Centro de Documentaciůn Mapuche Documentation Center

The Mapuche Indians of Chile: Politics, Resistance, & Tradition

By Laura Ann Moylan

Rowan University
Independent Study in Anthropology
Dr. Maria Rosado
Spring Semester: April 1999

        The Mapuche Indians are a very important tribe to remember in the Americas. They are one of the few tribes who have survived almost totally unchanged in their traditions. The Mapuche are a group of Amerinds who are from Chile, and there are some that live in Argentina as well. The reason why I chose this topic is that 1.) It is interesting. 2.) It may be a part of my ancestral heritage because my great-grandparents were from the areas where the Mapuche dwell in the cities. 3.) They deserve to be studied because they are a very resilient group. They have overcome a lot of obstacles and were not conquered by anyone until the 19th century. One of the problems that I had with my sources was that the translators of the texts that I used did not truly explain all of the concepts that they used in their documents. Another problem that I had was that the authors of my sources were biased for the Mapuche. But I am as well, because I admire and respect them. The Mapuche are a strong and amazing people who have managed to maintain a lot of their culture intact. The goal of this paper is to achieve an understanding of the Mapuchesí adaptations that have let them maintain so much of their traditions intact. It is through this that they have survived for so long and have kept so much of their traditions.

        The Mapuche are a very kinship based group. They are patrilineal, which means that they look at their family tree through the father/ husbandís line. They are also patrilocal, which means that when they marry the newlyweds will move onto the husbandís fatherís land until they can set up their own household. There are five different lineage groupings that the Mapuche use. The first is maximal lineages. These are the blood kinsman who trace descent back from four to six generations back to the common male ancestor. This one incorporates the other four types of lineages. The second is the lineage groups. This includes all of the living members of the maximal group. It also includes all of the women who have moved off of the reservation with their husbands. The third is the localized lineages. This includes all of the males of the maximal lineage and the unmarried women of the reservation. The fourth is the sublineages. This includes all of the branches of the maximal lineages formed by different generation levels below the founder. It is segmented further at each level. The final one is minimal lineages. This includes the generation level and the extended family household. This includes the father and the married sons with the potential for a new sublineage. Inheritance and succession are done through this. Through the use of their kinship pattern, they have kept those ties strong and kept their tradition and their culture strong. Anthropologists can and have studied them and watched how the external and internal forces combine. All of this can be gauged. They are traditional and have their own sets of beliefs and values. The Chileans have always tried to alter their institutions and impose on them their European values.

        It is because of their kinship that the Mapuche have kept up the practice of the Ñguillatun, the fertility and agricultural festival that is usually celebrated for a few days. Since this needs special land to do it on, some reservations share the festival. At this festival they pray for good fortune. Harvests, animals and human well being are all included in the prayer. They always single one crop out of the rest and pray for a good harvest of it. The Ñillatufe, or ritual priest and the Machi (the equivalent of a shaman) lead the festival. There are two types of cooperative labor: mingaco & vuelta mano. Mingaco is the larger of the two. It is usually consisted of a labor gang under the direction of a leader who provides those who help him with enough food and drink (Faron, 19). This type was done by men who are close in family ties, it is a sample of the use of reciprocity. Vuelta mano involves two parties, either two men or with the participation of other males of the household. They take turns helping with the planting, harvesting, etc. This reciprocity lasts their entire adult lives. It is kinship overlain with friendship. Since there is so little land left to the Mapuche, there is not enough of it to leave a plot fallow. This means that every year they use the land, it yields less and less. They can not afford to buy chemical fertilizers or other technological agricultural equipment. The only thing that can help them is to get back the land that has been taken away from them over the centuries, especially recently. Farming decisions are made supernaturally. Usually the main crop that they pray for is a good yield of wheat. Both the fertility and the funeral rites are intertwined with each other. There they congregate to state their needs to their ancestors and the gods, emphasizing their agricultural needs. Both are held around the full moon, either before or after the harvest seasons. Each of these rites usually lasts three or four days.

        The Mapucheís religion is one of animal and ancestor worship. It is the Machi who are the spiritual leaders and healers. They must train extensively to become a Machi. It is funny that the Machi are mostly women. It is through a Machiís pillan that (familiar spirits) she gets her power to heal. Her main job is to heal and to fight and stop the evil witches, or kalku. There are other types of healers in the Mapuche culture. One is the Ampive who are just herbalists.
The Mapuche call the forces of evil, wekufe. Some examples of this are the chonchon, the waillepen, and ghosts - - which include the witranalwe and the anchimallen. A chonchon is a bird with the head of a kalku. A waillepen is a large beast of the forest that can change its shape. The ghosts have human forms and are very dangerous. They are considered blood-suckers by the Mapuche. The witranalwe are big humans who are mounted on huge horses, who gallop and attack the living. The anchimallen are child sized, and are usually seen at a distance. They become ghosts because a kalku catches the unwary spirit and then it must do her bidding.

        The Mapuche believe in the Afterworld, which is called Nomelafken or wenumapu (land above). Only the chieftainís spirits are free of the evil forcesí influence or capture. Amulpellun is the funerary rites. This is the encirclement of the precincts where the corpse is displayed (Wake) and is designed to drive away the evil spirits. If the evil spirits are not driven away, then the kalku can catch the deceased spirit and turn it into a ghost. The Cherufe are harmful, natural phenomena such as fireballs, comets, shooting stars, etc.  The Mapuche have many gods. Some examples are Ñenechen, who is the ruler of the Mapuche, and is the main god that they call upon. Ñenemapun is the creator and ruler of the Earth and is identified with Ñenechen. Elchen is the maker of the people. Küpuka fucha and Küpuka kushe are the god and goddess of Abundance. They had sons called the Karahua. They are the ones who are also invoked in the Ñguillatun ceremony. Antü fucha and Antü kushe are the god and goddess of the Sun. Kügen fucha and Kügen kushe are the god and goddess of the Moon. Pillan fucha and Pillan kushe are the god and goddess of Thunder and volcanoes. Lafken fucha and Lafken kushe are the god and goddess of the Sea. There are many more, but this is enough to explain that the Mapuche believe that everyone and everything has a spirit that deserves to be worshipped. As is all of their ancestors.

        The Mapucheís political organization is a chiefdom. For each reservation there is a peace-time chief. Before this there was not one during peace-time. After they were put onto reservations there was one on each of them. The chief can claim tribute from all those who are living on the reservation. The chief had to approve of all the marriages before they were done. Today, the chiefs are respected as a political leader and the head of the informal council of elders.  The Mapuche are agriculturalists and pastoralists. They grow mostly wheat. They also grow maize (type of corn), barley, rye, beans and potatoes. They have never had enough land to leave a plot fallow. This means that their land yields little because it is so worn out each year. The Mapuche cultivate the fields on a family basis. The Mapuche also herd the vicuna, guanaco, alpaca, and the llama, which are all American camels and are beasts of burden. They are also used for clothing and sometimes as food. They also herd sheep, cattle, and horses.

        The Mapuche are a very traditional people. There is archaeological evidence that dates back at least 12,000 years at Puerto Montt that there has been people living in the area where the Mapuche people live. They are most likely the ancestors of the Mapuche. I found it very ironic that it is the women who are the holders of tradition in the Mapuche culture. They are the ones who wear ceremonial dress. They are the ones who teach the young their roles until the time that the boys are old enough to work the land with their fathers. It is also ironic that it is mostly women who are practicing Machi. In order to practice, a Machi must have certain equipment: a kultrun (drum), which is beaten continuously during the ceremonies to induce a trance like state so that the pillan can enter her to help her heal. She also needs a rewe (special curved pole), a drumstick, gourd rattles and sleigh bells. All of these are needed for certain rituals. She usually sings or chants during them. In order to get customers she sets herself up outside of her home and does continuous rituals until people begin coming to her to be healed. The more endurance she has, the more able she is to fight the sickness off and to heal the people. The Machi are an integral part of the Mapuche lifestyle. The kalku is her enemy. I find it ironic that both good and evil are personified by women. They fight over the lives (& deaths) of people. If the Machi wins, the person usually lives. If the person does not survive, then the kalku won. In the case of those who are dead then the Machi is the winner if the spirit goes on the wenumapu. If they do not then the kalku wins and turns the spirit into a ghost and she uses them for her evil.

        Women are usually married by the time they reach 20 years of age. They are not an adult until they do so. Very few Mapuche women become spinsters. Women have no voice in reservation politics. It is the children who perform a lot of the chores. The girls perform the domestic, while the boys do everything else, much like the adults. The girls were watched by their mothers at all times as they did their chores. They make no decisions on their own. The Mapuche are monolingual for the first six to nine years. Then they learn Spanish. The Mapuche want a lot of children. If a wife is barren, the husband has the right to leave her. Most of the time, he does not because he loves her, deems her too pretty to give up, etc. Being barren is a moral failure. A husband usually takes additional wives who are younger and prettier in this situation so that he may have children.

        The Mapucheís courtship ritual is a love affair. It involves all of the notions of beauty, love, honor, virtue, etc. It is a prelude to marriage. Mapuche men may have all the sex they want. The only problem is that they have to deal with their wives afterwards, if they find out. This is not a pretty sight. They torture him sexually, etc., until he leaves the other woman alone. The only restriction on sex is incest. This includes all of the women in the patrilineal line. Any marriage has to be approved of by the chief. Men usually marry women form the neighboring reservations to avoid incest. The ideal marriage is to his motherís brotherís daughter.

        Marriage is very simple. The groom steals the bride off of her land, while she makes a token resistance, and then they consummate the marriage (elopement). Then the families meet and negotiate the brideprice and the wedding arrangements. The formal wedding ceremony is held on the brideís family land. The groomís family brings gifts, food, and a gift-animal, which is then killed for the feast. Then they move the celebration onto the groomís family land. This lasts a while longer. Three or four days later, they return to her land and bring more gifts and animals to slaughter. Then the newlyweds move onto his land. The bride is usually henpecked by her mother-in-law, much like in our own culture. She is also henpecked by the unmarried sisters-in-law. It is only when she has a child that she gains some power. She gains more when her mother-in-law dies. Then she rules. It is the first wife who manages the household , and is the main helpmeet of the husband. She also controls the other wives. All of the other wives are younger and the brideprice was less. Childbirth is the answer to a way to power. The more children you have, the more status you have. "The birth of a child is an arduous event among the Mapuche, one surrounded by stylized behavior, prayer, and magical acts. " (Faron, 34). With this, comes certain rights with his family. If a girl is born, she is welcomed. If it is a boy, there is a great celebration. The women who have a lot of children who live past infancy are highly valued. There is no tenderness bestowed upon the expecting mothers in this culture. Marriage is the Mapuche goal. They want children to bring them comfort in their old age, and to propitiate oneís spirit after death. It is usually only the men who are remembered and worshipped after death. This is because the women move off of their reservation when they marry. "Sexual prowess is involved in this ideal, but even more important is the religious justification for polygyny: the more offspring a man has, the more likely his spirit will be propitiated. Polygyny and the eternal well-being of the soul evidence a high correlation in Mapucheland." (Faron, 35). They also have no power in the new one either. The only closest to a type of divorce procedure is a prolonged separation in which they have no intention of any type of reunion. Those who do no marry end up in the cities. Men have to serve in the army for a year. Sometimes they decide to stay there, or work in the police or as manual laborers. The women end up as servants, factory workers, or prostitutes.

        The Mapuche resisted three different groups that tried to conquer them. The first were the Inca. The Inca conquered Northern Chile between the 12th and 14th centuries. After that they worked their way South. The Mapuche sent them packing. This began the warrior tradition, which led to polygamy, wealth, and prestige. Then the Spaniards came in the early 1530ís and their guides were Inca. They came in two waves before they gave up trying to conquer the Mapuche. A lot of people died in the fighting. The Mapuche learned how to use horses and began to put together a calvary. They stole Spanish weapons and learned to use them. Finally, they made a treaty. Once the Chileans won their Independence from Spain in 1817, they negotiated with the Mapuche and granted them land. Once European immigrants started pouring in, everything changed. The Mapuche began to lose a lot of land. Between the 1850ís and the 1880ís, the Chileans tried to take over all of the land that belonged to the Mapuche. The Mapuche fought back, using every resource that they had. In 1866, the Chileans made a law that made Mapuche land public and therefore, could be sold. In 1884, the Mapuche were put onto reservations, and they lost even more land. This caused the Mapuche to suffer social instability and disease ran rampart, killing many. Their culture was threatened. In 1927, the Indian Law was passed. This said that the Indians could buy their own land, legally, and keep it. But it was never implemented fully. Between 1927 & 1961, the Mapuche lost even more land and there was a tripling of their population. This caused severe starvation and disease. In 1962, the Chilean government legally abolished the reservations. In 1970, Allende passed laws that helped the Mapuche. In 1973, Pinochet came into power and destroyed those laws. He took more land and was very violent to the Mapuche. The 1980ís were filled with violence and land stealing of the Mapuche. In 1984, AD-MAPU was formed. They were organized to maintain the Mapucheís culture. It called for legislation that recognized the indigenous rights that the Mapuche have to their land and culture. When Patricio Aylwin came into office as the Democratic President of Chile, in 1988, he formed policies and tried to decrease the violence and life became a little better for the Mapuche. In the 1990ís it got worse. The government has teamed up with the foreign capitalist companies to take more land from the Mapuche. They burn up their own equipment and blame it on the Mapuche. It is they who do the violence to the Mapuche, not the other way around. A lot of Mapuche end up in jail because of this and are treated very badly by the racist police.

        The Mapuche have never been recognized by the Chilean government or in its constitution. Thus, their ancestral land, resources, and rights to them are ignored. They can be "legally" taken away from them. Therefore, they do not subscribe to the international laws that protect & promote human rights. Most of the Mapuche have no chance of getting an education. This means that they have no legal means of fighting back. They need other countriesí help to fight back. Since the Chilean educational system promotes uniformity, it is hard for the Mapuche to retain their own cultural identity. Thus, their language, Mapudungun (Araucanian), is dying out.

        In 1993, Law #19.253 was established. It protected & promoted indigenous populations. It recognized certain rights, guaranteed the protection of land and water and introduced multi-cultural and bilingual education. It also prohibits discrimination. The Chilean government must also consult the Mapuche on all issues concerning them. But this law is not followed. The Mapuche have fought so long and hard to keep their way of life and tradition alive. But, the Chileans keep stopping them every time they come close to winning. The biggest problem the Mapuche face is keeping their language and culture alive. By bringing together their old warrior ways and the different new technologies, the Mapuche have formed a new type of resistance Ė synchretism. Now they are trying to get and education so that they can fight back, legally, in the courts to get their land back. In Louis Faronís ethnography, The Mapuche Indians of Chile, he showed how the Mapuche did all of this. On page 115, he writes that the Mapuche want:
"1.) Recognition of our own language and customs by society-at-large;
2.) The defense of the communities in order to protect our culture, our religion, traditions, and social organizations;
3.) The defense and recuperation of our land, including that which has been taken away from us: new lands to enable us to overcome the problems of minifundia; and ownership of subsoil rights as indemnification;
4.) The establishment of buyers and sellers cooperatives;
5.) Permanent education and technical training;
6.) Autonomous education and access to schools and universities adapted to our culture and needs;
7.) Planning for our development, taking into account our resources without paternalism and with unconditional support form institutions."

All of this has yet to be realized. I find it very surprising that none of this has happened yet. This is why I believe that we need to help them. (Everyone does.) Faron uses the functionalist approach to his study of the Mapuche. Through particpant observation and informants, he answers the question of how do the rituals of the Mapuche function for them. The Mapuche use their rituals because they need them. It follows their belief structure, and thus, is needed for them to act as part of their culture.

        One of the things that I found very interesting is that the Mapuche actually go to a kalku for help in certain situations. One of them is vengeance when a woman becomes pregnant by a former lover. "The sorcererís contribution, by means of a series of magical acts and incantations, is to render the father of a child sterile thereafter. Given the Mapuche maleís desire for children, this would be a terrible penalty. . . . The baby is usually male. The kalku or the mother kills the boy-child. The kalku removes the babyís testicles, which are roasted over a special fire. It is contagious magic. It is believed that the fatherís semen will be dried up in the process of roasting his sonís testicles." (Faron, 83-86). It is amazing that in most cases this actually works on the subject.  The Mapuche people are very traditional and are a fighting people. They have yet to back down from what they believe in. I think that we should do the best we can and try to help them in any way that we can. I believe that all of my sources as well as myself are biased on the behalf of the Mapuche. They have lost so much land and fought off three different groups of people (Inca, Spaniards, and the Chileans). Now they are working on regaining their land and getting an education to fight the government legally.

        The Faron text was very interesting. He had only one problem and that was getting men to talk to him about sex, etc. Only the women would talk to him. I find that ironic too. All in all I enjoyed the experience of working and learning about my subject. The Mapuche are a wonderful people and deserve our help. All of the other sources were written by Chileans or Mapuche. Most are primary sources. Therefore, they are also informants or participant observers. They are not doing ethnographies though. They are just writing as historians, or just to write, to inform others of what is going on.



Faron, Louis C. The Mapuche Indians of Chile: An Ethnography. Prospect Heights,
        Illinois; State University of N.Y. at Stony Brook: Waveland Press, Inc., 1968.
        Reissued 1986.

Korth, Eugene H. Spanish Policy in Colonial Chile; The Struggle for Social Justice,
        1535-1700. Stanford, C.A.: Stanford UP, 1968.

Mapuche, Seeds of the Chilean Soul. Port of History Museum, 1992.

Molina, Juan Ignacio. The Geographical, Natural, and Civil History of Chili. NY: AMS
        Press, 1973. 2 volumes.


Interview with Floriano Cariqueo Colpihueque. Multinational Monitor. "Mapuche Put Earth first." Nov. 1995, v16, n11, p26(2).


All of the following were used, the entire site was read. Each part of the site, including any place that can be clicked onto was read as well.