Longkos and machis
The past and present social history of the Mapuche people has been primarily influenced by decisions reached by two types of authority: political and religious. The former was and is still held by the longko (lonco, lonko, from Mapudungu "head"), while the latter remains in the hands of the machi.
The Mapuche society organizes in communities called lof, extended families who share a common ancestry and the land. The longko represents authority within each lof, and are known as "caciques" (chiefs) among the wingka (non-Mapuche). This position is either inherited or appointed by the community itself. In the past at war times (awkan) a toki (in Mapudungu, "war hatchet") was elected among the best warriors by the longko of different communities to hold the military leadership. At present, the longko themselves lead their communities through difficult times (times that, regretfully, continue to be filled with serious challenges and do not seem very peaceful in the Mapuche communities on both sides of the Cordillera).
For their part, the old territorial divisions comprising several neighbouring lof (known as aillarewe, and füta mapu, both of them virtually disappeared today) were also governed by longko: the füta longko and the ñidol longko, respectively. The longko is usually helped by the werken, a reliable person and messenger, and the wewpife, a kimkeche ("wise person") who knows every single detail of the past of the lof and its people genealogy.
The longko himself must be a kimkeche, a well versed man in kimün or Mapuche traditional knowledge, which include being an authority on the environment, the history of his extended family (both real and mythic), the customs and traditions of his people and the reality of both his community and its neighbours. At the same time, he has to watch over their material and spiritual needs through the resources around them as well as the fulfilment and application of the so called admapu, a set of unwritten rules that determine what is and is not acceptable behaviour among the Mapuche.
The machi (usually, but not always women) have been referred to as "shamans" by wingka literature. Besides being a religious authority, the machi is also a counsellor and a medicine-person. Healing ceremonies (machitun) are led by the machi, who play also a leading role at the rogations or ngillatun, which are usually headed by such figures as the ngenpin (in Mapudungu "the word owner") and the longko himself.
The process to become a machi (machiluwun) is long and difficult. The machi are "appointed" through either dreams/premonitions or direct legacy. They must learn and know the healing power of each plant (lawen), the different prayers, how to understand dreams (pewma), how to conduct religious ceremonies, and how to maintain community spiritual balance offering protection from the kalku (evil witches) and the dark supernatural forcers (e.g. the weküfe).
Detailed information on the activities undertaken by both the longko and the machi were profusely described by Pascual Coña and written down by Ernesto Wilhelm de Moesbach in his book "Vida y costumbres de los indígenas araucanos en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX" (literally, "Life and costumes of the Araucanian indigenous people in the second half of the 19th century").
Nowadays, the longko and the machi are the most visible and recognizable figures (thus the most exposed) within the Mapuche communities of both Argentina and Chile: while the former organize social and political movements the latter encourage those actions within the community. It is hardly surprising that they have become the targets of violence by the state’s apparatus of repression, and have been arrested, jailed, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and even killed. Theirs is a painful and bitter chronicle which can be traced back to the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century.
Lonco, in Wikipedia.
Machi, in Wikipedia.
Book. "Vida y costumbres de los indígenas araucanos en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX", by Erenesto Wilhelm de Moesbach. In Memoria Chilena [es].
Article. "Cómo eligen a un lonco los mapuches", in Centro de Documentación Mapuche [es].
Article. "La machi", in University of Chile [es].