Eduardo Rapiman.jpg Niña Mapuche Concepción Chile 1902 (2).jpg Niña mapuche.jpg CeferinoNamuncura.jpg
Some Mapuches: Painter Eduardo Rapiman, a Mapuche girl in silver finery, Mapuche girl in traidtional dress and Ceferino Namuncurá
Total population
ca. 900,000 , many Chileans have some Mapuche ancestry
Regions with significant populations
Chile, Argentina
 Chile 604,349 (2002)
 Argentina 113,680 (2004-2005) [2]

Mapudungun, Spanish


Christianity (Catholicism and Evangelicalism) adapted to traditional beliefs

Related ethnic groups

Picunche, Huilliche, Chileans

The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. They constitute a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage. Their influence extended between the Aconcagua River and Chiloé Archipelago and later eastward to the Argentine pampa. The Mapuche make up about 4% of the Chilean population,[3] and are particularly concentrated in Araucanía Region and due to emigration in Santiago.

The term Mapuche can refer to the whole group of Picunches (people of the north), Huilliches (people of the South) and Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía, or exclusively to the Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía. The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organisation consists of extended families, under the direction of a "lonko" or chief, although in times of war they would unite in larger groupings and elect a toqui (from Mapudungun toki "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them.

The Araucanian Mapuche inhabited at time of Spanish arrival the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers, south of it as did the Huilliche and the Cuncos lived as far south as to Chiloé Archipelago. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and pampas, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poyas and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranqueles and northern Aonikenk, made contact with Mapuche groups. The Tehuelche adopted the Mapuche language and some of their culture in what came to be called Araucanization.

Historically Mapuches were known as Araucanians (araucanos) by the Spanish colonizers of South America. However, this term is now mostly considered pejorative[4] by some people. The Quechua word awqa "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano: the latter is more likely derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco) "clayey water".[5][6]

While some Mapuches mingled with Spanish during colonial times giving origin to a large group of mestizos in Chile Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the Chilean Occupation of Araucanía and the Argentine Conquest of the Desert in late 19th century. Since then Mapuches have become subjects and then nationals and citizens of the respective states. Today many Mapuche and Mapuche communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights both in Argentina and in Chile.



Pre-Hispanic times

Huamán Poma de Ayala's picture about the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right)
Picture of Mapuches during a malón raid

The origin of the Mapuche is not clear. The Mapuche language, Mapudungun, has been classified by some authorities as being related to the Penutian languages of North America. Others group it among the Andean languages,[7] and yet others postulate an Araucanian-Mayan relationship;[8] Croese (1989, 1991) has advanced the hypothesis that it is related to Arawak. Reports in 2007 of DNA analysis of animal remains has suggested that Mapuche pre-Columbian Araucana chicken came from Polynesia,[9] which suggests contact between the Mapuche and Polynesia. More recent research strongly disputes this claim, suggesting no contact between the Mapuche and Polynesia.[10]

The Mapuche successfully resisted many attempts by the Inca Empire to subjugate them, despite their lack of state organization. They fought against the Sapa Inca, Tupac Yupanqui, and his army. The result of the bloody three-day confrontation known as the Battle of the Maule was that the Inca conquest of the territories of Chile ended at the Maule river. They fell back to the north behind the Rapel and Cachapoal Rivers, where they established a fortified border guarded by fortresses such as the Pucará de La Compañía and the Pucará del Cerro La Muralla.

War of Arauco

Although the Spanish subjugated the Picunche in the Conquest of Chile, the Moluche of the area which the Spanish called Araucanía fought against the invaders for over 300 years. The Mapuche repelled the Spanish after their initial conquests in the late 16th century so effectively that there were areas to which Europeans did not return until late in the 19th century. One of the main geographical boundaries was the Bío-Bío River, which the Mapuche used as a natural barrier to Spanish and Chilean incursion. The 300 years were not uniformly a period of hostility, and there was often substantial trade and interchange between Mapuche and Spaniards or Chileans. The long Mapuche resistance has become primarily known as the War of Arauco. Its early phase was immortalized in Alonso de Ercilla's epic poem La Araucana.

From the mid-17th century, the Mapuches and the governors of Chile made a series of treaties in order to end the hostilities. By the late eighteenth century, many Mapuche loncos had accepted the de jure sovereignty of the Spanish king while operating with de facto independence.

When Chile revolted from the Spanish crown during the Chilean War of Independence, some Mapuche chiefs sided with the royalists of Vicente Benavides in the Guerra a muerte (war to death). The Spanish depended on the Mapuches as they had lost control of all cities and ports north of Valdivia. The Mapuches valued the treaties made with the Spanish authorities; however, many regarded the war with indifference and took advantage of both sides. After Chile's independence from Spain, the Mapuche coexisted and traded with their neighbors, who prudently remained north of the Bío-Bío River, although clashes frequently occurred.

Occupation of the Araucanía

Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in meeting with the main loncos of Araucania in 1869

Chilean population pressures increased on the Mapuche borders, and by the 1880s Chile extended both to the north and south of the Mapuche heartlands. As a result of its preparation for and victory in the War of the Pacific against Bolivia and Peru, Chile had a large standing army and relatively modern arsenal. Finally, in the mid- to late-1880s, partially on the pretext of crushing a French adventurer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, who had declared himself King of Araucania, Chile overwhelmed the Mapuche in the course of the so-called "pacification of the Araucanía".

Vintage engraving of Mapuche

Using a combination of force and diplomacy, Chile's government obliged some Mapuche leaders to sign a treaty agreeing to the absorption of the Araucanian territories into Chile. The disruption of war caused widespread disease and starvation to many villages. It has been claimed that the Mapuche population dropped from a total of half a million to 25,000 within a generation.[11] Noted historians of the period have argued that the latter figure is exaggeratedly low. In the post-conquest period, Chile interned a significant percentage of the Mapuche, and destroyed the Mapuche herding, agricultural and trading economies, while also looting Mapuche property (real and personal - including a large amount of silver jewelry to replenish the Chilean national coffers). The government created a system of reserves called reducciones along lines similar to North American reservation systems. Subsequent generations of Mapuche live in extreme poverty as a result of having been conquered and lost their traditional lands.

Recent history

Cacique Lloncon

Many Mapuche descendants now live across southern Chile and Argentina; some maintain their traditions and continue living from agriculture, but a majority have migrated to cities in search of better economic opportunities. Many are concentrated around Santiago.[12] Chile's Araucanía Region, the former Araucanía, has a rural population that is 80% Mapuche; there are also substantial Mapuche populations in Los Lagos Region, Bío-Bío Region, and Maule Region.

In the 2002 Chilean census 604,349 people identified themselves as Mapuche, and of these the two regions with the largest numbers were Araucanía Region with 203,221 and Santiago Metropolitan Region with 182,963[1] both surpassing the total Mapuche population as of 2004-2005 in Argentina.[2]

In recent years, the Chilean government has tried to redress some of the inequities of the past. The Parliament passed, in 1993, Law n° 19 253 (Indigenous Law, or Ley indígena)[13] which officially recognized the Mapuche people, and seven other ethnic minorities, as well as the Mapudungun language and culture. Mapundungun, which use was prohibited before, is now included in the curriculum of elementary schools around Temuco.

Despite representing 4.6% of the Chilean population, few Mapuches have reached government positions. In 2006 among Chile's 38 senators and 120 deputies, only one identified as indigenous. The number is higher at municipal levels.[14]

Furthermore, representatives from Mapuche organizations have joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), seeking recognition and protection for their cultural and land rights.

Modern conflict

Land disputes and violent confrontations continue in some Mapuche areas, particularly in the northern sections of the Araucanía region between and around Traiguén and Lumaco. In an effort to defuse tensions, the Commission for Historical Truth and New Treatments issued a report in 2003 calling for drastic changes in Chile's treatment of its indigenous people, more than 80 percent of whom are Mapuche. The recommendations included the formal recognition of political and "territorial" rights for indigenous peoples, as well as efforts to promote their cultural identity.

Though Japanese and Swiss interests are active in the economy of Araucanía (Mapudungun: "Ngulu Mapu"), both the main forestry companies are Chilean-owned. The firms have planted hundreds of thousands of acres with non-native species such as Monterey pine, Douglas firs and eucalyptus trees, sometimes replacing native Valdivian forests, although such substitution and replacement is now forbidden.

Chile exports wood to the United States, almost all of which comes from this southern region, with an annual value of $600 million and rising. Forest Ethics, a conservation group, has led an international campaign for preservation, resulting in the Home Depot chain and other leading wood importers agreeing to revise their purchasing policies to "provide for the protection of native forests in Chile." Some Mapuche leaders want stronger protections for the forests.

In recent years, the delicts committed by Mapuche activists have been prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation originally introduced by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense for up to six months and to conceal the identity of witnesses, who may give evidence in court behind screens. There are several violent activist groups, such as the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco, which utilize tactics including burning of structures and pastures, and death threats against people and their families. Protesters from Mapuche communities have used these tactics against multinational forestry corporations and private individuals.[15][16] In 2010 the Mapuche launched a number of hunger strikes in attempts to effect change in the anti-terrorism legislation.[17]


Flag of the Mapuche

At the time of the arrival of Europeans the Mapuche were able to organize themselves to create a network of forts and complex defensive buildings, and also ceremonial constructions such as some mounds recently discovered near Purén.[18] They quickly adopted iron metal-working (they already worked copper[19]) and horseback-riding and the use of cavalry in war from the Spaniards, along with the cultivation of wheat and sheep. In the long 300-year coexistence between the Spanish colonies and the relatively well-delineated autonomous Mapuche regions, the Mapuche also developed a strong tradition of trading with Spaniards and Chileans. It is this which lies at the heart of the Mapuche silver-working tradition, for it was from the large and widely-dispersed quantity of Spanish and Chilean silver coins that the Mapuche wrought their elaborate jewelry, head bands, etc.

Mapuche languages

The daughter of lonko Quilapán
A cacique's wife

Mapuche languages are spoken in Chile and to a smaller extent in Argentina. They have two living branches: Huilliche and Mapudungun. Although not genetically related, there is some discernible lexical influence from Quechua. It is estimated that only about 200,000 full-fluency speakers remain in Chile, and the language still receives only token support in the educational system. In recent years it has started to be taught in rural schools of Bío-Bío, Araucanía and Los Lagos Regions.

Mythology and beliefs

The main groups of deities and/or spirits in Mapuche mythology are the Pillan and Wangulen (ancestral spirits), the Ngen (spirits of the nature) and the wekufe (evil spirits). Ngenechen and Antu are the main deities.[20]

Central to Mapuche belief is the role of the machi "shaman". It is usually filled by a woman, following an apprenticeship with an older Machi, and has many of the characteristics typical of shamans. The machi performs ceremonies for curing diseases, warding off evil, influencing weather, harvests, social interactions and dreamwork. Machis often have extensive knowledge of Chilean medicinal herbs, though as biodiversity in the Chilean countryside has declined due to commercial agriculture and forestry, the dissemination of such knowledge has also declined but is in revival. Machis also have an extensive knowledge of sacred stones and the sacred animals.

Like many cultures, the Mapuche have a deluge myth (epeu) in which the world is destroyed and recreated. The myth involves two opposing forces, Kai Kai (water, which brings death through floods) and Tren Tren (dry earth which brings sunshine). In the deluge almost all humanity is drowned, the few not drowned survive through cannabilism. At last only one couple is left and are told by a machi that they must give the waters their only child, which they do, restoring order to the world. Part of Mapuche ritural is prayer and animal sacrifice required to maintain the cosmic balance. This belief still exists and in 1960 a female machi sacrificed a young boy, throwing him into the water after an earthquake and series of tidal waves.[21][22][23]

An equally important part of Mapuche belief and society is the remembered history of independence and resistance from 1540 (Spanish and then Chileans) and of the treaty with the Chilean government in the 1870s. In that perception, it is important to include not exclude Mapuches in the Chilean culture. Having said that, memories, stories, and beliefs, often very local and particularized, are a significant part of the Mapuche traditional culture. To varying degrees, this history of resistance continues to this day amongst the Mapuche, though at the same time a large majority in Chile would also strongly include themselves as Chilean similarly to a large majority in Argentina including themselves as Argentines.


One of the best known arts of the Mapuche is the textiles. The oldest data on the existence of tissue in the southernmost areas of the American continent (southern Chile and Argentina today) are found in some archaeological findings like those of Pitrén Cemetery near the city of Temuco (Chile) Alboyanco site in the Biobío Region of Chile and the Rebolledo Arriba Cemetery in Neuquén Province (Argentina). They have found evidence of fabrics made with complex techniques and designs with a round date between AD 1300-1350.[24]

The oldest historical documents that refer to the existence of textile art among the aborigines of southern Chilean and Argentine territory, dating from the sixteenth century and consist of chronicles of European explorers and settlers. These accounts claim that at the arrival of Europeans in the region of the Araucanía, natives of the area wore textiles made with camel's hair that they made from the raw material obtained from the breeding of these animals. Later, and with the addition of sheep brought by the Europeans, these Indians began breeding these animals and use their wool for making their weaves, after which it prevailed over the use of camelid hair. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, these sheep reared by indigenous degenerated in animals with a more robust body and a thicker wool and longer than the cattle brought by the Europeans. These characteristics make possible to suggest that it was a higher quality animals.[25]

These fabrics were made by women who transmitted their knowledge from generation to generation, orally and through imitation of gestures, usually within the family environment. They were highly prized for their textile knowledge: through the development of their weaves, women played an important economic role and also cultural. For these reasons, at the time of giving a dowry for her marriage, a man must give a dowry much greater if the married woman was a good weaver.[26]

Currently, many Mapuche women continue making the tissue according to the customs of their ancestors and transmitting their knowledge in the same way: in the domestic scope and family, from mother to daughter, from grandmothers to granddaughters, as happened in the past. This form of learning is based on gestural imitation, and only rarely, and when strictly necessary, the apprentice receives explicit instructions or help from their instructors. This means that knowledge is transmitted in the moments of realization of fabrics: and “make” and transmission of knowledge go together.[26]

In Andean societies textiles had a great importance. They were developed to be used as clothing, as tool and shelter for the home, as well as a status symbol.[27] This feature of textiles was also visible in the Araucanía region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, where, as reported by various chroniclers of Chile, the Indians struggled to get Hispanic clothing and fabrics as a trophy of war on treaties with the Spanish, and even the bodies were dressed in their best clothes in their funerals.[28]

In addition, the weaves were a surplus and an exchange good very significant for the Indians. Numerous accounts from the sixteenth century show that the tissues were used to barter among different aboriginal groups, and since the establishment of colonies, between them and the settlers. These barters allowed to obtain those goods that the Indians did not produce or had in high esteem, such as horses. Tissue volumes made by Aboriginal women and marketed in the Araucanía and the north of the Patagonia Argentina were really considerable and constitute a vital economic resource for indigenous families.[29] It is therefore wrong to say that the production of fabrics in the time before European settlement was intended solely for the use of the family or members of indigenous groups.[30]

At present, the fabrics woven by the Mapuche continue being destined for domestic as well as for gift, sale or barter. Although now women and their families wear garments with foreign designs and tailored with materials of industrial origin and only the ponchos, blankets, strips and belts are of regular use. Many of the fabrics made are intended for the trade and in many cases are an important source of income for families.[31]

Mapuches in popular culture

The characters Huilen and Nahuel in the last book of the Twilight Saga, "Breaking Dawn" by Stephenie Meyer, are Mapuche.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b 2002 Census
  2. ^ a b ECPI, 2004-2005.
  3. ^
  4. ^ AZ Domingo 17 de Febrero de 2008
  5. ^ Mapuche o Araucano (Spanish)
  6. ^ Antecedentes históricos del pueblo araucano (Spanish)
  7. ^ Greenberg 1987, Key 1978
  8. ^ Stark 1970, Hamp 1971
  9. ^ Polynesians - And Their Chickens - Arrived in Americas Before Columbus
  10. ^ Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA. Jaime Gongora, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Victor A. Mobegi, Han Jianlin, Jose A. Alcalde, Jose T. Matus, Olivier Hanotte, Chris Moran, J. Austin, Sean Ulm, Atholl J. Anderson, Greger Larson and Alan Cooper, "Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA" PNAS July 29, 2008 vol. 105 no 30 [1]
  11. ^ Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 109.
  12. ^ Chile I., 1992, "Censo de Población, Instituto Nacional de Estatisticas, Santiago de Chile.
  13. ^ Law n° 19 253 Indigenous Law
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ [3]
  16. ^ "Mapuche struggle for autonomy in Chile", Spero Forum
  17. ^ "Mapuche hunger strike in Chile highlights the real problem facing President Sebastian Pinera", Sounds and colors
  18. ^ Dillehay, Tom, Monuments, Empires, and Resistance: The Araucanian Polity and Ritual Narratives (Cambridge University Press, Washington, 2007)
  19. ^ Pedro Mariño de Lobera, in Crónica del Reino de Chile, Cap. XXXI and XXXIII mentions copper points on the Mapuche pikes in the Battle of Andalien and Battle of Penco. Copper metallurgy was flourishing in South America, particularly in Peru from around the beginning of the first millennium AD. Possibly Mapuche copper metal working was learned from the prior interaction with the Inca Empire or prior Peruvian cultures or was a native craft (copper being common in Chile).
  20. ^ Alberto Trivero (1999), Trentrenfilú, Proyecto de Documentación Ñuke Mapu. (in Spanish).
  21. ^ Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella (2004). Mariko Namba Walter, Eva Jane Neumann Fridman. ed. Shamanism: an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices, and culture, Volume. ABC-CLIO. p. 419. ISBN 978-1576076453. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  22. ^ Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella (2007). Shamans of the foye tree: gender, power, and healing among Chilean Mapuche. University of Texas Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-0292716599. 
  23. ^ Aladama, Arturo J (2003). Violence and the body: race, gender, and the state. Indina University Press. p. 326. ISBN 978-0253215598. 
  24. ^ Brugnoli y Hoces de la Guardia, 1995; Alvarado, 2002
  25. ^ Joseph, 1931; Palermo, 1994; Méndez, 2009a.
  26. ^ a b Wilson, 1992; Mendez, 2009a.
  27. ^ Murra, 1975.
  28. ^ Palermo, 1994; Méndez, 2009b.
  29. ^ Guaravaglia, 1986; Palermo, 1994; Mendez, 2009b.
  30. ^ Méndez, 2009b.
  31. ^ Wilson, 1992; Alvarado, 2002; Mendez, 2009a.


  • Alvarado, Margarita (2002) “El esplendor del adorno: El poncho y el chanuntuku” En: Hijos del Viento, Arte de los Pueblos del Sur, Siglo XIX. Buenos Aires: Fundación PROA.
  • Brugnoli, Paulina y Hoces de la Guardia, Soledad (1995). “Estudio de fragmentos del sitio Alboyanco”. En: Hombre y Desierto, una perspectiva cultural, 9: 375–381.
  • Corcuera, Ruth (1987). Herencia textil andina. Buenos Aires: Impresores SCA.
  • Corcuera, Ruth (1998). Ponchos de las Tierras del Plata. Buenos Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes.
  • Chertudi, Susana y Nardi, Ricardo (1961). "Tejidos Araucanos de la Argentina". En: Cuadernos del Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Folklóricas, 2: 97-182.
  • Garavaglia, Juan Carlos (1986). “Los textiles de la tierra en el contexto colonial rioplatense: ¿una revolución industrial fallida?”. En: Anuario IEHS, 1:45-87.
  • Joseph, Claude (1931). Los tejidos Araucanos. Santiago de Chile: Imprenta San Francisco, Padre Las Casas.
  • Kradolfer, Sabine, Quand la parenté impose, le don dispose. Organisation sociale, don et identité dans les communautés mapuche de la province de Neuquén (Argentine) (Bern etc., Peter Lang, 2011) (Publications Universitaires Européennes. Série 19 B: Ethnologie-générale, 71).
  • Mendez, Patricia (2009a). “Herencia textil, identidad indígena y recursos económicos en la Patagonia Argentina”. En: Revista de la Asociación de Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red, 4, 1:11-53.
  • Méndez, Patricia (2009b). “Los tejidos indígenas en la Patagonia Argentina: cuatro siglos de comercio textilI”. En: Anuario INDIANA, 26: 233-265.
  • Millán de Palavecino, María Delia (1960). “Vestimenta Argentina”. En: Cuadernos del Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Folklóricas, 1: 95-127.
  • Murra, John (1975). Formaciones económicas y políticas del mundo andino. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.
  • Nardi, Ricardo y Rolandi, Diana (1978). 1000 años de tejido en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Ministerio de Cultura y Educación, Secretaría de Estado de Cultura, Instituto Nacional de Antropología.
  • Palermo, Miguel Angel (1994). “Economía y mujer en el sur argentino”. En: Memoria Americana 3: 63-90.
  • Wilson, Angélica (1992). Arte de Mujeres. Santiago de Chile: Ed. CEDEM, Colección Artes y Oficios Nº 3.

Further reading

External links

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