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Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Fall 2006

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


Perceptions of health and illness vary depending on culture, tradition, history, ethnicity and identity. As cultures change and construct their stories, the practices and belief systems surrounding health also shift, develop and are expressed in different ways. With these patterns in mind, the purpose of this essay is to examine the traditional medicine of the Mapuche people of southern Argentina and focus on how aspects of this medicine have been lost, re-shaped, sustained and recuperated. The role that traditional medicine plays in the lives of Mapuches today in the context of modern medicine is explored specifically through practices surrounding maternity and birth. So too is the cosmovision of the Mapuche culture examined, the extent to which strong historical, political and cultural factors have affected the cultural and medicinal identity of the original indigenous inhabitants of Argentina. The main method of investigation was observation-participation with Mapuches and public health workers in various locations in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Within this research I saw in action the acute cultural effects of centuries of discrimination, persecution and attempts at extermination in the traditional Mapuche medicine today. While aspects of the beliefs and traditions of Mapuche medicine are still active, others have been lost with losses of indigenous land and native language, and many are currently being recuperated in accordance with the Mapuche belief that all moves in a cyclical fashion. The relatively very recent discussion of indigenous existence, pre-existence and human rights are just now giving Mapuches the freedom and pride to reexamine, recognize and restore the strength of the indigenous traditions and practices.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine


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