Plant

Drimys andina

One of the last plants we were able to image, Drimys andina (with thanks to Sacred Succulents in California), enabled us to extend the geographical representation of sacred plants in our project much further south into the immense forests that are the Mapuche ancestral lands on both sides of the cordillera of the Andes in Chile and Argentina. According to Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, “Foye trees [canelo, Drimys winteri] are sacred trees of life that connect the natural, human, and spirit worlds and allow Mapuche shamans, or machi, to participate in the forces that permeate the cosmos. They are symbols of machi medicine, and machi use the bitter leaves and bark to exorcise evil spirits, as an anti-bacterial for treating wounds, and to treat colds, rheumatism, stomach infections and ringworm.”

Over the years, as a literary critic, translator and editor, I have appreciated and promoted poetry by contemporary Mapuche/Huilliche poets such as Elicura Chihuailaf Nahuelpan (who, in 2020, became the first Indigenous winner of Chile’s National Prize for Literature), Jaime Luis Huenún and Graciela Huinao (the first Indigenous woman to join the Academia Chilena de la Lengua). I included a selection of verse by Huenún in El consumo de lo que somos: muestra de poesía ecológica hispánica contemporánea. In so many ways, his poetry is, as Jonathan Bate would say, the song of the earth. And sometimes Huenún’s poems sing in Mapuzugun: “Inche, Mawiza ñi Pelom,/Witrunko ñi Rayen,/ñien kiñe ül/pewmatun ñi kewün mew/eymingealu.” In my translation of a translation into Spanish, this would be: “I, Light of the Forests,/Flower at the water’s Source,/I have a song/in the language of dreams/for you.”

During their ceremonies, Mapuche shamans ascend a rewe, which Bacigalupo describes as “a step-notched axis mundi, or tree of life, which connects the human and spirit worlds, [allowing them to travel] in ecstatic flights to other worlds.” The author says that this sacred structure permits an altered state of consciousness called küymi directly linked to Drimys: “Mapuche often refer to the rewe itself as foyé or canelo,” even though it is often shaped from the wood of another revered tree triwe (Laurelia sempervirens).  According to Mösbach, author of the classic compilation Botánica indígena de Chile, the Mapuche consider the Foye tree “a symbol of benevolence, peace and justice.”

Drimys andina
Drimys andina, Copyright B. Kamm, 2022

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