The gendered realm of the foye tree – By Patricia Donovan – Contributing Editor

Study finds gender and sexual identity are more fluid than we think

Long-held assumptions about sexual identity and gendered behavior have been turned upside down by a groundbreaking new study of the lives, roles and spiritual practices of the Mapuche shamans of southern Chile.

“Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power and Healing among Chilean Mapuche” (University of Texas Press, May 2007) is an ethnographic study based on 15 years of field research by Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The study is the first comprehensive examination of the machi (Mapuche shamans), their gendered practices and their use of a unique tree in ritual transvestitism and political defiance.

According to Bacigalupo, its most important finding is that a person’s gender and sexual identity are not as fixed as has been assumed, and can play out quite differently in various social, political and ritual contexts.