Last updated
Mujeres mapuches en la entrega terreno a Comunidad Mapuche Lorenzo Quintrileo de Tirua.jpg
Mapuche women from Tirúa in 2015
Total population
c. 1,950,000
Regions with significant populations
Chile1,745,147 (2017) [1]
Argentina205,009 (2010) [2]
Traditional, Catholicism, Evangelicalism (less common), Jehovah's Witnesses
Related ethnic groups
People Mapuche
Language Mapudungun
Country Wallmapu

The Mapuche ( /mæˈpʊi/ [3] (Mapuche and Spanish: [maˈputʃe] )) is a group of native indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who share a common social, religious, and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their homelands once extended from Choapa Valley to the Chiloé Archipelago and later spread eastward to Puelmapu,[ clarification needed ] a land comprising part of the Argentine pampa and Patagonia. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile and about 9% of the total Chilean population. The Mapuche are concentrated in the Araucanía region. Many have migrated from rural areas to the cities of Santiago and Buenos Aires for economic opportunities.


The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organization consists of extended families, under the direction of a lonko or chief. In times of war, the Mapuche would unite in larger groupings and elect a toki (meaning "axe" or "axe-bearer") to lead them. Mapuche material culture is known for its textiles and silverwork.

At the time of Spanish arrival, the Picunche inhabited the valleys between the Choapa and Itata, Araucanian Mapuche inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers, south of there, the Huilliche and the Cunco lived as far south as the Chiloé Archipelago. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and Pampas, conquering, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poya and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the Pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranquel, 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, during which Patagonia came under effective Mapuche suzerainty.

Mapuche in the Spanish-ruled areas, especially the Picunche, mingled with the Spanish during the colonial period, forming a mestizo population that lost its indigenous identity. But Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the late nineteenth century, when Chile occupied Araucanía and Argentina conquered Puelmapu. Since then the Mapuche have become subjects, and later nationals and citizens of the respective states. Today, many Mapuche and Chilean communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights in both Argentina and Chile.


Euler diagram of Mapuche ethnicities. Historical denominations no longer in use are shown with white fields. Groups that adopted Mapuche language and culture or that have partial Mapuche descent are shown in the periphery of the main magenta-colored field. Mapuche macro-ethnicity.png
Euler diagram of Mapuche ethnicities. Historical denominations no longer in use are shown with white fields. Groups that adopted Mapuche language and culture or that have partial Mapuche descent are shown in the periphery of the main magenta-colored field.

Historically, the Spanish colonizers of South America referred to the Mapuche people as Araucanians ( /ærɔːˈkniənz/ , [4] araucanos). This term is now considered pejorative [5] by some people. For others, the importance of the term Araucanian lies in the universality of the epic work La Araucana , [6] written by Alonso de Ercilla, and the feats of that people in their long and interminable war against the Spanish Empire. The name is probably derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco), meaning "clayey water". [7] [8] The Quechua word awqa, meaning "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano. [7]

Scholars believe that the various Mapuche groups (Moluche, Huilliche, Picunche, etc.) called themselves Reche during the early Spanish colonial period, due to what they referred to as their pure native blood, derived from Re meaning pure and Che meaning people. [9]

The name "Mapuche" is used both to refer collectively to the Picunche, Huilliche, and Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía, at other times, exclusively to the Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía. However, Mapuche is a relatively recent endonym meaning "People of the Earth" or "Children of the Earth", "mapu" means earth, and "che" means person. It is preferred as a term when referring to the "Mapuche" people after the Arauco War. [10]

The Mapuche identify by the geography of their territories, such as:


Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's picture of the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right) MapvsInc.JPG
Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's picture of the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right)

Pre-Columbian period

Archaeological finds have shown that Mapuche culture existed in Chile and Argentina as early as 600 to 500 BC. [13] Genetically the Mapuche differ from the adjacent indigenous peoples of Patagonia. [14] This suggests a "different origin or long-lasting separation of Mapuche and Patagonian populations". [14]

Troops of the Inca Empire are reported to have reached the Maule River and had a battle with the Mapuche between the Maule and the Itata Rivers there. [15] The southern border of the Inca Empire is believed by most modern scholars to have been situated between Santiago and the Maipo River, or somewhere between Santiago and the Maule River. [16] Thus the bulk of the Mapuche escaped Inca rule. Through their contact with Incan invaders Mapuches would have for the first time met people with state organizations. Their contact with the Incas gave them a collective awareness distinguishing between them and the invaders and uniting them into loose geo-political units despite their lack of state organization. [17]

At the time of the arrival of the first Spaniards to Chile, the largest indigenous population concentration was in the area spanning from the Itata River to Chiloé Island  that is the Mapuche heartland. [18] The Mapuche population between Itata River and Reloncaví Sound has been estimated at 705,000–900,000 in the mid-sixteenth century by historian José Bengoa. [19] [note 1]

Distribution of pre-Hispanic people of Chile Pueblos indigenas de Chile.svg
Distribution of pre-Hispanic people of Chile

Arauco War

The Spanish expansion into Mapuche territory was an offshoot of the conquest of Peru. [20] In 1536, Diego de Almagro set out to conquer Chile, after crossing the Itata River they were intercepted by a numerous contingent of Araucanian Mapuche armed with many bows and pikes in the Battle of Reynogüelén. Discouraged by the ferocity of the Mapuches, and the apparent lack of gold and silver in these lands, Almagro decided its full retreat the following year to Peru. In 1541, Pedro de Valdivia reached Chile from Cuzco and founded Santiago. [21] The northern Mapuche tribes, known as Promaucaes and Picunches, fought commanded by Michimalonco against Spanish conquest. His most famous stain is the Destruction of Santiago. Little more is known about their resistance. [22]

Painting El joven Lautaro of Pedro Subercaseaux, shows the military genius and expertise of his people. El joven Lautaro - P. Subercaseaux.PNG
Painting El joven Lautaro of Pedro Subercaseaux, shows the military genius and expertise of his people.

In 1550, Pedro de Valdivia, who aimed to control all of Chile to the Straits of Magellan, campaigned in south-central Chile to conquer more Mapuche territory. [23] Between 1550 and 1553, the Spanish founded several cities [note 2] in Mapuche lands including Concepción, Valdivia, Imperial, Villarrica, and Angol. [23] The Spanish also established the forts of Arauco, Purén, and Tucapel. [23] Further efforts by the Spanish to gain more territory engaged them in the Arauco War against the Mapuche, a sporadic conflict that lasted nearly 350 years. Hostility towards the conquerors was compounded by the lack of a tradition of forced labor akin to the Inca mit'a among the Mapuche, who largely refused to serve the Spanish. [25]

From their establishment in 1550 to 1598, the Mapuche frequently laid siege to Spanish settlements in Araucanía. [24] In 1553, the Mapuches held a council at which they resolved to make war. They chose as their "toqui" (wartime chief) an strong man called Caupolicán and as his vice toqui Lautaro, because he had served as an auxiliary to the Spanish cavalry; he created the first Mapuche cavalry corps. With six thousand warriors under his command, Lautaro attacked the fort at Tucapel. The Spanish garrison was unable to withstand the assault and retreated to Purén. Lautaro seized and burned the fort and prepared his army certain that the Spaniards would attempt to retake Tucapel. Valdivia mounted a counter-attack, but he was quickly surrounded. He and his army was massacred by the Mapuches in the Battle of Tucapel. [26] In 1554 Lautaro went to destroy Concepción where in the Battle of Marihueñu he defeated Governor Villagra and devastated the city. In 1555 Lautaro went to the city of Angol and destroyed it, he also returned to Concepción, rebuilt by the Spanish and destroyed it again. In 1557 Lautaro headed with his army to destroy Santiago, fighting numerous battles with the Spanish along the way, but he and his army were devastated in the Battle of Mataquito.

From 1558 to 1598 war was mostly a low-intensity conflict. [27] Mapuche numbers decreased significantly following contact with the Spanish invaders; wars and epidemics decimated the population. [22] Others died in Spanish-owned gold mines. [25]

Caupolican by Nicanor Plaza Grabado Caupolican-Nicanor Plaza.jpg
Caupolican by Nicanor Plaza

In 1598 a party of warriors from Purén led by Pelantaro, who were returning south from a raid in the Chillán area, ambushed Governor Martín García Óñez de Loyola and his troops [28] while they rested without taking any precautions against attack. Almost all the Spaniards died, save a cleric named Bartolomé Pérez, who was taken prisoner, and a soldier named Bernardo de Pereda. The Mapuche then initiated a general uprising that destroyed all the cities in their homeland south of the Biobío River.

In the years following the Battle of Curalaba, a general uprising developed among the Mapuches and Huilliches led to the Destruction of the Seven Cities. The Spanish cities of Angol, Imperial, Osorno, Santa Cruz de Oñez, Valdivia, and Villarrica were either destroyed or abandoned. [29] The city of Castro was taken by a Dutch-Mapuche alliance in 1599, but reconquered by the Spanish in 1600. Only Chillán and Concepción resisted Mapuche sieges and raids. [30] Except for the Chiloé Archipelago, all Chilean territory south of the Bíobío River was freed from Spanish rule. [29] In this period the Mapuche Nation crossed the Andes to conquer the present Argentine provinces of Chubut, Neuquen, La Pampa, and Río Negro.[ citation needed ]

Incorporation into Chile and Argentina

Cornelio Saavedra Rodriguez in meeting with the main lonkos of Araucania in 1869 Ocupacion de la Araucania 1869.JPG
Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in meeting with the main lonkos of Araucania in 1869

In the nineteenth century, Chile experienced a fast territorial expansion. Chile established a colony at the Strait of Magellan in 1843, settled Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue with German immigrants, and conquered land from Peru and Bolivia. [31] [32] Later Chile would also annex Easter Island. [33] In this context, Araucanía began to be conquered by Chile due to two reasons. First, the Chilean state aimed for territorial continuity, [34] and second it remained the sole place for Chilean agriculture to expand. [35]

Between 1861 and 1871 Chile incorporated several Mapuche territories in Araucanía. In January 1881, having decisively defeated Peru in the battles of Chorrillos and Miraflores, Chile resumed the conquest of Araucanía. [36] [37] [38]

Historian Ward Churchill has claimed that the Mapuche population dropped from a total of half a million to 25,000 within a generation as a result of the occupation and its associated famine and disease. [39] The conquest of Araucanía caused numerous Mapuches to be displaced and forced to roam in search of shelter and food. [40] Scholar Pablo Miramán claims the introduction of state education during the Occupation of Araucanía had detrimental effects on traditional Mapuche education. [41]

Ancient flag of the Mapuche on the Arauco War. Lautaro flag.svg
Ancient flag of the Mapuche on the Arauco War.

In the years following the occupation the economy of Araucanía changed from being based on sheep and cattle herding to one based on agriculture and wood extraction. [42] The loss of land by Mapuches following the occupation caused severe erosion since Mapuches continued to practice a massive livestock herding in limited areas. [43]

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 2003, the Commission for Historical Truth and New Treatments issued a report to defuse tensions calling for drastic changes in Chile's treatment of its indigenous people, more than 80% 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 identities.[ citation needed ]

Though Japanese and Swiss interests are active in the economy of Araucanía (Ngulu Mapu), the two chief forestry companies are Chilean-owned.[ citation needed ] In the past, the firms have planted hundreds of thousands of hectares 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[ when? ] forgotten.[ citation needed ]

Chile exports wood to the United States, almost all of which comes from this southern region, with an annual value of around $600 million., 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.[ citation needed ]

In recent years[ when? ], the crimes committed by Mapuche armed insurgents have been prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation, originally introduced by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet to control political dissidents. 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. Insurgent groups, such as the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco, use multiple tactics with the more extreme occurrences such as the burning of homes, churches, vehicles, structures, and pastures, which at times included causing deaths and threats to specific targets. As of 2005, protesters from Mapuche communities have used these tactics against properties of both multinational forestry corporations and private individuals. [44] [45] In 2010 the Mapuche launched many hunger strikes in attempts to effect change in the anti-terrorism legislation. [46] As of 2019, the Chilean government committed human rights abuses against the Mapuche based on Israeli military techniques and surveillance according to the French website Orin21. [47]

Oil exploitation and fracking in the Vaca Muerta site in Neuquen, one of the biggest shale-oil and shale-gas deposits in the world, has produced waste dumps of sludge waste, polluting the environment close to the town of Añelo, which is about 1,200km south of Buenos Aires. In 2018, the Mapuche were suing Exxon, French company TotalEnergies and Pan American Energy. [48]


At the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Mapuche organized and constructed a network of forts and defensive buildings. Ancient Mapuche also built ceremonial constructions such as some earthwork mounds discovered near Purén. [49] Mapuche quickly adopted iron metal-working (Picunches already worked copper [50] ) Mapuche learned horse riding and the use of cavalry in war from the Spaniards, along with the cultivation of wheat and sheep.

In the 300-year co-existence between the Spanish colonies and the relatively well-delineated autonomous Mapuche regions, the Mapuche also developed a strong tradition of trading with Spaniards, Argentines, and Chileans. Such trade lies at the heart of the Mapuche silver-working tradition, for Mapuche wrought their jewelry from the large and widely dispersed quantity of Spanish, Argentine, and Chilean silver coins. Mapuche also made headdresses with coins, which were called trarilonko, etc.

Mapuche languages

Familia Mapuche
, by Claudio Gay, 1848. Mapuche telas y juegos.jpg
Familia Mapuche, by Claudio Gay, 1848.

Mapuche languages are spoken in Chile and Argentina. The two living branches are Huilliche and Mapudungun. Although not genetically related, lexical influence has been discerned from Quechua. Linguists estimate that only about 200,000 full-fluency speakers remain in Chile. The language 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.

Mapuche speakers of Chilean Spanish who also speak Mapudungun tend to use more impersonal pronouns when speaking Spanish. [51]

Cosmology and beliefs

A council of Araucanian philosophers, 1904 A council of araucanian philosophers (1904).jpg
A council of Araucanian philosophers, 1904

Central to Mapuche cosmology is the idea of a creator called ngenechen, who is embodied in four components: an older man (fucha/futra/cha chau), an older woman (kude/kuse), a young man, and a young woman. They believe in worlds known as the Wenu Mapu and Minche Mapu. Also, Mapuche cosmology is informed by complex notions of spirits that coexist with humans and animals in the natural world, and daily circumstances can dictate spiritual practices. [52]

The most well-known Mapuche ritual ceremony is the Ngillatun, which loosely translates as "to pray" or "general prayer". These ceremonies are often major communal events that are of extreme spiritual and social importance. Many other ceremonies are practiced, and not all are for public or communal participation but are sometimes limited to family.

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

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 regional medicinal herbs. As biodiversity in the Chilean countryside has declined due to commercial agriculture and forestry, the dissemination of such knowledge has also declined, but the Mapuche people are reviving it in their communities. Machis have an extensive knowledge of sacred stones and sacred animals.

The daughter of lonko Quilapan Hija del Cacique Quilpran, en 1868.jpg
The daughter of lonko Quilapán

Like many cultures, the Mapuche have a deluge myth (epeu) of a major flood 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 cannibalism. At last, only one couple is left. A machi tells them that they must give their only child to the waters, which they do, and this restores order to the world.

Part of the Mapuche ritual is prayer and animal sacrifice, required to maintain the cosmic balance. This belief has continued to current times. In 1960, for example, a machi sacrificed a young boy, throwing him into the water after an earthquake and a tsunami. [53] [54] [55]

The Mapuche have incorporated the remembered history of their long independence and resistance from 1540 (Spanish and then Chileans and Argentines) and of the treaty with the Chilean and Argentine governments in the 1870s. 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. At the same time, a large majority of Mapuche in Chile identify with the state as Chilean, similar to a large majority in Argentina identifying as Argentines.[ citation needed ]


Height of a chemamull
(Mapuche funeral statue) compared to a person. Che mamull proporcion.svg
Height of a chemamull (Mapuche funeral statue) compared to a person.

Ceremonies and traditions

We Tripantu is the Mapuche New Year celebration.


Traditional Mapuche poncho exhibited in Museo Artesania Chilena. Artesania Chilena - Manta Mapuche.jpg
Traditional Mapuche poncho exhibited in Museo Artesanía Chilena.

One of the best-known arts of the Mapuche is their textiles. The oldest data on textiles in the southernmost areas of the American continent (southern Chile and Argentina today) are found in some archaeological excavations, such as those of Pitrén Cemetery near the city of Temuco, and the Alboyanco site in the Biobío Region, both of Chile; and the Rebolledo Arriba Cemetery in Neuquén Province (Argentina). researchers have found evidence of fabrics made with complex techniques and designs, dated between AD 1300–1350. [56]

The Mapuche women were responsible for spinning and weaving. Knowledge of both weaving techniques and textile patterns particular to the locality was usually transmitted within the family, with mothers, grandmothers, and aunts teaching a girl the skills they had learned from their elders. Women who excelled in the textile arts were highly honored for their accomplishments and contributed economically and culturally to their kinship group. A measure of the importance of weaving is evident in the expectation that a man gives a larger dowry for a bride who was an accomplished weaver. [57]

In addition, the Mapuche used their textiles as an important surplus and an exchange trading good. Numerous sixteenth-century accounts describe their bartering the textiles with other indigenous peoples, and with colonists in newly developed settlements. Such trading enabled the Mapuche to obtain those goods that they did not produce or held in high esteem, such as horses. Tissue volumes made by Aboriginal women and marketed in the Araucanía and the north of Patagonia Argentina were considerable and constituted a vital economic resource for indigenous families. [58] The production of fabrics in the time before European settlement was intended for uses beyond domestic consumption. [59]

At present, the fabrics woven by the Mapuche continue to be used for domestic purposes, as well as for gift, sale, or barter. Most Mapuche women and their families now wear garments with foreign designs and tailored with materials of industrial origin, but they continue to weave ponchos, blankets, bands, and belts for regular use. Many of the fabrics are woven for trade, and in many cases, are an important source of income for families. [60] Glazed pots are used to dye the wool. [61] [ unreliable source? ] Many Mapuche women continue to weave fabrics according to the customs of their ancestors and transmit their knowledge in the same way: within domestic life, from mother to daughter, and from grandmothers to granddaughters. 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. Knowledge is transmitted as the fabric is woven, the weaving and transmission of knowledge go together. [57]

Clava hand-club

Monument in the form of a gigantic clava mere okewa, located in Avenida Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, Canete, Chile Clava symbol in Canete, Chile.JPG
Monument in the form of a gigantic clava mere okewa, located in Avenida Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, Cañete, Chile

There is a traditional stone hand club used by the Mapuche which has been called a clava (Spanish for club). It has a long flat body. Another name is clava mere okewa; in Spanish, it may also be called a clava cefalomorfa. It has some ritual importance as a special sign of distinction carried by tribal chiefs. Many kinds of clubs are known.

This is an object associated with masculine power. It consists of a disk with an attached handle; the edge of the disc usually has a semicircular recess. In many cases, the face portrayed on the disc carries incised designs. The handle is cylindrical, generally with a larger diameter at its connection to the disk. [62] [63]


Drawing of a trapelacucha, a silver finery piece. Trapelacucha drawing.svg
Drawing of a trapelacucha, a silver finery piece.

In the later half of the eighteenth century, Mapuche silversmiths began to produce large amounts of silver finery. [64] The surge of silversmithing activity may be related to the 1726 parliament of Negrete that decreased hostilities between Spaniards and Mapuches and allowed trade to increase between colonial Chile and the free Mapuches. [64] In this context of increasing trade Mapuches began in the late eighteenth century to accept payments in silver coins for their products, usually cattle or horses. [64] These coins and silver coins obtained in political negotiations served as raw material for Mapuche metalsmiths (Mapudungun : rüxafe). [64] [65] [66] Old Mapuche silver pendants often included unmelted silver coins, something that has helped modern researchers to date the objects. [65] The bulk of the Spanish silver coins originated from mining in Potosí in Upper Peru. [66]

The great diversity in silver finery designs is because designs were made to be identified with different reynma (families), lof mapu (lands) as well as specific lonkos and machis . [67] Mapuche silver finery was also subject to changes in fashion albeit designs associated with philosophical and spiritual concepts have not undergone major changes. [67]

In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, Mapuche silversmithing activity and artistic diversity reached its climax. [68] All important Mapuche chiefs of the nineteenth century are supposed to have had at least one silversmith. [64] By 1984 Mapuche scholar Carlos Aldunate noted that there were no silversmiths alive among contemporary Mapuches. [64]


The Mapuche culture of the sixteenth century had an oral tradition and lacked a writing system. Since that time, a writing system for Mapudungun was developed, and Mapuche writings in both Spanish and Mapudungun have flourished. [69] Contemporary Mapuche literature can be said to be composed of an oral tradition and Spanish-Mapudungun bilingual writings. [69] Notable Mapuche poets include Sebastián Queupul, Pedro Alonzo, Elicura Chihuailaf, and Leonel Lienlaf. [69]

Cogender views

Among the Mapuche in La Araucanía, in addition to heterosexual female machi shamanesses, there are homosexual male machi weye shamans, who wear female clothing. [70] [71] [72] These machi weye were first described in Spanish in a chronicle of 1673. [73] Among the Mapuche, "the spirits are interested in machi's gendered discourses and performances, not in the sex under the machi's clothes". [74] In attracting the filew (possessing spirit), "Both male and female machi become spiritual brides who seduce and call their filew – at once husband and master – to possess their heads ... The ritual transvestism of male machi ... draws attention to the relational gender categories of spirit husband and machi wife as a couple (kurewen)." [75] As concerning "co-gendered identities" [76] of "machi as co-gender specialists", [77] it has been speculated that "female berdaches" may have formerly existed among the Mapuche. [78]

Mapuche, Chileans and the Chilean state

Following the independence of Chile in the 1810s, the Mapuche began to be perceived as Chilean by other Chileans, contrasting with previous perceptions of them as a separate people or nation. [79] However, not everybody agreed; 19th-century Argentine writer and president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento presented his view of the Mapuche-Chile relation by stating: [80]

Between two Chilean provinces (Concepción and Valdivia) there is a piece of land that is not a province, its language is different, it is inhabited by other people and it can still be said that it is not part of Chile. Yes, Chile is the name of the country over where its flag waves and its laws are obeyed.

Civilizing mission discourses and scientific racism

Painting by Raymond Monvoisin showing Elisa Bravo who was said to have survived the 1849 wreck of Joven Daniel to be then kidnapped by Mapuches. Monvoisin, Raymond - Naufragio del Joven Daniel -f02 det.jpg
Painting by Raymond Monvoisin showing Elisa Bravo who was said to have survived the 1849 wreck of Joven Daniel to be then kidnapped by Mapuches.

The events surrounding the wreck of Joven Daniel at the coast of Araucanía in 1849 are considered an "inflection point" or "point of no return" in the relations between Mapuches and the Chilean state. [81] It cemented views of Mapuches as brutal barbarians and showed in the view of many that Chilean authorities' earlier goodwill was naive. [81] [82]

There are various recorded instances in the nineteenth century when Mapuches were the subject of civilizing mission discourses by elements of the Chilean government and military. For example, Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez called in 1861 for Mapuches to submit to Chilean state authority and "enter into reduction and civilization". [83] When the Mapuches were finally defeated in 1883 President Domingo Santa María declared: [84]

The country has with satisfaction seen the problem of the reduction of the whole Araucanía solved. This event, so important to our social and political life, and so significant for the future of the republic, has ended, happily and with costly and painful sacrifices. Today the whole Araucanía is subjugated, more than to the material forces, to the moral and civilizing force of the republic ...

The Chilean race, as everybody knows, is a mestizo race made of Spanish conquistadors and the Araucanian ...

Nicolás Palacios in La raza chilena, p. 34.

After the War of the Pacific (1879–1883) there was a rise of racial and national superiority ideas among the Chilean ruling class. [85] It was in this context that Chilean physician Nicolás Palacios hailed the Mapuche "race" arguing from a scientific racist and nationalist point of view. He considered the Mapuche superior to other tribes and the Chilean mestizo a blend of Mapuches and Visigothic elements from Spain. [86] The writings of Palacios became later influential among Chilean Nazis. [87]

As a result of the Occupation of Araucanía (1861–1883) and the War of the Pacific, Chile had incorporated territories with new indigenous populations. Mapuches obtained relatively favourable views as "primordial" Chileans contrasting with other indigenous peoples like the Aymara who were perceived as "foreign elements". [88]

Contemporary attitudes

Since some four years ago a History of the Civilization in Araucanía has been published in the said Anales in which our indigenous ancestors are treated like savages, cruel, depraved, lacking morals, lacking warrior skills ...

Nicolás Palacios, La raza chilena, p. 62.

Contemporary attitudes towards Mapuches on the part of non-indigenous people in Chile are highly individual and heterogeneous. Nevertheless, a considerable part of the non-indigenous people in Chile have a prejudiced and discriminatory attitude towards Mapuche. In a 2003 study, it was found that among the sample, 41% of people over 60 years old, 35% of people of low socioeconomic standing, 35% of the supporters of right-wing parties, 36% of Protestants, and 26% of Catholics were prejudiced against indigenous peoples in Chile. In contrast, only 8% of those who attended university, 16% of supporters of left-wing parties, and 19% of people aged 18–29 were prejudiced. [89] Specific prejudices about the Mapuche are that the Mapuches are lazy and alcoholic; to some lesser degree, Mapuche are sometimes judged antiquated and dirty. [90]

In the 20th century, many Mapuche women migrated to large cities to work as domestic workers (Spanish : nanas mapuches). In Santiago, many of these women settled in Cerro Navia and La Pintana. [91] Sociologist Éric Fassin has called the occurrence of Mapuche domestic workers a continuation of colonial relations of servitude. [92]

Wenufoye flag created in 1992 by the indigenist organization "Consejo de Todas las Tierras". Flag of the Mapuches (1992).svg
Wenufoye flag created in 1992 by the indigenist organization "Consejo de Todas las Tierras".

Historian Gonzalo Vial claimed that the Republic of Chile owes a "historical debt" to the Mapuche. The Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco claims to have the goal of a "national liberation" of Mapuche, with their regaining sovereignty over their lands. [79] Reportedly there is a tendency among female Mapuche activists to reject feminism as they consider their struggle to go beyond gender. [91]

Mapuches and the Argentine state

Flag of Argentinian Tehuelche-Mapuche Tehuelche flag.svg
Flag of Argentinian Tehuelche-Mapuche

19th-century Argentine authorities aiming to incorporate the Pampas and Patagonia into national territory recognized the Puelmapu Mapuche's strong connections with Chile. This gave Chile a certain influence over the Pampas. Argentine authorities feared that in an eventual war with Chile over Patagonia, Mapuches would align themselves with Chile. [93] In this context, Estanislao Zeballos published the work La Conquista de quince mil leguas (The Fifteen Thousand League Conquest) in 1878, which had been commissioned by the Argentine Ministry of War. In La Conquista de quince mil leguas Mapuches were presented as Chileans who were bound to return to Chile. [94] Mapuches were thus indirectly considered foreign enemies. [94] Such a notion fitted well with the expansionist designs of Nicolás Avellaneda and Julio Argentino Roca for Puelmapu. [94] The notion of Mapuches as Chileans is however an anachronism as Mapuches precede the formation of the modern state of Chile. [94] By 1920 Argentine Nacionalismo revived the idea of Mapuches being Chileans, in strong contrast with 20th-century scholars based in Chile such as Ricardo E. Latcham and Francisco Antonio Encina who advanced a theory that Mapuches originated east of the Andes before penetrating what came to be Chile. [13] [94]

As late as 2017 Argentine historian Roberto E. Porcel wrote in a communiqué to the National Academy of History that those who often claim to be Mapuches in Argentina would be rather Mestizos, emboldened by European-descent supporters, who "lack any right for their claims and violence, not only for NOT being most of them Araucanians [sic], but also because they [the Araucanians] do not rank among our indigenous peoples". [95]

Modern politics

In the 2017 Chilean general election, the first two Mapuche women were elected to the Chilean Congress; Aracely Leuquén Uribe from National Renewal and Emilia Nuyado from the Socialist Party. [96]

See also


  1. Note that Chiloé Archipelago with its large population is not included in this estimate.
  2. These "cities" were often no more than forts. [24]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lautaro</span> 16th-century leader of the Mapuche people

Lautaro was a young Mapuche toqui known for leading the indigenous resistance against Spanish conquest in Chile and developing the tactics that would continue to be employed by the Mapuche during the long-running Arauco War. Levtaru was captured by Spanish forces in his early youth, and he spent his teenage years as a personal servant of chief conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, but escaped in 1551. Back among his people he was declared toqui and led Mapuche warriors into a series of victories against the Spanish, culminating in the Battle of Tucapel in December 1553, where Pedro of Valdivia was killed. The outbreak of a typhus plague, a drought and a famine prevented the Mapuche from taking further actions to expel the Spanish in 1554 and 1555. Between 1556 and 1557, a small group of Mapuche commanded by Levtaru attempted to reach Santiago to liberate the whole of Central Chile from Spanish rule. Levtaru's attempts ended in 1557 when he was killed in an ambush by the Spanish.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mapuche language</span> Araucanian language

Mapuche ; from mapu 'land' and dungun 'speak, speech') is an Araucanian language related to Huilliche spoken in south-central Chile and west-central Argentina by the Mapuche people. It is also spelled Mapuzugun and Mapudungu. It was formerly known as Araucanian, the name given to the Mapuche by the Spaniards; the Mapuche avoid it as a remnant of Spanish colonialism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Araucanía Region</span> Region of Chile

The Araucanía, La Araucanía Region is one of Chile's 16 first-order administrative divisions, and comprises two provinces: Malleco in the north and Cautín in the south. Its capital and largest city is Temuco; other important cities include Angol and Villarrica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia</span> Self proclaimed unrecognized state

The Kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia, sometimes referred to as Kingdom of New France was an unrecognized state declared by two ordinances on November 17, 1860 and November 20, 1860 from Antoine de Tounens, a French lawyer and adventurer, who claimed that the regions of Araucanía and eastern Patagonia did not depend of any other states and proclaimed himself king of Araucanía and Patagonia. He had the support of some Mapuche lonkos around a small area in Araucanía, who thought they could help maintain independence from the Chilean and Argentine governments.

The Picunche, also referred to as picones by the Spanish, were a Mapudungun-speaking people living to the north of the Mapuches or Araucanians and south of the Choapa River and the Diaguitas. Until the Conquest of Chile the Itata was the natural limit between the Mapuche, located to the south, and Picunche, to the north. During the Inca attempt to conquer Chile the southern Picunche peoples that successfully resisted them were later known as the Promaucaes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arauco War</span> Conflict between Spanish settlers of Chile and indigenous peoples (16th–17th centuries)

The Arauco War was a long-running conflict between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people, mostly fought in the Araucanía region of Chile. The conflict began at first as a reaction to the Spanish conquerors attempting to establish cities and force Mapuches into servitude. It subsequently evolved over time into phases comprising drawn-out sieges, slave-hunting expeditions, pillaging raids, punitive expeditions, and renewed Spanish attempts to secure lost territories. Abduction of women and war rape was common on both sides.

The Araucanian languages are a small language family of indigenous languages of the Americas spoken in central Chile and neighboring areas of Argentina. The living representatives of this family are Mapudungun and Huilliche, spoken respectively by the Mapuche and Huilliche people. These are usually considered divergent dialects of a single language isolate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Occupation of Araucanía</span> Incorporation of Araucanía into Chile

The Occupation of Araucanía or Pacification of Araucanía (1861–1883) was a series of military campaigns, agreements and penetrations by the Chilean army and settlers into Mapuche territory which led to the incorporation of Araucanía into Chilean national territory. Pacification of Araucanía was the expression used by the Chilean authorities for this process. The conflict was concurrent with Argentine campaigns against the Mapuche (1878–1885) and Chile's wars with Spain (1865–1866) and with Peru and Bolivia (1879–1883).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conquest of Chile</span> Period of Chilean history, 1541-1600, period of Spanish conquest

The Conquest of Chile is a period in Chilean historiography that starts with the arrival of Pedro de Valdivia to Chile in 1541 and ends with the death of Martín García Óñez de Loyola in the Battle of Curalaba in 1598, and the destruction of the Seven Cities in 1598–1604 in the Araucanía region.

Cuncos, Juncos or Cunches is a poorly known subgroup of Huilliche people native to coastal areas of southern Chile and the nearby inland. Mostly a historic term, Cuncos are chiefly known for their long-running conflict with the Spanish during the colonial era of Chilean history.

The Moluche or Nguluche are an indigenous people of Chile. Their language was a dialect of Mapudungun, a Mapuche language. At the beginning of the Conquest of Chile by the Spanish Empire the Moluche lived in what came to be known as Araucanía. The Moluche were called Araucanos ("Araucanians") by the Spanish.

Butalmapu or Fütalmapu is the name in Mapudungun for "great land", which were one of the great confederations wherein the Mapuche people organized themselves in case of war. These confederations corresponded to the great geographic areas inhabited by the Mapuches in Chile.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco</span> Indigenist organization

Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM) is a radical, militant indigenous organization engaged in political violence in pursuit of attaining an autonomous Mapuche state in the territory they describe as Wallmapu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colonial Chile</span> Period of Chilean history from 1600 to 1810

In Chilean historiography, Colonial Chile is the period from 1600 to 1810, beginning with the Destruction of the Seven Cities and ending with the onset of the Chilean War of Independence. During this time, the Chilean heartland was ruled by Captaincy General of Chile. The period was characterized by a lengthy conflict between Spaniards and native Mapuches known as the Arauco War. Colonial society was divided in distinct groups including Peninsulars, Criollos, Mestizos, Indians and Black people.

Mapuche flag is each of the flags used as an emblem and symbol of the Mapuche Nation and the Mapuche communities and organizations in Chile and Argentina. There are several different flags representing the Mapuche communities and territories.

Mañil or Magnil was a Mapuche lonko who fought in the 1851 Chilean Revolution and led an uprising in 1859. He was the main chief of the Arribanos and the father of Quilapán who led Mapuche forces in the Occupation of Araucanía.

The last major rebellion of the indigenous Mapuches of Araucanía took place in 1881, during the last phase of the Occupation of Araucanía (1861–1883) by the Chilean state. It was planned by Mapuche chiefs in March 1881 to be launched in November the same year. Mapuche support for the uprising was not unanimous: Some Mapuche factions sided with the Chileans and others declared themselves neutral. The organizers of the uprising did however succeed in involving Mapuche factions that had not previously been at war with Chile. With most of the attacks repelled within a matters of days Chile went on the next years to consolidate its conquests.

As an archaeological culture, the Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history which dates back to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society underwent great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. These changes included the adoption of Old World crops and animals and the onset of a rich Spanish–Mapuche trade in La Frontera and Valdivia. Despite these contacts Mapuche were never completely subjugated by the Spanish Empire. Between the 18th and 19th century Mapuche culture and people spread eastwards into the Pampas and the Patagonian plains. This vast new territory allowed Mapuche groups to control a substantial part of the salt and cattle trade in the Southern Cone.

The origin of the Mapuche has been a matter of research for over a century. The genetics of the Mapuche do not show overly clear affinities with any other known indigenous group in the Americas, and the same goes for linguistics, where the Mapuche language is considered a language isolate. Archaeological evidence shows Mapuche culture has existed in Chile at least since 600 to 500 BC. Mapuches are late arrivals in their southernmost and easternmost (Pampas) areas of settlement, yet Mapuche history in the north towards Atacama Desert may be older than historic settlement suggest. The Mapuche has received significant influence from Pre-Incan (Tiwanaku?), Incan and Spanish peoples, but deep origins of the Mapuche predates these contacts. Contact and conflict with the Spanish Empire are thought by scholars such as Tom Dillehay and José Bengoa to have had a profound impact on the shaping of the Mapuche ethnicity.

Pascual Coña was a Mapuche man from the region of Budi Lake, Chile, who narrated in Mapudungun the story of his life and the Mapuche customs of the time to the Capuchin missionary Ernesto Wilhelm de Moesbach.


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Further reading