Highlights From “Infinity of Nations”
A new exhibition explores thousands of years of artwork from the Native nations of North, Central and South America
- By Jess Righthand
- Smithsonian.com, January 04, 2011
(Walter Larrimore, National Museum of the American Indian)
Mapu, or the earth, has always been the foundation of spiritual life for the Mapuche people of Southern Chile. The round kultrung, a ritual drum played exclusively by the Machi, or shaman, symbolizes the shape of the earth. A painted design divides the drum into the four directions, each one associated with either positive or negative energy according to the natural phenomena they bring (thunderstorms from the north, sunlight from the east, etc.). Vertical space is also present in the drum: Wenu Mapu, the beneficent land above; Nag Mapu, the land of the living; and Minche Mapu, the land underneath, where both good and evil deities dwell. All converge in the center, a point of divine equilibrium.
Every piece of the drum is chosen for a specific purpose. The female goat hide used for the drumhead represents fertility, and the stones placed inside the drum are said to shine like stars, illuminating the rites of the Machi. “It’s one of the most ritually important objects of the Mapuche people,” says curator Cécile Ganteaume.