Argentina is opening up its first Indigenous hospital, in the southern province of Neuquen. The Ranguiñ Kien Intercultural Hospital will combine Western medicine with Mapuche medicine and will be run by the provincial government health care providers, along with the Mapuche communities Aigo and Huenguihuel.
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"This is the product of 15 years of experience together with Mapuche communities. In this way, we approach a relationship between biomedicine and Mapuche medicine, each one with its value and its techniques. The idea is to take advantage of both," Dr. Fabian Gancedo, a state rural doctor, told local media.
Lorenzo Loncon, who is a lawentuchefe (a person specialized in plants and their healthcare uses) Mapuche Confederation of Neuquen and who was an important part of the creation of the hospital, said: "Western medicine is to separate everything, man from nature, to the culture of nature. And for us it is a unit.
"Millennial medicine has shown that if it is natural it is much better than a chemical or synthetic combination. And also, if all cultures are different, medicine also has to be appropriate to each culture and it must be made available.
"Medicine is to share. This means not having a patent system and making a product expensive. If we have knowledge and we can help a neighbor, even if he or she is not Mapuche, we do. We have plants for a fever that are infallible… If you take a drug, it’s never that fast or effective."
Fabian said the location and design of the new hospital were critical to its creation. The building is in rural Ruca Choroi, in the Huenguihuel community. "There will be a place to make fires, for bone composers, for yerbateros, and a ceremonial space for the machi, the greatest figure in the Mapuche healing ceremony," said Fabian.
Hospital beds are also oriented towards the west out of respect for Mapuche religion: "The west, behind the mountain range, is where our spirit in the Mapuche culture goes after its passage through the world," explained the doctor. He says Western hospitals could negatively affect Mapuche patients through placement of beds.
"In Argentina, we cannot speak of machis (healers) because after the conquest many chiefs and spiritual guides were killed… practically extinguished," Loncon said. "Mapuche medicine is still oral. The fastest way to learn is by listening, smelling the plants and having memory for what they serve."