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Mapuche People

Machi Mapuche

The Mapuche people are the largest indigenous people in Chile.

With a population reaching nearly a half a million people, they still maintain their language, Mapudungun, and large part of their culture, characterized by familiar and religious bonds, which identify them as a real nation.

Before the Inca expansion, the Mapuche people occupied the entire central valley zone. Under the pressure of the Atacameño people from the north, they were partially retreated to the south.

The Mapuche people resisted the Spanish conquest and dominance longer than any other indigenous people in America . Their resistance was based on the defense of their land, or mapu. The people, che, was organized in a fragmentary system stood for the autonomy of their clans and of their social units organized upon their territory and culture.

The lack of a central political authority, due to the fact that power was placed in the hands of local chiefs and wide territorial locations, worked as an obstacle for the Spanish invasion and against the success of the conquest.


Palín Bollilco Mapu Mew

Palin is a communal game practiced by the Mapuches aimed to strengthen friendship between a Lonko and his lof or between two communities. Although the palin is a competition, the encounter and celebration are emphasized, a good reason for avoiding physical damage. Religious ceremonies, dancing and food accompany the game.

The game is played in a large narrow field called paliwe, measuring approximately 90 to 100 meters long by 6 to 10 meters wide. It is played with a wooden or leather ball, or pali, and a 1,2 to 1,3 meters long, curved stick, called wüño.

Each team has a representative who occupies the center of the field, and who also acts as a referee. At the center, a small hole is dug, where the pali is placed. Facing the hole, each team forms a line. The lonko palife, or leaders of the teams, must take the pali out. The players, or palife, dispute the pali, trying to throw it to the opposite border line of paliwe.

Warlike People

Before the war against the Spaniards, the Mapuches engaged in tribal warfare, using weapons such as bow and arrows, spears, slingshots, stone balls and mace made of wood or stone, known as macanas.

The War Covenant among the different local groups was ratified in a ceremony where a black llama was sacrificed, and its blood drained. The meat was pierced with spears and arrows and it was then eaten to celebrate the alliance. The winning party either kept their enemies as slaves, or killed them. Defeated chiefs were decapitated, hanging their heads on spears. Victory was celebrated in an open field around a Canelo tree. Around this sacred tree, men and women danced covered with animal skins. They danced, ate and drank large amounts of maqui or corn beer. During the war against the Spanish Conquest, arose the Aillarewe, a more complex social organization led by a Toki, or military leader. Father Luis de Valdivia uses the term rewe to designate a local group and aillirewe, nine rewes, to refer to the wider group.


traditional house, ruka

The traditional house, ruka, has a single door, open towards the east, an orientation which expresses the cosmological preference of the Mapuche for Puelmapu (Land of the East), where the deities reside. The ruka has no windows. Inside, the sleeping place is by the internal wall while in the center lies the kutral, or open hearth. Soot blackens the wall and smoke floods the Mapuche home coming out through the güllonruka, two openings on each side of the gables. In the interior there is space to store food and there are many domestic artifacts, which hang from the ceiling and wall. The most characteristic artifacts are:

- The wenku (bench), a small settle carved from a solid block of wood.

- The witral, or loom, is placed near the ruka entry. During the bad weather the witral is used indoors, and outdoors with good weather.

The smoke and the grease from cooking turn the ruka water proof, sealing the straw-made roof and, even, forming stalactites of soot. The fire is permanently lit in the center. The construction of the ruka was celebrated with the rukatun, a house building ritual with dancers wearing wooden masks known as kollón.


Mapuche Family

The family is the main focus of the Mapuche social organization.

Before of Spanish conquest, the people of the Central-South area lived in a sort of matriarchy. The sons carried the name and the totem of their mothers (the husband living with his wife family). However, by the Spanish conquest, men were already family heads, even though the children still carried their mothers' names. From then onwards change was accelerated and wives went to live with their husbands families. Since then the patriarchy and virilocal concept has predominated. The Mapuche totem was the representation of a common tribal ancestor, not a god nor a representation of a spiritual figure.

Mapuche people had no villages; they spread out, in families, the same as they do to this very day. The lof, the residential unit, recognized a common origin, together they formed a kawin, and these formed a levo. A lof was a group of families that carried the same totem. The levos celebrated democratic assemblies where the authorities were elected.

Mapuche Origins

Villarrica volcano

The Mapuche remote origins comes from the large Mongolian ethnic group which arrived in America 1000 BC. Later on they would have branched off from the Andean subgroup. Three hypothesis have been formulated about the Mapuche origin:

1. Menghin (1909) proposes an Amazonian origin. Similarities in culture and language with the Amazon peoples suggest a link with a tropical subgroup, which later settled in the Andes.

2. Latchman (1924) proposes that the Mapuche people crossed The Andean mountains from the other side.. As a foreign ethnic group they settled in the zone of the Bio-Bio and Toltén rivers between the Pikunche and Williche people. Due to archaeological findings, especially ceramics, this theory has been discarded: the Mapuche ceramic is a clearly influenced by the Atacameño and Diaguita people, what is confirmed by the Tirúa and Pitren ceramic findings.

3. Guevara (1925) bases on a migration from north to south. There is also archaeological and ethnographical evidence of similarity with the Tiwanaku culture.