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Chilean herbal 'Viagra' raises awareness

A NATURAL form of Viagra and other ancient herbal remedies used by Chile's Mapuche tribe are growing in popularity and fuelling a reawakening of interest in the country's indigenous culture.

The country's largest native ethnic group, the Mapuche have long used a wide variety of herbal remedies for everything from arthritis and acne to lack of libido.

One of the most popular, palwen, which is known as "Mapuche Viagra", was snatched up by enthusiastic tourists attending a local song festival earlier this year - they exhausted supplies in the port town of Valparaiso.

The Mapuche, whose name means people of the earth and who live mainly in the Temuco area of southern Chile, are famous for their fierce resistance to the Spanish conquest. Their modern-day population is relatively small.

Indigenous culture has not been as influential in Chile as in other Latin American countries. However, the popularity of herbal medicine has made many Chileans reclaim a part of their Indian heritage.

"A year ago, I discovered Mapuche medicine and it's worked. I'm now being treated for arthritis. I use it to complement the medications my doctor prescribes," Aurora Navarrete, a 59-year-old housewife, said.

The natural remedies got a boost four years ago when the Mapuche took over the administration of the Maquehue hospital in Temuco and set up a pharmacy project using doctors working alongside Mapuche healers called machis.

The machis set up traditional Mapuche wooden huts in the hospital grounds so patients could opt for Mapuche remedies as well as modern medical treatments, with many taking advantage of both.

The herbalist pharmacy - called Makelawen and owned by Herbolaria de Chile (Herbalists of Chile) and a Mapuche trade organisation - has spread across the country, growing from one outlet with 50 clients to seven pharmacies, including four in the capital, Santiago.

Oclida Millallanca, 28, a Mapuche woman in traditional dress wearing the signature crown of silver coins draped across her forehead, tends the Makelawen pharmacy in central Santiago. "I'm like a psychologist. People tell me about their problems, their physical and spiritual complaints. People trust Mapuche wisdom," Ms Millallanca said as Mapuche music played in the background.

The Makelawen venture does not look like a threat to Chile's retail pharmacies, which are dominated by three big chains, but it is gaining followers.

"My children and I use this type of alternative because it's more natural," Liliana Dorival, 56, a housewife, said. "I have different varieties of these medications - they're good."

Makelawen now offers nearly 50 products, which are sold as liquid tinctures based on plant extracts. At about 1.90 a bottle, they are cheaper than most conventional medicines.

People who would not be beaten

THE Mapuche are famous in South America for resisting the Spanish conquest.

In 1641, Spain signed a treaty recognising the Mapuche as sovereign and autonomous after failing to defeat them in battle. It was the only time a European power formally recognised an indigenous people on the continent.

However, in the mid-19th century Chilean and Argentine troops carried out military operations and about 100,000 Mapuche were killed. Land was confiscated and the Mapuche were forced to live on reservations.

Through policies of assimilation, failed attempts were made to destroy their religion, culture and language, according to campaign group Mapuche International Link.

In recent years the Mapuche have been campaigning for the return of their lands and demanding that the 1641 treaty should be recognised.

It is thought there are a million Mapuche in Chile and more than 250,000 in Argentina.

 
 
 

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