Home Institution

Trinity University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


The aim of this study is to understand the cultural meaning of childbirth within Mapuche culture, in order to promote culturally respectful childbirth practices related to intercultural programs of the public health system in Chile. This study focuses on the problem of the institutionalization and medicalization of childbirth in Chile, and how these processes have affected the childbirth experiences of Mapuche women. While there have been many studies on the cultural meaning of childbirth in distinct places of the world, very few studies focus on this theme within Mapuche culture. The few studies that have described Mapuche cultural practices regarding maternity and childbirth have noted that these practices have gradually been modified or lost throughout recent years due to the hegemonic influence of biomedicine from the Chilean state health system. These studies, along with studies on intercultural health, note the need for anthropological research in order to provide and promote cultural information regarding this topic. In order to reach the objective of promoting culturally respectful childbirth practices for Mapuche women in Chile, this study gathered information from structured interviews regarding the childbirth experiences of 11 Mapuche women from a rural territory called Truf Truf in the Araucanía region of southern Chile. The interviews were then transcribed, categorized based on common themes relating to the Mapuche model of health, and analyzed with reference to the existing literature on Mapuche culture, health, and maternity. This study found that from the perspective of Mapuche women, childbirth is a multifaceted event, with as much importance with respect to biological health as psychological, spiritual, and social health. However, the complexity of Mapuche perspectives of health is often not recognized in hospitalized births. Thus, the implementation of an intercultural health policy regarding childbirth is necessary, not only to promote culturally respectful birth practices in hospitals, but also to revitalize traditional knowledge and customs regarding this event.


Maternal and Child Health | Public Health | Women's Health


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