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Food in the Lives of the Mapuche in Santiago de Chile

Master’s Thesis in Folklore Studies

University of Helsinki

Faculty of Arts / Folklore Studies

Maija Väätämöinen

March 2016

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This thesis was funded and academically supported by FONDECYT grant 1140500 (2014–2016)

“Narrating place identity: Re-created sociocultural places by Mapuche families in the city of

Santiago, Chile”, whose lead researcher is Dr. María Eugenia Merino, Catholic University of

Temuco, Chile.

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Kapella has described, only those who come from the place of origin of certain food can understand

its proper essence because there is a symbolic nature in food deliveries that she calls pestellomata in

Greek; ”a piece of homeland, carrying inside them its sun, its sea, its wonderful smells” (Sutton

2001, 78; original version in Greek, see Kapella 1981). The same kind of attachment can be seen in

the stories told by the Mapuche where products brought from the South include a smell of rain,

fresh air, mud, plants and forests. They are very vivid and sensory by their nature.

Hence, it is not only between people where the difference stands. It is also between places:

in Santiago acá [here] people sell any kind of flour that is not necessarily made from wheat and is

different from the flour of allá [there].

W: They like a lot the flour because it really is good, of wheat. Because here they sell flour
about anything and not specifically of wheat. Therefore, people come here for the flour, they
change information where good flour is sold and we go and buy, and there is always lack of
browned flour, that is when my son went in summer he brought 30 kilos and it didn’t take us
long to sell it.
I: Yeah.
W: Look, you see a lot of browned flour, because there are lots of people who are from the
South they know the flour and know that is a food and that the majority of us who lived in
the south we grew up with this browned flour and that is why people, as I said, like it a lot.
[woman, 59 years, migrant] [32]

According to the interviewee it is the Mapuche flour that is really good. The Mapuche living

in Santiago, those who know the difference between the flour that is brought from the South and

other kind of flour, inquire of a place where they can buy the ’real’ flour. The flour with origin

glimpses the tone of authenticity and past. People know what to search for, and the majority of

people that grew up in the South recognise the value, they appreciate and enjoy the possibility of

consuming something appropriate to their culture and their proper way of life. This is a good

example on how people organise socially. Similar arguments have been made by Davis (2007) who

studied Minangkabau in Indonesia and Janowski (2007) in her studies on urban, migrated Kelabit in

Borneo, stress that the rice should be from the region where they and their ancestors are from.

Whereas Mapuche long for flour, herbs or cheese from the South, it is the rice that matters for these

two groups in South East Asia. They are keen to find rice from their ancestral land. Rice is

connected to the spiritual world and there is assumed special relationship between rice and humans

(Janowski, 2007, 12–13). Similar connotations can be found between Mapuche and certain curative

food, like herbs and potatoes, for instance (look at the page 41).

In addition to spiritual or personal attachment to food in the South, it is also seen as

healthier, purer and lacking chemical additives.

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I: Do you also bring meat from there?
W: It is different from here; chicken, eggs, they don’t have things. I don’t know, well,
chemicals that we have here, like these things well.
I: And you’ll see how they do the bread because I think that here in Santiago it is difficult
to see that someone is doing a tortilla.
W: Yes well.
I: And the tastyness.
W: That they prepare it in ash.
I: Of course.
W: That is what people from the South do, yeah well. These things they already, to them
they like know how. It is not something that is teached to them, like that they would have
grown up with it, so, it is something natural.
[woman, 28 years, born in Santiago] [33]

This 28-year-old daughter, born and bred in Santiago, tells about tortilla that is prepared in

the ash following the way how people in the South do it – in a way that is different from other ways

to bake bread. She as well relates to the way to do things ‘naturally’, to grow up with them, not that

there would be conscious act of teaching behind it.

I: And the activities and cultural practices that you had celebrated before, many are mafün62,
lakutun63 This way you identify as a Mapuche.

M: No. Not only for these activities but I say that one is a Mapuche because was born as a
[man, 49 years, migrant] [34]

M: To be able to live with all that. The herbs like he says it goes inside of one, in the
moment, it is innate that one needs to have these herbs because… I think that in the womb
already your mother starts to say to you what is good and what is bad…I think that with she
takes…the tastes she takes…one feels in the womb of the mother…from there comes the
connection… [man, 45 years, migrant]

[focus group] [35]

Being a Mapuche can mean something you are born with. Or something that has started

already earlier, in mother’s womb. It is the connection you feel, it is innate, a feeling of something

being right and being capable to distinguish between good and bad. They are not so much the

activities that matter. Things are internalized by an embodied apprenticeship rather than by an

institution outside of the community (look for example Sutton 2001, x). This kinds of ways of

knowledge have also been called as ’clues’ where the concrete practices, talk, gestures and glances

form the basis of learning (Knuuttila 2006, 21; referring also to Giard 1998 and Ginzburg 1996, 62).

Related to this discussion, Fischler (1988) has pointed out how experience more than science

62 Mafün means wedding.
63 Lakutun means to become a godparent to a child.

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Appendix II – Vocabulary

Vocabulary Mapudungun / Spanish – English

Callana – Pan.

Canelo – Sacred tree of Mapuche.

Cantarito – Carafe.

Catuto – Little piece of wheat bread, a typical Mapuche dish.

Cazuela – Warm soup.

Changle – Mushroom.

Che – People.

Chucoca – Corn flour.

Comedor – Dining room.

Dihueñe – Mushroom.

Eltun – Ancient burial grounds.

Harina tostada – Browned flour.

Kimün – Knowledge, esencial wisdom.

Kultrun – The shaman drum of the Mapuche.

Tuwün y küpan – Family and place where a person comes from.

Kofke – Bread.

Lakutun – To become a godparent to a child.

Lamgen – Sister.

Lamien – (Mapuche) sister.

Lawen – Remedy.

Llepü – Bowl.

Locro – Stew.

Lof – Forms or used to form the basic social organization of the Mapuche people, consisting of a

familial clan or lineage that recognizes the authority of a lonko. The Lof is formed by diverse

families that share the same territory and they are considered mutually related, descended from a

common ancestor.

Lonko – The (tribal) chief of the Mapuche.

Machi – Shaman or healer in the Mapuche community.

Mafün – Wedding.

Mapu – Land.

Mate – Herb to drink.

Matetun – Moment to take mate.

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Merken – Condiment of smoked chili pepper.

Metawe – Jar used in spiritual purpose.

Mote – Boiled wheat grain.

Muday – Fermented drink consumed in particularly in ngillatun.

Ñachi– A dish prepared with fresh animal blood and dressings.

Newen – Spiritual strength.

Ñiwin kofke – Mapuche sopaipillas.

Ngillatun – Sacred ritual of the Mapuche.

Ñuke mapu – Mother earth.

Palin – Traditional Mapuche game.

Pan amasado – Kneaded bread.

Pantruca – Type of dumpling.

Pebre – Condiment made of coriander, chopped onion, olive oil, garlic and chilli.

Porotos con rienda – Chilean bean dish.

Puelmapu – Land in he East.

Purun – Dance that imitates a bird, and it is danced in rituals like We Tripantu.

Ruka – Traditional house of living.

Sopaipilla – Fried pastry.

Tortilla – Bread.

Tortilla de rescoldo – Unleavened bread.

Ulpo – Side dish made of browned flour and water.

Ûy mapu – Place names.

We tripantu – Mapuche New Year.

Yuyo – Herb.

Wingka – White foreigner.

Yuyo – Type of herb.

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