Summary: The Mapuche nation covers a large area, in parts of both Chile and Argentina. Within this vast area are various sub-regions named according to their location or ecological features, such as Puel Mapu (the eastern lands), Nag Mapu (the land of the plains), or Pewen Mapu (the land of the Pewen tree). The Pewen Tree, or Araucaria (Araucaria araucana), is more commonly known in English as the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
The Mapuche-Pewenche value the pine nut from the Araucaria for its taste, and use it as a staple food. In the autumn and winter, when the wheat or potato stores can run out, the Araucaria pine nut offers food security. The tree also provides the main source of firewood, and the resin is used as medicine to relieve headaches, colds, ulcers, menstrual pains, as well as for healing wounds, broken ligaments or sprained muscles. The Mapuche-Pewenche describe their relationship to the Araucaria forest as analogous to that of 'an extended family' (lobpewen).
The male tree (domopewen) and female tree (wentrupewen) are said to reproduce by criss-crossing their roots underground. Two important spirit beings are said to help the trees reproduce and so the Mapuche-Pewenche provide them with offerings during a ceremony called nguillatun.
The Indigenous Markan-Kura Association developed this project, in consultation with the local communities. In a first phase, an interdisciplinary team of Mapuche, consisting of a teacher, an anthropologist and a forester, are collecting knowledge relating to the Araucaria to enhance teaching material in schools in the Mapuche-Pewenche territory. This is not only to encourage the safeguarding of Mapuche language through bi-lingual education, but also to move beyond a mere translation of western/scientific concepts to presenting Mapuche understandings of their environment in a way that is consistent with their own world-view.
© Photos courtesy of Asociacion Markan Kura, Chile