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Graciela from a Ruka Mapuche

About Rukas, Workshops, and Machos Mapuche

About Rukas, Workshops, and Machos Mapuche


by Camila Ahumada Cáceres


We arrived at her house a little before half past one. Graciela had invited us to lunch but before that, she wanted to show us the Ruka. I had visited it years ago, when I knew nothing about Rukas Mapuche, or their ceremonies, or catutos, those little white elongated masses of wheat flour, or how the Mapuche worldview was lived in a big city like Santiago de Chile; when I could not imagine how one could be a Mapuche in the midst of cement, pollution, and drought. That had been my first time in a Ruka, the first of many that came later. I remember that day feeling that Graciela had important things to say and I wanted her to tell me those things, but that time I visited her in the context of a celebration and there was no time to talk. Today, years later, I had her back in front of me to tell me what I thought she had to say.


We arrived at her house a little before half past one. Graciela had invited us to lunch but before that, she wanted to show us the Ruka. I had visited it years ago, when I knew nothing about Rukas Mapuche, or their ceremonies, or catutos, those little white elongated masses of wheat flour, or how the Mapuche worldview was lived in a big city like Santiago de Chile; when I could not imagine how one could be a Mapuche in the midst of cement, pollution, and drought. That had been my first time in a Ruka, the first of many that came later. I remember that day feeling that Graciela had important things to say and I wanted her to tell me those things, but that time I visited her in the context of a celebration and there was no time to talk. Today, years later, I had her back in front of me to tell me what I thought she had to say.


THE HOST, TRADITIONAL MAPUCHE WOMAN


Graciela from a Ruka Mapuche
Graciela from a Ruka Mapuche

I didn’t manage to ring the bell when Graciela saw us from afar and shouted “Hola!” The rays of the winter sun were warm and from the street you could see the patio full of bushes, some medicinal plants, and some chickens; the Ruka in the background and a black flag at the entrance, symbol of the struggle of its stigmatized people. In the distance, Graciela’s silhouette wrapped in a traditional Mapuche dress: black skirt, flowered blouse, a colored scarf tied near the neck, and a large silver necklace adorned her chest. At a steady pace, she walked towards the door where we hugged. She opened the gate for us and shyly we entered what she proudly calls “the heart of La Pintana”, the commune in the south of Santiago where she lives.


WHAT IS A RUKA MAPUCHE?


Ruka Mapuche in Santiago de Chile
Ruka Mapuche in Santiago de Chile

La Ruka is a wooden building with a thatched roof and dirt floor that must always face east to greet the first ray of sunshine each morning. All the Rukas have the same structure, at least all the traditional ones. The interior is a large space lit by a fire in the center, around which the history and worldview of the People of the Earth have been woven. The colorful table tells us that there is a celebration, and for the Mapuche people, visits are a reason for joy. Sopaipillas, catutos, pebre, and salads are the prelude to the main dish, a turkey casserole with locro, a typical dish from Lautaro, the land of the Cheuquepan family.


INTERCULTURAL HEALTH PROGRAM


I ask Graciela to tell me a little more about the actions of her social organization. I know that she is the guardian of her patrimony and that she always has something new in mind for her community. She is enthusiastic and proud to tell me that they are working on intercultural health, specifically HIV prevention and the government’s indigenous program. They give talks about HIV, especially to those she names as “Los hermanos Mapuche” (the Mapuche brothers and sisters). She says that it has not been easy and that older men in particular are reluctant to talk about these issues. At the beginning of this work in 2000, men told her that it was impossible for them to have HIV if they were of “strong” Mapuche blood.


I quickly and inevitably think about how the stereotype of the brave macho strongman has permeated so many societies and cultures.


MAPUCHE MACHO MEN


Graciela began this journey after meeting a Mapuche neighbor who carried the virus. She tells me that she saw him suffer a lot of discrimination and that this made her question the ignorance that existed at that time about the disease. With the idea of helping her neighbor and informing herself, they organized a workshop on the prevention of sexual transmission with the Catholic University of Chile. Under that same thatched roof and with the weight of traditional beliefs on their shoulders, they managed to hold a workshop for women and another for men. At first, she recalls that many Mapuche sisters of all ages arrived, even La Papay, the oldest woman in the community, but only a few men attended. Graciela laughs and adds, “When they are like this together they are good at picking on women, but in things like when they have to talk about their sex, women are more open, we are more used to it. Imagine with the doctor when we have a baby, one just gives in, one has already shown everything! Here, from the smallest child to La Papay, the oldest one, everyone knows the condom. We are very open. Here nobody is afflicted“, we laugh a lot together and I quickly and inevitably think about how much Graciela has to say.


Ruka Mapuche, Mapuche community in Santiago de Chile

We are asked why we as Mapuche do this and it is because we had brothers who died of AIDS,” continues Graciela. “Once we had a meeting with brothers from various communities, they came from various parts of the south and said “but how can we, old-fashioned macho men, put on a condom!? It is like putting on a sock!” That time they were here for two days, and when they left we gave them boxes of condoms so that they could talk to their community. I don’t know if they did it or if the gentleman used them all,” laughs Graciela.


With the laughter over, it’s time to leave. Sharing this lunch has somehow been like stopping the time that passes so quickly in the city, or perhaps lengthening it and not realizing it. It is the magic of fire that once again invites us to continue weaving our network of relationships.


If you are interested in visiting La Ruka Mapuche in Santiago de Chile or any other community in our long beautiful country, let us know and we will gladly help you organize this unforgettable experience.

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