This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Bacigalupo awarded Radcliffe fellowship

Controversial shaman Francisca Kolipi is the subject of Ana Mariella Bacigalupo’s new book.

  • Ana Mariella Bacigalupo will use the Radcliffe fellowship to finish her fourth book.

Published: May 3, 2012

Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, is a noted scholar of shamanism among the indigenous Mapuche of south-central Chile.

In recognition of her significant contribution to the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology and studies of culture change, colonization and folk or traditional healing, she has received a full fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University for the 2012-13 academic year.

The Radcliffe Institute awards the prestigious fellowships to scholars “at the forefront of the sciences, humanities, social sciences, arts and professions (with) exceptional promise and demonstrated accomplishments.” The award, which will pay most of Bacigalupo’s UB salary while she is at Harvard, permits fellows to work on projects in a multidisciplinary community of scholars with access to all Radcliffe and Harvard resources.

During her fellowship year, Bacigalupo will complete her fourth book, “The Lives of Francisca Kolipi: Mapuche Shamans and Mythohistory in Southern Chile,” under contract with The University of Texas Press.

The book continues Bacigalupo’s exploration of Mapuche culture, in this case uncovering the creative ways in which the Mapuche use biographical mythohistories to challenge the Western-style history of their subordination written by their Chilean colonizers.

“What is unique about these mythohistories,” she says, “is that they challenge the dominant linear political and economic history by prioritizing spirituality over politics. So, even though Chileans hold socio-political and economic dominance over Mapuche through the nation state and the reservation system, Mapuche mythohistories narrate their spiritual dominance over the Chilean colonizers.”

According to experts, this conflation of myth and history, when deeply held to represent reality, can provoke emotional conviction strong enough to propel believers from what they “are” to what they believe they are or may become. They actually can change the psychosocial reality in which the believers operate; in this case, subjugating the subjugators and creating a realm of pride, strength and hope in which they, not their colonizers, are in control of their lives and destinies.

Bacigalupo explains that these mythohistories are simultaneously linear and cyclical, and permit the Mapuche to express their past in terms of their own historical consciousness by producing narratives that reverse the usual colonial dynamics of subordination.

“In the stories, the Mapuche re-present their past as a history of powerful shamans, ‘reborn’ into actual historical figures,” she says, “and the reborn shamans are then able to employ their significant powers to, for instance, ‘defeat’ the powers of colonization and get their land back.

“They also use ethnographies and texts of colonization in magical ways to the same end,” she explains, “blowing smoke over ‘official’ documents like bibles or land deeds, for example. They believe that this action revives in the present the spiritual realities in which the documents were produced, which allows the Mapuche to manipulate these realities for their own ends.”

Because Mapuche shamans and their actions are central to the mythohistories, Bacigalupo focuses her new book on the life, death and potential rebirth of one shaman, Francisca Kolipi, a controversial Catholic mestiza shaman in the Mapuche community of Millali, with whom she worked before Kolipi’s death 16 years ago.

The community believes that Bacigalupo’s ethnography will store and circulate Francisca’s special powers and may help bring about the rebirth of her shamanic spirit in a new shaman.

Bacigalupo’s most recent book is “Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power and Healing among Chilean Mapuche” (2005 University of Texas Press). The result of 15 years of field research, it was the first study to follow shamans’ gender identities and performance in a variety of ritual, social, sexual and political contexts.

Here, Bacigalupo employed the metaphoric centralizing theme of the foye or cinnamon tree, which serves as a source of symbolic healing and medicinal qualities, as well as a sacred emblem of shamanic authority and ritual performance among the Mapuche.

Bacigalupo previously has won fellowships from, among others, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Humanities Center, the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe) and Harvard Divinity School.