order and harmony, thereby supporting or punishing humans.
A Machi's power is largely individual. While one Machi's strength may be in seeing the future, another's may be in healing or communicating with the Gods. People come from many miles to see a Machi, consulting her or him with issues of health, spirituality, or personal problems.
The Mapuche people continue to fight for their traditional lifestyle and spirituality, despite the aggressive attempts of modern religions to convert their spiritual practices. Modern religions cannot compare to Mapuche spirit-uality, and although the religions will try to impose their beliefs, these ancient people know that the priests and "prophets" of modern religions are mere children compared to the Machi.
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