The Mapuche are one of the greatest warrior people in Human History. They are admired and considered as indomitable, by chroniclers and historians.
With great success, they first confronted the Inca Empire and then, the Spanish Empire. As of today, the Mapuche People are still alive more than ever.
Lautaro (“leftraru”), a famed Mapuche warrior (or “weichafe”), considered the William Wallace (Braveheart) of La Araucanía, was one of the great leaders, who managed to innovate and defeat the Spanish army, observing the military strategies of the Spaniards and incorporated it into his people.
Geographically, the “Wallmapu” is the ancestral Mapuche territory, covering a vast area from the Pacific ocean (west side in Chile) to the Atlantic ocean (east side in Argentina), and with the Andes Mountains in the middle.
On the west side, the Mapuche ruled in La Araucanía Region. In general, La Araucania Region recognizes 4 sectors. Indeed, each of them has some cultural differences, due to the natural environment where they have developed: Pewenche (mountain range), Wenteche (upper valley), Nagche (lower valley) and Lafkenche (Sea).
Every Mapuche seeks to live in balance with Nature, as their ancestors did. The Mapuche people understood their role in Nature as part of it, and in no case as “masters” of the Universe, as some Western religions put it. For the life of the Mapuche, the human side, the natural side and the spiritual complement each other harmoniously, leading them to find the Küme Mogen (Good Living).
The Mapuzungün is the ancestral Mapuche language. Interestingly, each word has a meaning associated with the human being, the behavior of nature and its deepest beliefs. It is a reservoir of knowledge (Kimün) and way of thinking (Rakizuam).
Despite many attempts to make the culture of the Mapuche people disappear, it remains more alive than ever. Actually, they are constantly transforming and evolving, without losing sight of their roots and principles that guide their way of seeing the World.
The Mapuche human being
In Mapuzungün, the literal translation “che” means people, and “mapu” means land. Therefore, the meaning of the word “mapuche” is “People of the land”.
However, being “che” for the Mapuche people is something much deeper. In fact, it has to do with complying with certain behavior norms harmonizing the relationship between people, Mother Nature and the Spirits.
The different Mapuche groups per territory
Throughout the various territories that make up the Wallmapu, we find a changing diversity according to the territory.
For example, the Lafkenche cuisine’s best specialties are mainly seafood, whereas the Wentenche and Nagche’s are more based on a great variety of cereals a meats (horse, chicken, lamb, and beef). Finally, the Pewenche’s special dishes are based on “piñones”, the nutty seeds of the araucaria tree or “Pewen“.
In geographical terms, the Pewenche territory encompasses both sides of the Andes mountain range, between the Maule River and the Lonquimay Volcano. Before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores, they were hunters and gatherers of pine nuts (piñon, pewen or pehuén), seed from the araucaria tree that gives the name and essence characteristics of the pewenche culture. Thanks to this, they elaborate gastronomic products such as pine nut flour, jams, muday (ancestral drink), among others.
It is not without saying that the Pewenche consider the araucaria as a sacred tree thanks to its medicinal properties. Thus, we understand that their ancestral culture is closely related to the natural environment in which they live. Likewise, they maintain a deep bond with their territory and understand that the land cannot be separated from culture and identity. Pewenche people consider the Araucaria tree as their Mother, because “she” feeds them with her pine-nuts.
Wenteche and Nagche
The daily life of the Wenteche and Nagche people develops around the nature of the different river-valleys located in La Araucanía Region. This territory is delimited by the pewenche territory (East), and by the lafkenche territory (West).
The typical Wetenche housing is associated with the ruka wenteche, whose construction is mainly covered by the collected plants (küna) found in wetlands and swamps of their territory.
Regarding the traditional gastronomy, the wenteche and nagche food has a strong base of meats (mainly chicken, beef, and horse), and cereals, mainly wheat (cachilla), in addition to legumes such as peas, beans, chicharo, and quinoa, among others. Thanks to these raw materials, they make preparations such as moulting, mote, roasted flour, catuto and locro. They mostly complement typical dishes such as casserole, roasts, zimita, and others.
On the other hand, the Wetenche and Nagche are the best at collecting wild fruits such as maqui, boldo, michay, mora, and mosqueta. Moreover, during the rainy seasons, they collect native mushrooms such as the digüeñe and changle. These strains are later incorporated in the traditional dishes to generate flavors of greater nutritional value.
Generally, in comparison to other Mapuche territories, it should be noted that the Wenteche and Nagche are more characterized by the apiculture and the intensive cereal production. In addition, thanks to the raw materials from the territory, they produce handicrafts associated with the ancestral way of dressing, but also everyday items. As examples of the Wenteche handicrafts, we can find blankets woven with wool and natural dyeing, ancestral Mapuche ceramics as well as silverware like trapelacucha, chaway and trarilonco.
The Lafkenche mainly live by the Pacific Ocean and around the Budi Lake (the only salt-water lake in South America). Their traditional house is a ruka lafkenche, whose construction is mainly covered by the kuna, a plant that can be found in wetlands. The main feature of the typical housing is the wood-fire stove or “kütralwe”, located at the center of the house where the family and invited guests meet and greet.
Regarding the Lafkenche gastronomy, we find a strong association with the sea. Indeed, the main typical dishes are based on seafood ingredients, fish and seaweed. In addition, the Lafkenche also incorporate wild fruits and berries to give the dishes a unique flavor.
Among the cultivable products in the lafkenche cuisine, the potato stands out. Actually, the Lafkenche territory supplies a large part of the potato demand of Chile.
The Huilliche inhabit Los Ríos and Los Lagos Regions. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, they populated the lands located from the Toltén river to Chiloé Island. Actually, the word “Huilliche” means “People of the South”.
The Chezungun is their native language, which has roots of the Mapudungun language. Both languages differ in vocabulary and phonetic intonation patterns. However, the grammatical structure is the same.
For clothing, they used garments woven with wool of llamas and guanaco, which were then dyed with vegetable fibers in order to add color. They used to live in wooden buildings with woven straw roofs, which had a single room. There was also a space to prepare the campfire, cook and heat.
Economically speaking, their system was based on horticulture, livestock and fishing. They grew corn, potatoes and quinoa, in addition to raising llamas and guanacos. They built their own tools such as wooden weapons and also vessels to carry vegetables and fish.
Within the society, composed by tribes, they organized themselves according to a patrilineal system. Indeed, they excelled at being peaceful. However, due to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, they started to develop warrior skills in order to defend their land.
The Mapuche spirituality
The oldest Mapuche pray every day at the beginning of the day, to give thanks to Nature and divinity for the fruits received. Also, they perform collective ceremonies, such as the Nguillatún, during which they give thanks for the harvests and prosperity of the year. Moreover, in certain times of climatic difficulties, they request for the end of droughts in the Wallmapu.
An important aspect of the Mapuche spirituality is to combine the observation of the physical environment with metaphysical aspects. An example of this is the use of dreams in order to guide their conduct or influence decisions.
The roles in the Mapuche society
The Mapuche social structure is based on “lof”, which is a basic social unit composed of patrilineal and consanguineous groups. They are principally based on kinship, as one of the essential characteristics between each lof.
A main authority figure in the Mapuche society is the lonko. Indeed, as the traditional authority figure, the lonko role is essentially the Head of each lof. In order to fulfill his role, he must completely master leadership skills, but also the dominion of the word and the capacity to deal and manage conflicts. More importantly, these skills must come as natural talents in order to be able to lead the Mapuche society and inspire respect to his spiritual peers.
To resume, the lonko stands out as ritual authority, as well as the machi role. Alongside him, the machi is the other major actor in the Mapuche society. As a natural medicinal healer, he or she is the one with closer ties to Divinity than the rest of the Mapuche members. Hence, the machi conducts most religious ceremonies such as Nguillatún, as well as curing physical diseases with medicinal plants.
Spiritually, the machi understands and practices her/his healing rituals from the perspective of the Mapuche cosmovision. Indeed, she/he is able to perform healing ceremonies (Machitún or Nguillatún) during which she/he falls into a trance. Thus, the machi can detect what evil is afflicting the patient. Finally then, she/he can prescribe her/his healing recommendations with purifying spells through chants.
The worldwide-known influential Mapuche people
It is not without saying that the living culture is also observed in the daily life of the Mapuche. In fact, they have been able to integrate within the cities, working like any person, although in permanent contact with their communities of origin. Visiting relatives, participating in ceremonial activities such as the Nguillatún, recreational activities such as the Palin game (field hockey-like), designing handicrafts, speaking their mother tongue Mapuzugün and teaching their culture to their children, friends and everyone they value, respect and want to make the Mapuche culture known to the World.
Elisa Loncón Antileo, the spokeswoman of the Mapuche native people
Elisa was born on January 23rd, 1963 in La Araucanía Region of Chile, where she lived her childhood in the Lefweluan community. As of today, she is a mother, professor and defender of the linguistic and cultural rights of the native people. Her native tongue is the Mapudungun, moreover she speaks spanish and english languages.
She graduated with an English degree from La Frontera University in La Araucanía Region. Later, she carried out postgraduate study in the International Institute of Social Studies of Hague (Netherlands) and the University of Regine (Canada). In addition, she holds a PhD in Humanities from the University of Leiden (NL), not without mentioning a PhD in literature from Universidad Católica (Chile).
In 2021, Mrs. Loncón was elected as one of the representatives of the Mapuche people for the Chilean Constitutional Convention. Following the inauguration of the body, Loncón was elected President of the Constitutional Convention to represent the collective and plurinational voice of the Chilean people.
Flor Calfunao Paillalef, the Ambassador of the Mapuche People
Flor Rayen Calfunao-Paillalef was born on August 28th 1961 in La Araucanía Region. She belongs to the Juan Paillalef community (Temuco city). Since 1996, she has lived in Switzerland. She is the ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Mapuche to the United Nations.
In 2008, the city of Geneva recently gave her the “Exiled Woman, Committed Woman” award for her continuous work on denouncing the human rights violations that the Chilean Government daily commits with the Mapuche community.
However, on July 11th of 2018 after a 10-year long process, Switzerland definitively denied her asylum request, and also ordered her deportation to Chile.
In light of this decision, Flor Paillalef then decided to fill a complaint to the UN Committee of Torture, aleging a violation of her Rights under the Article 3° of the Swiss Convention. As a result, the Committee urged the Swiss to reconsider Flor’s asylum application.
In conclusion, the Mapuche people want to be the main actor in the processes of the social transformation currently taking place both in Chile and around the Globe. Therefore, we invite you to understand and learn more about this ancestral way of life and spirituality through the visit of the beautiful landscapes present in the Mapuche territory, our Lake & Volcano District.
Hopefully, when you return home, you will have lived a true ancestral experience giving you a more meaningful perspective of life.