AskDefine | Define Araucanian

Extensive Definition

Mapuche 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 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".
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 (from Mapudungun toki "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them.
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 Chiloé Island and later eastward to the Argentine pampa. The Mapuche (note that Mapuche can refer to the whole group of Picunches (people of the north), Huilliches and Mapuches from Araucanía or exclusively to Mapuches from Araucanía) inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén Rivers, as well as the Huilliche (people of the South), the Cuncos. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Mapuches expanded eastward into the Andes and pampas forming with the existing people the Poyas and Pehuenche. At about the same time ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranqueles and northern Aonikenk, called Patagons by Ferdinand Magellan, known now as Tehuelche, made contact with Mapuche groups, adopting their language and some culture (in what came to be called the Araucanization).



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 (Greenberg 1987, Key 1978), and yet others postulate an Araucanian-Mayan relationship (Stark 1970, Hamp 1971); Croese (1989, 1991) has advanced the hypothesis that it is related to Arawak. A recent study found that Mapuche pre-Columbian Araucana came from Polynesia by analysing their DNA; this suggests contact between the Mapuche and Polynesia. One of the earliest sites of human occupation in the Americas, Monte Verde, lies within what was later to become Huilliche territory, although there is currently no demonstrated link between the Monte Verde people and the Mapuche.

War of Arauco

The Mapuche successfully resisted many attempts by the Inca Empire to subjugate them, despite their lack of state organisation. 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. Here they were forced to establish a fortified border.
They fought against the Spaniards for over 300 years. Initial conquests of land by Spain in the late 16th century were repelled by the Mapuche, 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, but often allowed substantial trade and interchange between Mapuche and Spaniards or 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 revolted from the Spanish crown, some Mapuche chiefs sided with the colonists; most, however, regarded the matter with indifference. This lack of concern shows how 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 Bío-Bío River, although clashes occurred frequently.

Occupation of the Araucanía

Chilean population pressures increased on the Mapuche borders, and by the 1880s Chile extended both to the north and to the south of the Mapuche heartlands. 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. 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".
Using a combination of force and diplomacy, Chile's government obliged some Mapuche leaders to sign a treaty absorbing 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 half a million to 25,000 within a generation, though the latter figure has been called an exaggeration by several authorities. In the post-conquest period, however, there was 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 live in extreme poverty as a direct result of being conquered and expropriated.

Recent history

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 Traiguén 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 "Araucanía" 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 the military dictatorship, under 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 non-violent activist groups, which utilize various tactics, including the destruction of private property. Protestors from Mapuche communities have engaged in these tactics against multinational forestry corporations href=""> that are occupying territory, originally a part of the same Mapuche communities.
Over the past decade, numerous protests have taken place in the Araucania region. These protests are quite frequent in the region, and Chilean police and paramilitary groups have responded against Mapuche activists with a disproportionate level of violence. This includes the murder of young unarmed Mapuche activists, Alex Lemún, in 2002, and Matías Catrileo in 2008. Numerous Mapuche youth are living in hiding due to the level of state repression against their communities.


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 but also ceremonial constructions such as some mounds recently discovered near Purén. They quickly adopted iron metal-working (they already worked copper ) 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, Araucanía 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.
A book by investigative journalist Patrick Tierney, The Highest Altar: Unveiling the Mystery of Human Sacrifice (1989) ISBN 9780140139747 , documents a possible modern ritual human sacrifice during the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1960 by a machi of the Mapuche in the Lago Budi community. The victim, 5 year old José Luis Painecur, had his arms and legs removed by Juan Pañán and Juan José Paincur(the victims grandfather), and was stuck into the sand of the beach like a stake. The waters of the Pacific Ocean then carried the body out to sea. The sacrifice was rumored to be at the behest of local machi, Juana Namuncurá Añen. The 2 men were charged with the crime and confessed, but later recanted. They were released after 2 years. A judge ruled that those involved in these events had "acted without free will, driven by an irresistible natural force of ancestral tradition." The story is also mentioned in a Time Magazine article from that year, although with much less detail.,9171,869529,00.html
The most important beliefs of the Mapuche are expressed in the tale Trentren Vilu y Caicai Vilu, and manifest in the Ngen and Pillan spirits, the Kalku and Wekufe (evil/illness) spirits, the Chonchon, the Piuchen, the Nguruvilu, and the 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

  • Language of the land : the Mapuche in Argentina and Chile:, 2007, ISBN 9788791563379
  • When a flower is reborn : the life and times of a Mapuche feminist, 2002, ISBN 0822329344
  • Courage tastes of blood : the Mapuche community of Nicolás Ailío 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:
Araucanian in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Мапучы
Araucanian in Catalan: Maputxe
Araucanian in Czech: Mapučové
Araucanian in Welsh: Mapuche
Araucanian in Danish: Mapuche
Araucanian in German: Mapuche
Araucanian in Spanish: Mapuche
Araucanian in Esperanto: Mapuche
Araucanian in Basque: Maputxe
Araucanian in French: Mapuches
Araucanian in Croatian: Mapuche
Araucanian in Italian: Mapuche
Araucanian in Hebrew: מפוצ'ה
Araucanian in Lithuanian: Mapučiai
Araucanian in Dutch: Mapuche
Araucanian in Japanese: マプチェ族
Araucanian in Norwegian: Mapuche
Araucanian in Norwegian Nynorsk: Mapuche
Araucanian in Polish: Araukanie
Araucanian in Portuguese: Araucanos
Araucanian in Quechua: Mapuchi
Araucanian in Russian: Арауканы
Araucanian in Slovak: Mapuče
Araucanian in Slovenian: Mapuči
Araucanian in Serbo-Croatian: Araukanci
Araucanian in Finnish: Mapuche
Araucanian in Swedish: Mapuche
Araucanian in Turkish: Mapuçe
Araucanian in Ukrainian: Мапуче
Araucanian in Chinese: 马普切人
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