Unofficial biography of Mapuche. Mapuche life and work. Mapuche contributions.
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Mapuche (Mapudungun; Che, "People" + Mapu, "of the Land") are the Indigenous inhabitants of Central and Southern Chile and Southern Argentina. They were known as Araucanos (Araucanians) by the Spaniards but this is now considered pejorative by the people and the term Mapuche is the one most often used by people in conversation and in the media in Chile and Argentina and is the one preferred by them. Contrary to popular belief, the Quechua word arauco (rebel), is not the root of araucano: it is more likely derived from the placename Arauco, meaning "clayey water" in MapudungunMapuche o Araucano Antecedentes historicos del pueblo araucano .

The Mapuche had an economy based on agriculture; their social organisation consisted 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" ('axe-bearer') to lead them. Today also called Felipes

The Mapuche are a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups which shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage. Their influence extended between the Aconcagua River and the Argentine pampa. The Mapuche (note that Mapuche can refer to the whole group of Picunches, Huilliches and Mapuches from Araucania or exclusively to Mapuches from Araucania) inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Tolten Rivers, as well as the Huilliche, the Lafkenche, and the Pehuenche. The northern Aonikenk, called Patagons by Ferdinand Magellan, were an ethnic group of the pampa regions that made contact with some Mapuche groups, adopting their language and some culture (in what came to be called the Araucanization); they are the Tehuelche.


thumb|left|200px|Huaman Poma de Ayala's picture about the confrontation between the Incas? (left) and the Mapuches (right) The Mapuche successfully resisted many attempts by the Inca Empire to subjugate them, despite the lack of nationwide organization.

They fought against the Spaniards for over 300 years. Initial conquests of land by the Spanish in the late 16th century were thoroughly repulsed by the Mapuche, such that there were areas where Europeans did not return to until late in the 19th century. One of the main geographical delineation was the Bio-Bio River, which the Mapuche used as a natural frontier of resistance to Spanish and Chilean incursion. The 300 years was not uniformly a period of war and hostility, but rather often a time of substantial trading and interchange between Mapuche and Spanish/Chileans. Nevertheless, the long Mapuche resistance has become primarily known as the War of Arauco, and is immortalized in Alonso de Ercilla's epic poem La Araucana.

When Chile split from the Spanish crown, some Mapuche chiefs sided with the colonists; most, however, regarded the matter, if they regarded it at all, with relative indifference. This lack of concern illuminates the degree to which the Mapuche perceived that they were their own people on their own land, and did not realize the potential threat the colonists would pose to their culture. After Chile's independence from Spain, the Mapuche coexisted and traded with their neighbours, who prudently remained north of the Bio-Bio River, although clashes occurred frequently.

Finally, partially on the pretext of crushing a French filibusterer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, who had declared himself King of Araucania, the Chilean state overwhelmed the Mapuche lands in the mid- to late-1880s during the so called "pacification of the Araucania". Significant factors leading to this conquest were increased Chilean population pressures on the Mapuche borders, and the fact that by the 1880s Chile consisted of territory to the north and south of the Mapuche heartlands. In essence, the Mapuche were being demografically squeezed from the North and the South, and were militarily so-squeezed during the war of conquest. Further, Chile in the 1880s, as a result of its preparation for and its victory in the War of the Pacific against Bolivia and Peru, found itself with a large standing army and a relatively modern arsenal for the period (most concretely seen and felt in the repeating rifle). These were turned upon the Mapuche.

Using a combination of force and diplomacy, Chile's government and some Mapuche leaders signed a treaty incorporating the Araucanian territories into Chile. The immediate impact of the war was widespread starvation and disease. It has been claimed that the Mapuche population dropped from a total of one-half million to that of 25,000 within a generationWard Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 109., though the latter figure has been called an exaggeration by a variety of authorities. In the post-conquest period, however, there did exist internment of a significant percentage of the Mapuche, the wholesale destruction of the Mapuche herding, agricultural and trading economies, the wholesale looting of Mapuche property (real and personal - including a large amount of silver jewelry to replenish the Chilean national coffers), and the creation and institutionalization of a system of reserves called reducciones along lines similar to North American reservation systems. Subsequent generations of Mapuche reside in extreme poverty as a direct result of being conquered and pillaged.

Mapuche descendants now live across southern Chile and Argentina; some maintain their traditions and continue living from agriculture, but a growing majority have migrated to cities in search of better economic opportunities. Chile's region IX continues to have a rural population made up of approximately 80%; there are also substantial Mapuche populations in regions X, VIII, and VII.

In recent years, there has been an attempt by the Chilean government to redress some of the inequities of the past, by, for example, validating the Mapudungun language and culture by including them in the curriculum of elementary schools around Temuco. Nevertheless, land disputes and violent interactions do continue in some Mapuche areas, particularly in the northern sections of the IX region between and around Traiguen and Lumaco - where a history of conflict continues into the present.

Representatives from Mapuche organisations joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) seeking recognition and protection for their cultural and land rights.

Though Japanese and Swiss interests are active in the region that Chileans call "Araucania" and the Mapuche call "Ngulu Mapu", both of the main forestry companies are Chilean-owned. On land the Mapuche claim is theirs, the firms have planted hundreds of thousands of acres with Monterey pine and eucalyptus trees, species that are not native to the region and that consume large amounts of water and fertilizer.

Chilean exports of wood to the United States, almost all of which come from this southern region, are about $600 million a year and rising. Though an international campaign led by the conservation group Forest Ethics resulted 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 were not satisfied.

In an effort to defuse tensions, a special government body, the Commission for Historical Truth and New Treatment, 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 aboriginal peoples, as well as efforts to promote their cultural identity.

In recent years Mapuche activists have been prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation originally introduced by Pinochet. The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defence for up to six months, and to conceal the identity of witnesses, who may give evidence in court behind screens.


According to genetic studies, most Chilean Mapuche possess some non-aboriginal ancestry, and over 60% of Chile's non-aboriginal population possess Native American ancestry, in varying degrees, although until recently very few Chileans would admit their Native American admixture. There were 604,349 Mapuche according to the census of 2002, making up approximately 4% of the Chilean population, while an estimated 300,000 live on the other side of the Andes in Argentina. Due to the loss of their lands, many Mapuche now live in impoverished conditions in large cities such as Santiago. See also: Demographics of Chile. Mapuche resistance continues, especially against the large forestry companies exploiting traditional lands. Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws have frequently been used in recent years against certain community leaders and Mapuche political activists.

At the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Mapuche were capable of sufficiently organizing themselves to create a network of forts and complex defensive buildings. They quickly adopted metal-working and horseback-riding from the Europeans, 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 the Spanish/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

Mapuche languages are spoken in Chile and to a smaller extent in Argentina. They have two branches: Huilliche and Mapudungun. Although not 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 Bio-Bio, Araucania and Los Lagos Regions.

Mythology and beliefs

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.

The most important beliefs of the Mapuche are expressed in the tale Trentren Vilu y Caicai Vilu, and manifest in the Ngens and Pillans spirits, the Kalku and Wekufe (evil/illness) spirits, the Chonchon, the Piuchen, the Nguruvilu) and La Calchona.

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.


Further reading

  • When a flower is reborn : the life and times of a Mapuche feminist, 2002, ISBN 0822329344
  • Courage tastes of blood : the Mapuche community of Nicolas Ailio and the Chilean state, 1906-2001, 2005, ISBN 0822335859
  • Neoliberal economics, democratic transition, and Mapuche demands for rights in Chile, 2006, ISBN 0813029384
  • Shamans of the foye tree : gender, power, and healing among Chilean Mapuche, 2007, ISBN 9780292716582
  • A grammar of Mapuche, 2007, ISBN 9783110195583
  • ''Mapuche Dreamwork:

See also

  • Araucania
  • Araucanization
  • Araucaria
  • Arauco War
  • Battle of the Maule
  • Caupolican
  • Colocolo
  • Galvarino
  • Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia
  • Lautaro
  • Mapuche International Link
  • Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact

External links

Other pages about Chilean society

-Asociacion de Guias y Scouts de Chile -Demographics of Chile -Fiestas Patrias (Chile) -Huaso -Mapuche -Public holidays in Chile

Other pages about Ethnic groups in Chile

-Alacaluf -Austronesian people -Aymara ethnic group -Basque people -Changos -Diaguita -Fuegians -German-Chilean -Inca Empire -Mapuche -Mestizo -Palestinian Chilean -Puelche -Rapanui -Selknam -Tehuelche -Yaghan

Other pages about History of Chile

-1925 Chilean coup d'etat -1973 Chilean coup d'etat -1992 Galvarino -2006&#8211? -Alejandrina Cox incident -Alessandri family -Allende family -Allende stamps -Antonio Samore -Arauco War -Ariostazo -Army of the Andes -Burnt Alive case -Capture of Valdivia -Carrera family -Caso Degollados -Charles Horman -Chile under Allende -Chile under Pinochet -Chilean Civil War -Chilean Revolution of 1829 -Chilean coup d'etat -Chilean transition to democracy -City of the Caesars -Clemente de Lantano -Colonia Dignidad -Covadonga (ship) -Crossing of the Andes -Cuban packages -DINA -Death of Salvador Allende -Economic history of Chile -Errazuriz family -Esmeralda (BE-43) -Estadio Nacional de Chile -Estadio Victor Jara -Figueroa mutiny -First Ladies of Chile -Flach (submarine) -Forced disappearance -Frei family -Gabino Gainza -Garcia de Nodal expedition -Government Junta of Chile (1924) -Government Juntas of Chile -Heroes (Chilean miniseries) -History of Chile -History of Chile during the Parliamentary Era (1891-1925) -Huaso (horse) -Ines de Suarez -John E. Hamm -Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia -Kingdom of Chile -Leighton case -Letelier case -Liberal-Conservative Fusion (Chile) -List of archaeological sites in Chile -List of major political scandals in Chile -List of presidents of Chile -Lonco -Maitland Plan -Mapuche -Maria Callcott -Marusia massacre -Michael Townley -Missing (film) -Montt family -National Party (Chile) -Norte Grande insurrection -Nueva Extremadura -Occupation of the Araucania -Operation Colombo -Operation Condor -Operation TOUCAN (KGB) -Paul Schafer -Pedro de Valdivia -Project Cybersyn -Project FUBELT -Ranquil massacre -Rettig Report -Royal Governor of Chile -Saber noise -Sailors' mutiny -Schneider Doctrine -Scorpion scandal -Seguro Obrero massacre -Supreme director -Tacnazo insurrection -Tanquetazo -Timeline of Chilean history -Toqui -Valech Report -Valparaiso bombardment -Villa Grimaldi

Other pages about Indigenous peoples in Chile

-Alacaluf -Aymara ethnic group -Chono -Diaguita -Fuegians -Mapuche -Patagon -Puelche -Rapanui -Selknam -Tehuelche -Yaghan

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Mapuche

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