Home Institution

Macalester College

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Research Question: Is there existing demand for Mapuche birth practices and what are the barriers to incorporating them in the Chilean healthcare system? Objective: Analyze the current role of Mapuche birth practicesby determining what is the demand from the Mapuche for their use, describing the quality of communication between Mapuche women andmodern professionals, and identifying the perspectives of modern professionals on Mapuche birth practices. Background: Childbirth is an integral process for the human race. For many indigenous communities, the arrival of a new life holds cultural significance that is recognized through ceremonies during or after childbirth. Chile has implemented health guidelines to regulate pre and post-natal care. While this modernization, or “occidentalization” has been widely successful in improving childbirth safety, it is linked to the dramatically lower rate of home births, such as traditional Mapuche births, and practice of traditional post-partum ceremonies involving the placenta. Methodology: This was a descriptive study conducted in Temuco, Chile and Makewe, a rural area outside of Temuco. Information was collected fromsemistructured interviews with sevenhealthcare providers, an employee at SEREMI Health, a Mapuche cultural interpreter at the regional hospital in Temuco, a Mapuche midwife, and nine verbal questionnaires with Mapuche women in the waiting room at Hospital Makewe. Results:Mapuche women were not knowledgeable of traditional birth practices and were not interested in incorporating them, however they are comfortable communicating their wishes to the medical staff. Healthcare providers were not knowledgeable about Mapuche culture, but believed that Mapuche birth practices have physiological and emotional benefits. The lack of resources to intervene in case of a complication is a major disadvantage to traditional births. The existing lack ofphysical infrastructurein hospitalsis an obstacle in including traditional birth practices in the Chilean health system. Currently there is no formal protocol in place for women to take their placenta home for the post-birth ritual. Conclusions:The absence of protocol for women to take their placenta home from the hospital demonstrates how the occidental health system is still, intentionally or not, discouraging intercultural medicine. Lack of knowledge of Mapuche culture and medicine creates anoccidental medicine-dominated environment that discourages women from incorporating traditional practices in their births, which can have consequences on the attitudes of future generations. However,a more in-depth investigation of the demand of Mapuche women is necessary to identify the value of intercultural birth practices.


Health Services Research | International Public Health | Maternal and Child Health | Maternal, Child Health and Neonatal Nursing | Obstetrics and Gynecology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Health