views updated Jun 27 2018


ETHNONYMS: Huilliche, Lafquenche, Mapuche, Pehuenche, Picunche, Promaucae


Identification. The name "Araucanian" is of Spanish origin. Historically, Mapuche or "people from the land" was the term used to designate the Araucanians occupying the south-central area of the Chilean territory but now is the term used by all Araucanians. The terms "Huilliche" (people of the south), "Pehuenche" (piñon-eating people of the mountains), "Lafquenche" (people of the coast), and "Picunche" (people of the north") were used by the Araucanians to differentiate their regional areas. The term "Promaucae" (rebellious people) was given to the Araucanians by the Incas.

Location. Aboriginally, the Araucanians occupied the region between the Río Choapa (32° S) and Chiloé Island (42°50 S). The majority of Araucanians live in the Chilean provinces of Arauco, Bio-Bio, Malleco, Cautín, Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue between 37° and 40° S. (In 1975 the twenty-five Chilean provinces were reorganized into thirteen regions. Arauco, Malleco, and Cautín are now in the ninth region; Bio-Bio is in the eighth region; Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue are in the tenth region.) Within this area summers are warm and the winters characterized by heavy rainfalls. The annual average rainfall is over 200 centimeters and the average temperature is 10° C. In Argentina, the Araucanians are found in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Río Negro, Mendoza, Chubut, La Pampa, Santa Cruz, and Neuquén (between 41° and 36° S and 73° and 78° W. Neuquén has the largest concentration of Araucanians.

Demography. The aboriginal population of the Araucanians has been estimated to have been between 500,000 and 1,500,000 at the time of the Conquest. Today it is estimated that there are about 400,000 Araucanians in Chile and 40,000 in Argentina.

linguistic Affiliation. The Araucanian language, Mapudungun, belongs to the Mapuche Stock and is comprised of several dialects. In Chile these are: Mapuche proper, Picunche, Pehuenche, Huilliche, and Chilote. Mapuche proper was spoken from the Bio-Bio to the Token rivers at the time of the Conquest; at present it is spoken in the provinces of Bio-Bio, Maule (in the seventh region), Arauco, Cautín and Nuble (in the eighth region). Picunche was spoken from Coquimbo to the Rio Bio-Bio. Pehuenche is spoken from Valdivia to Neuquén. Huilliche is spoken in Chile in the province of Valdivia and in Argentina in the Lake Nahuel Huapí region. In Argentina, Moluche or Nguluche and Ranquelchue are also spoken. Moluche is spoken from Limay to Lake Nahuel Huapí. Ranquelchue was spoken on the plains of La Pampa and can now be heard in Chalileo, General Acha, and on the Rio Colorado.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence suggests the existence of an Araucanian culture by 500 b.c. in the territory of present-day Chile. The aboriginal Araucanians were hunters and gatherers and practiced horticulture and incipient agriculture. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Araucanians were divided into three geographically contiguous ethnic groups: the Picunche in the north, the Mapuche in the central-south, and the Huilliche in the southern section. At this time the Incas invaded the Araucanian territory, dominating the Picunche. The Picunche were influenced more by the Central Andes cultures in their material culture and technology than were the Mapuche and the Huilliche, but the organization of their economic, social and religious life was like that of the other Araucanian groups. The Inca invasion was stopped at the Río Maule by the Mapuche and the Huilliche.

In the mid-sixteenth century the Spanish arrived and established a military outpost in central Chile. Only the Picunche were conquered by the Spanish. They were forced to work in the gold mines and to perform agricultural tasks. The Picunche eventually mixed with the Spanish rural population, and by the seventeenth century the Picunche had completely disappeared as an ethnic group. The Mapuche and the Huilliche managed to keep their independence from the Spanish and the Chileans for almost four centuries by waging guerrilla warfare. The horse was adopted by the Araucanians soon after the middle of the sixteenth century and it was used effectively in warfare and hunting.

In the eighteenth century the Mapuche and the Huilliche started to migrate to Argentina in search of horses to continue their battle against the Spanish. In their search for horses, they began their geographical and cultural expansion in the Argentinian territory, which lasted 150 years. Three Indian groups were Araucanized: the Pehuenche, the Puelche, and the Pampa. By the end of the eighteenth century, all these groups spoke the Mapuche language and had acquired Araucanian beliefs and traditions. The Mapuche and the Huilliche controlled all the area between the vicinity of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, San Luis, and the Río Negro from the cordillera to the sea. Three permanent chiefstainships were established in the Argentinian territory. In Chile, the Mapuche and the Huilliche continued their war with the Spanish for over two centuries. Two major treaties were signed between the Araucanians and the Spanish in which the Spanish Crown recognized the independence of the Araucanian territory. The conflict between the Araucanians and Whites was rekindled, however, after Chile became independent from Spain in 1818.

The Chilean government promoted European colonization of the Araucanian territory by establishing the reservation policy of 1866, which favored White colonists. The Mapuche and especially the Huilliche lost a great deal of land to German settlers. With the loss of land, the Huilliche began to lose their traditional way of life. Two major rebellions were staged by the Mapuche, both of which were defeated by the Chileans. Following the last major rebellion (1880 to 1882), the Mapuche lost their political autonomy and military power. In Argentina, the military campaigns under generals Julio Roca and Conrado Villegas in 1879-1883 completely defeated the Indian confederates and drove most of the Indian survivors beyond the Rio Negro and into Neuquén.

In Chile, the present reservation system was established in 1884, and the Araucanians were relocated to reservations; in Argentina they were arrested and confined to remote areas. At the present time, they form two relatively differentiated modern ethnic groups: the Argentinian Araucanians and the Chilean Mapuche.


Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the Araucanians lived in small clusters of semipermanent to permanent settlements arranged in a dispersed pattern. Three to eight patrilocal families or households inhabited each settlement, each living in its own dwelling. The settlements were located mostly in valleys or plains along rivers and streams. The Araucanians never lived in towns. Their dwellings consisted of huts (rukas ) situated in prominent places so approaching visitors could be seen and the animals could be observed. The typical ruka had a timber or cane framework; an oval, polygonal, or rectangular ground plan; and a thatch roof extending nearly to ground level. Dimensions ranged from 3 to 6.5 meters in length and from 3 to 4 meters in breadth. There were one or two smoke holes at one or both ends of the roof. Although this type of ruka can still be found, modifications involving the use of shingles, cement, brick, or wood instead of thatch are becoming common. The number of rukas determines wealth: poor Mapuche live in one ruka, whereas wealthy ones have separate rukas for sleeping, eating, and storage.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Between a.d. 500-1000 and 1500 Araucanian subsistence was based on a combination of food gathering, hunting, fishing, horticulture, and incipient agriculture. Their diet was and continues to be predominantly vegetarian. Horticulture is believed to have developed among the aboriginal Araucanians between 500 and 1500. In the valleys, horticulture and incipient agriculture were combined with hunting and gathering, whereas in the highlands only hunting and gathering were practiced. In the coastal areas, fishing and gathering shellfish were supplemented with hunting. The plants cultivated by the Araucanians of the valleys were maize, kidney beans, squashes, quinoa, oca, peanuts, chili peppers, and white potatoes. The latter are believed to have been domesticated by the Araucanians. Irrigation agriculture was practiced by the Picunche in the northern part of the Araucanian territory. The Araucanians were herders as well as farmers, raising llamas for meat and wool. By the end of the eighteenth century, llamas were replaced by horses, mules, sheep, pigs, and other domesticated animals introduced by the Spanish.

Contemporary Araucanians agriculturists cultivate European crops using steel plows and farming techniques learned from the Chileans, such as the three-field system of land rotation and crop rotation. Woven blankets, pottery, and wood- and stone work are sold to tourists in the markets of cities near the reservations. Women sell part of the produce from their gardens in the local markets.

Industrial Arts. Ceramics were probably introduced in the northern cultures of the Araucanian territory in the last 500 years prior to the arrival of the Spanish. By the time of their arrival, the Araucanians were skilled in fashioning baskets, blankets colored with native dyes, cordage and netted objects, pottery, and wood and stone objects. With the introduction of sheep by the Spanish, weaving became more important. Silversmithing was introduced in the late eighteenth century and became highly developed. Today, the Araucanians make textiles, baskets, and stone- and woodwork both for domestic use and for cash sale in the local markets.

Trade. Exchange between the Araucanians consisted of reciprocated favors. Chilean Araucanians traded with the Argentinian Araucanians for salt and animals in exchange for weavings and alcohol. Trade between the Araucanians and the Spanish and, later, the Chileans, was fairly common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; however, there were no established markets. Generally, Araucanians traded animals and weavings for alcohol and European goods.

Division of Labor. When swidden agriculture was practiced, men cut down and burned the forest, whereas women did the planting, weeding, and harvesting of the gardens. During times of war farming was performed primarily by women. Since the relocation to reservations, farming has become the main occupation of men. Women, in addition to their domestic work, engage in the small-scale cultivation of vegetable gardens. Children start to help their parents in farm activities when they are young. At an early age, they begin by taking care of the animals. As they grow older, boys help their fathers with farm activities, whereas girls help their mothers with domestic tasks. Minga, a communal form of reciprocated labor in which kin members and neighbors participate, was and continues to be resorted to for the construction of houses and agricultural tasks.

Land Tenure. Among aboriginal Araucanians land lacked importance because their economy did not emphasize extensive agriculture. In the second half of the eighteenth century, land was owned communally by a group of families. Each family owned the land they cultivated and grazed. Property was administered by chiefs, who apportioned plots to families. Reservation settlement in 1884 changed this situation, weakening common holding and strengthening individual holding and inheritance. Three thousand small reservations were mapped by surveyors from 1884 to 1920. The Chilean authorities gave the head of a kinship group a land deed (título de merced ) granting use to him and to the (named) group members. The reservation policy of 1884 gave chiefs an opportunity to receive more land if there was division. Under this policy, upon petition of one-eighth of the households, the reservation would be disbanded and the land given in severalty title to household heads, with additional land given to chiefs as inducement.

In the early part of the twentieth century, this policy, combined with the increase in population and diminishing agricultural productivity, produced the greatest pressure to divide land. In the 1920s, however, the division of land came almost to a standstill. The Mapuche resisted disbandment. The government continued its efforts to attempt to appeal to individual Mapuche and bypass the authority of the chiefs. In 1927 the law pertaining to the disbanding of reservations was changed to require only the appeal of a single household. After this measure failed, the government decreed that even this single vote was not necessary and that it could disband reservations at its own discretion. In 1931 the law was again changed; it stipulated that the votes of one-third of the households of a reservation were needed. In March 1979 Decree-Law 2568 went into effect, providing for the division of Mapuche communal land into individual plots if only one occupant demands it, whether Mapuche or non-Mapuche. The majority of the Mapuche now live on reservations (the number of reservations has decreased to under 2,000). They can bequeath their land, lend it, or rent it, but they cannot sell it or dispose of it in any permanent way. The sale of land is possible only after the reservation is divided.


Kin Groups and Descent. The system of descent is patrilineal, tracing back to a mythical ancestor who is believed to be a creator of the lineage. Until the nineteenth century the kuga kinship and naming system existed: each lineage, or kuga, had its own name, which was given to its male children shortly after birth. Members of each group had a particular loyalty to one another and sided with one another during arguments.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional kin terms follow the Omaha system insofar as a man will call his mother's brother's daughter "mother," and she will call him "son."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The ideal marriage was and continues to be the "mother's brother's daughter" marriage. Sororal polygyny, sororate, and levirate marriage customs were common. The basic marriage process involved negotiations over a bride-price, a dramatized capture of the bride-to-be, the payment by the prospective groom, and then the marriage ceremony. Divorce was common, most often occasioned by sterility, infidelity, desertion, or ill-treatment. In all cases, the bride-price was returned to the husband. At present, these traditional practices have been almost completely replaced by monogamy.

Domestic Unit. Until the nineteenth century the domestic unit was a patrilocal extended family composed of a central male, his wives, and their children and grandchildren. Currently, a domestic unit is generally consists of a couple and their children and may include one of the couple's parents.

Inheritance. Position and inheritance were patrilineal, passing from father to son. Before settlement on the reservations, inheritances consisted mainly of herds and movable goods. Now the importance of land ownership has made property the most consequential inheritance, and both men and women inherit land.

Socialization. In aboriginal times boys had to sleep outside, bathe daily, and abstain from certain foods in order to toughen themselves. They were trained in the use of arms, swimming, horsemanship, and oratory and accompanied their fathers to drink with the rest of the men. Today oratory and farming skills are taught to young boys. Girls are taught to take care of the home and their younger siblings. Datura stramonium and Latua pubiflora are used by the Mapuche and Huilliche as personality tests for their children; a mild tea is brewed from these plants and the parents observe the child's reactions and draw conclusions regarding the character traits she or he will develop.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Prior to pacification, the Araucanians derived personal prestige and personal rank from martial prowess, wealth, generosity, and eloquence of speech. The modern Araucanians are divided into three loosely separated classes: the wealthy, the commoners, and the poor farm workers.

Political Organization. Kinship heads, called lonko, controlled agricultural labor and other cooperative (minga) ventures. A lonko's power extended only over his own household, and his prestige partly depended upon his generous hospitality. There was no overall chief in peacetime. When necessary, military commanders were elected by these lonko. After settlement in reservations, the political power of the chiefs was temporarily strengthened. The chief's role in land allocation gave him control over marital and postmarital residence. The consequent division of land and the inability of the original chiefs to transfer their reservation land title to their heirs decreased their newly acquired political power. Modern chiefs share their authority with councils of elders and heads of lineages. The chief's authority is restricted to inter- and intrareservational matters.

Social Control. During prereservation times, crimes of adultery, murder, and sorcery within the community were punishable by death. With the exception of sorcery, however, compensation was commonly made through payments. At present, troublemakers and people suspected of sorcery are usually evicted from the reservation as punishment. Since pacification, the Araucanians have been under the Chilean judicial system.

Conflict. Prior to settlement on the reservations, feuds and raids between Araucanians were common. Each household defended its farm lands against trespass and avenged death or sorcery by means of blood feud.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The maintenance of a sustained and responsible link between the living and the dead is the central concept of Araucanian religious morality. The living are responsible for the propitiation of their ancestors, and rituals are performed to maintain a positive relationship with them. Dreams, the vehicle of contact with the supernatural, are an important aspect of the Mapuche spiritual life. Araucanians interpret their dreams daily to understand their present situation and learn about their future.

In aboriginal times, the Araucanians are believed to have had an animistic religion. At present, the Araucanian religion is polytheistic, with the highest god located at the highest level of heaven. The family set of the highest god is formed by two couples, one young and one old. The most important of these gods is the male of the old couple. Located in descending order within this hierarchical heaven, there are the gods of fertility, of the morning star, of the stars, of the past warriors, of the rituals, of music, and of the cardinal points and climatic and metereological forces. On the lowest levels there reside the spirits of the Araucanian ancestors and the spirits of the volcanoes. The perrimontu are beings with ambivalent association with the forces of good. They aid shamans in their profession and cause sicknesses. The evil forces are called wekufe and are of three major types: natural phenomena, ghosts, and those of zoomorphic form. In spite of the prolonged contact with missionaries and Whites, Araucanian religion has been little affected and Christianization has been minimal.

Religious Practitioners. A kalku is both a sorcerer and a witch. Kalkus, who are usually women, are trained in their arts by other kalkus. Their powers are obtained through dreams and visions. The forces of evil are activated when envious people ask kalkus to use the evil spirits to attack persons who are the objects of their envy. Shamans (machi ), aided by their auxiliary spirits, ward off these evil forces. Although men used to practice shamanism during prereservation times, at present the majority of shamans are women. Selection as a shaman and the acquisition of shamanistic power is believed to occur in dreams and visions. Candidates are those who have suffered a prolonged and dangerous illness, display a greater ability to dream than others, and experience visions. The novice receives her training from a senior shaman. The training lasts anywhere from two to four years, during which time the trainee demonstrates obedience and works hard to learn herbal lore, ventriloquism, diagnosis of illness, and divination. After the training has been completed, the neophyte must demonstrate her expertise to other shamans and to the community in a ceremony called machiwüllun. The shamanic paraphernelia consist of a drum (kultrun ) and carved pole (rewe ). Shamans are assisted by the thungunmachife, or shaman interpreter, who translates the language of the shaman while she is in a trance.

Ceremonies. The most important ritual among the Araucanians is the ngillatun. In the prereservation era, the emphasis of the ngillatun was militaristic, but with pacification it became mainly agricultural, except in times of crisis. The ngillatun celebrated near harvest time consists principally of agricultural rites conducted for the purpose either of thanking the gods for the harvest received or asking for a plentiful one. The ngillatun usually involves the participation of more than one community, and some involve as many as four communities, preferably neighbors. The frequency of this ceremony varies, but if several communities should cooperate as members of a ngillatun, they will take turns in hosting each other. In times of stress this ritual is conducted as soon as a catastrophic event has occurred and may or may not involve the participation of other communities.

Arts. The traditional art most practiced among contemporary Araucanians is oratory; it is characteristic primarily of chiefs, but ordinary people also engage in it. Mapuche oral narrative can be classified into five categories: epeus (mythological tales, animal tales, and legends), peumas (dream reports), nut'amkans (narratives that recount the heroic deeds of past Araucanian warriors), weupins (formal speeches made by men at social and religious events), and qulkatuns (improvised sung narratives usually expressive of strong emotions). The main musical instruments are the kettle drum, flute, and trumpet. Men and women dancebut rarely togetherimitating animals with masks and movement. Men and women engage in spontaneous singing at social gatherings.

Medicine. In earlier times all sicknesses were believed to be caused by supernatural agents. Among contemporary Araucanians, however, there are two kinds of sickness: one caused by supernatural agents, the wekufe and the perrimontu, and the other by natural agents or environmental factors. Shamans treat all sicknesses with herbs and rituals.

Death and Afterlife. After death, the soul is believed to undergo a series of transformations on its journey to the wenu mapu (the place of final rest). The soul has the potential of becoming an agent of evil if captured by the evil spirits on this journey. Special ceremonies are conducted by the relatives of the dead to ensure the safety of the soul. At its final destination the soul becomes an ancestral spirit. Through dreams and visions the ancestor visits the living and helps them. Funeral rites involve the gathering of friends and relatives of the deceased, ceremonial wailing, tearing of the hair, shamanistic autopsy, temporary preservation of the cadaver, and the heavy drinking of alcohol.


Cooper, John (1946). "The Araucanians." In Handbook of South American Indians, edited by Julian Steward. Vol. 2, The Andean Civilizations, 687-766. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Degarrod, Lydia Nakashima (1990). "Coping with Stress: Family Dream Interpretation in the Mapuche Family." Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa 15(2): 111-116.

Faron, Louis (1968). The Mapuche Indians of Chile. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Stuchlick, Milan (1976). Life on a Half Share. London: C. Hurst & Co.



views updated Jun 11 2018


PRONUNCIATION: arr-oww-KAH-nee-ens

LOCATION: Chile; Argentina

POPULATION: About 800,000

LANGUAGE: Araucanian

RELIGION: Roman Catholicism with indigenous religious beliefs


Historically, the Araucanian Indians lived in southern, central, and northern areas of Chile and in present-day Argentina. They were divided into three main groups: the Picunche in the north, the Mapuche in the central area, and the Huilliche in the south. The Araucanians fought Inca invaders from Peru in the fifteenth century and Spanish conquerors in the seventeenth century.

The northern Picunche, who lived in the pleasant farming areas of Chile's Central Valley, were a relatively peaceful people. They were easily overcome by the Incas, and were later subdued and assimilated by the Spaniards. The Mapuche and the Hulliche, however, established a reputation as fierce warriors. Both groups bravely defended their lands and their way of life. They continued to resist the Spaniards for hundreds of years. The Mapuche finally lost their independence in the War of 18801882. After this defeat they were forced to settle further south on small reservations called reducciones. About half the Mapuche family groups still live there today,


The main group of Araucanians that still remain in Chile today are the Mapuche, numbering some 800,000 people. Initially they lived between the Itata and Toltén rivers. Today many live in the vicinity of towns such as Temuco, Villarica, Pucón, Valdivia, and Osorno, as well as in the southern island region of Chiloé. Some 400,000 Mapuche have had to migrate to the cities and now live the life of poor, urban workers

There are still a few Mapuche reservations in Argentina, particularly on the shores of Lake Rucachoroi and Lake Quillén. However, most Mapuche Araucanians today continue to live in Chile.


Most Mapuche in Chile and the small number living in Argentina speak the Araucanian language. Called Mapudungu, it also survives in many place names: quen means "place," as in the town of Vichiquen, while che means "people," and mapu means "land." (Mapuche, therefore, translates as "people of the land.")

The Mapuche leader in times of war was called a Toqui, while the peacetime leader was called an Ulmen. Messengers were called huerquenes.


Araucanian folklore survives today, perpetuated by the surviving Mapuche people.

One Mapuche legend involves the southern islands of the Chiloé region: The evil serpent Cai Cai rises furiously from the sea to flood the earth. Her good twin Tren Tren, slumbers in her fortress among mountain peaks. The Mapuche try unsuccessfully to wake Tren Tren. Cai Cai's friends, the pillars of Thunder, Wind, and Fire, pile up the clouds to make rain, thunder, and water. Finally, a little girl dances with her reflection in Tren Tren's eye and her laughter awakens Tren Tren, who also begins to laugh. Deeply insulted, the evil Cai Cai and her friends fall down the hill

But Cai Cai is angry and shatters the earth, scattering islands all over the sea. The water climbs higher and higher, trying to flood the mountain peaks where Tren Tren lives. But Tren Tren manages to raise the mountain up toward the sky and the sun. Finally the evil serpent Cai Cai and the Pillars of Thunder, Wind, and Fire fall from the mountain peak into the deep pit below, where they are silenced.


The Mapuche believe in an ultimate balance between the forces of creation (Ngenechen) and destruction (Wakufu). Reverence for nature and acknowledgment of the forces of good and evil are also part of their belief system. Traditional prayer meetings called machitunes invoke the help of the gods and goddesses for rain and good crops. Another type of meeting, called a malón, involves listening to dreams and prophecies.

Roman Catholicism has coexisted alongside the original religious beliefs of the Araucanians. In some cases the two have merged.


Mapuche who live in cities celebrate the major Chilean national holidays together with the rest of the population, including Independence Day and the discovery of America by Columbus on October 12, 1492.

The Mapuche who live on reservations have maintained some of their traditional celebrations. One of the best-known festivals is the nquillatún, which lasts for three days and dedicates the lands and the harvest to the gods and goddesses.


All major stages in the life cycle, such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death, are marked by special ceremonies. Important members of the tribe, such as lonkos ( chieftains), play special roles. They are accompanied by music and also include elements of the Araucanians' oral tradition, such as poetry and legends.


Greetings have well-defined levels of formality and informality. Strangers can only come into a traditional Mapuche environment with the utmost care. Those who are accompanied by a Mapuche may be welcomed with elaborate feasting and great hospitality. However, those who come alone could just as easily be met with hostility and silence.


Some Mapuche continue to live in a fairly traditional style, but many have migrated to towns where they share the lot of other poor urban workers as pobladores living in shantytowns with poor housing and health conditions. The housing in shantytowns is basic. Shelters can be of adobe and bits of other materials. In remote country areas the traditional thatched-roof huts known as rucas provide shelter.


The Mapuche group of Araucanians who still live on reducciones, or reservations, have tried to maintain the traditional family structures. These include the extended family unit and a clan-like structure with a clan head or chief.

Traditionally, each extended family was headed by a lonko, or chief, who had several wives and many children. The sense of family identity extended to grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and relatives by marriage. This type of social structure is gradually being undermined by efforts to Christianize the Mapuche and by government attempts to assimilate them into mainstream society.

Because the male family members come into contact with white society through their work, it is they who are influenced by mainstream culture. Women often take the most active role in maintaining the group's traditions.


Men in towns wear Western-style shirts and trousers. Women are sometimes dressed more traditionally, with long skirts and colorful, embroidered aprons. They may also wear head scarves, sometimes decorated with gold coins.

Younger Mapuche girls often wear Western-style clothing such as sweaters and skirts. Boys wear shirts or sweaters and trousers.


Traditional hunting and fishing, as well as crops such as corn and various fruits, ensure a varied, traditional diet for the Araucanians. The distinctive curanto oven is still used by some Mapuche on the island of Chiloé. It allows meat and vegetables wrapped in leaves to steam for hours. A recipe for humitas, steamed corn wrapped in leaves, follows. Traditional feasting on special occasions can last for several days.


The Mapuche who lost their lands and had to emigrate to the towns now try to offer their children opportunities to attend school. On the reservations many still try to educate their children about their traditional way of life.




  • 24 to 30 ears of corn
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • cup grated cheese (Parmesan or Jarlsberg), optional


  1. Carefully peel back the husks from the corn. Using a sharp knife, cut the husks off the corn cob. Peel away the husks, one at a time, and save three or four husks of the inner husks without tears.
  2. Using a grater set over a bowl, grate the corn kernels off the cobs. There should be about 7 cups of corn.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft.
  4. Add the chopped tomato and cook for about 4 minutes more, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the corn. Sprinkle the mixture with the corn flour and mix. Add the grated cheese, if desired, and mix thoroughly.
  6. Allow the mixture to rest for about 30 minutes, but stir every few minutes.
  7. Assemble the humitas: Place 2 corn husks, one overlapping the other, on the work surface. The pointed ends should be facing away from each other. Place a third husk in the center.
  8. Place 1 generous tablespoon of the corn mixture in the center of the stack of husks. Wrap the corn mixture completely with the husks. (Fold the sides in first, and then fold up each pointed end. The result should be a neat rectangle.) Tie the package with strips of corn husk or kitchen string.
  9. Place a steamer rack in a large saucepan with about an inch of water. Stack the humitas in the steamer, cover the pan tightly, and steam for about 45 minutes.

Cool until the humitas can be handled. Cut and discard the tie, open the package, and serve the contents warm. Cooked humitas may be refrigerated for up to one week. To serve, steam for about 10 minutes to heat through.

Adapted from Rojas-Lombardi, Felipe. The Art of South American Cooking. New-York: HarperCollins, 1991.


The music of the Araucanians is played on special instruments. There are whistles made of wood, a type of flute called the trutruca, and various percussion instruments such as the cultrun. Music and dancing traditionally accompany important rituals. A type of poetic singing (mapudungu) in the Araucanian language includes the reciting of legends, special invocations and prayers, and stories associated with the forces of life and death.


The Mapuche who still live on reservations engage in farming and fishing. They also produce handicrafts. A majority of Mapuche town dwellers live as urban workers. Since the 1930s, the Mapuche in towns have been active in trade union movements. During the period of military rule in the 1970s and 1980s, employment opportunities and working conditions were closely linked to the Mapuches' struggle to preserve their ethnic identity.

Women often contribute to the family's earnings by selling their wares at markets and fairs.


Many of the younger Mapuche are enthusiastic soccer fans. Some Mapuche from the island of Chiloé are skilled boaters.


Mapuche who live in or near towns enjoy the many fiestas (celebrations) loved by Chileans. Some of these are religious feast days. Others are linked to the agricultural cycle or to cultural events.


The Mapuche are skilled jewelry-makers, potters, and weavers of cloth and baskets.

The ethnic Mapuche who live on the island of Chiloé still use a traditional loom to weave sweaters and ponchos from sheep wool. The women prepare dyes made from herbs.

There are several important craft fairs in Chile that display Araucanian arts and crafts.


The social problems of the Mapuche are related to economic hardship as well as to the struggle to preserve their traditions and identity. Many inhabitants of the reservations (reducciones) are primarily concerned with preserving the traditions and beliefs of their culture. On the other hand, those who have emigrated to the towns often see the struggle for workers' rights as their primary cause.


Dwyer, Christopher. Chile, Major World Nations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.

Gavin, Irene Flum. Chile: Journey to Freedom. Parsippany, N.Y.: Dillon Press, 1997.

Hintz, Martin. Chile, Enchantment of the World. Chicago: Children's Press, 1993.

Rojas-Lombardi, Felipe. The Art of South American Cooking. NewYork: HarperCollins, 1991.


Interknowledge Corporation. Chile. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Chile. [Online] Available, 1998.


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Araucanians (Araucano in Spanish), historical term used to refer to indigenous peoples in the southern cone exclusive of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. The etymology of the word "Araucanian" is unclear, but it was used in the earliest Spanish observations of the native inhabitants in southern Chile (see, for example, Pedro de Valdivia's letters and chronicles and Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga's epic poem La Araucana). Some believe the word derives from the terms used by the Inca (Aucas or Promaucas, from the Quechua purem, "wild enemy," and auka, "rebel") to refer to the southern peoples they were unable to conquer. The term Araucano (sometimes Auca) was used by colonial and military officials in documents and literature to refer to native inhabitants encountered in the southern colonial frontier (Chile and Argentina). Scholars continue to use the term, although there is growing preference for Mapuche (mapu, meaning "land," and che, "people," in Mapundungun), the name used by the people to refer to themselves.

The Araucanian world in the sixteenth century encompassed the valleys and coasts, and transcordilleran highlands of the southern Andes, ranging south of the Bío-Bío River to the northern regions of Chiloe along the western slopes of the cordillera and extending into the eastern precordillera to the headwaters of the Río Chubut and Río Colorado.

A common language encoded shared cultural understandings about social organization and religious beliefs and linked the Araucanians. An exogamous kinship system allowed the expansion of Araucanian family groups, which were loosely organized according to specific territorial claims. Each individual kin group, though related to other groups by shared linguistic and ceremonial forms, retained autonomy. The autonomous decision-making power of each kin leader was maintained over the centuries, even though at different times the Araucanians joined together to form bands, tribes, and even confederations in their attempts to maintain cultural and political independence.

The Araucanians resisted the incursion of the Inca in the mid-fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and their experience prepared the Araucanians to resist the Spaniards as well. While it is possible that earlier contacts between individual Araucanians and Spanish explorers may have gone unrecorded, the first sustained encounter began with the arrival of Pedro de Valdivia and the founding of Concepción in 1550 near the Bío-Bío River. There followed over three centuries of warfare and resistance to Spanish conquest on the part of the Araucanians.

Araucanian experience in maintaining a defensive frontier against Inca and Spanish forces in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries also prepared them militarily and technically to expand their activities into the south and to the east in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this process, the exogamous nature of Araucanian social relations facilitated the incorporation of neighboring peoples, including the linguistically and culturally related Pehuenches (fifteenth-seventeenth centuries) and later the more distantly linked Pampas (also called Puelche) and Tehuelches (eighteenth-nineteenth centuries), bands of the Gününa këna linguistic family which had roamed the pampas and southern Patagonian steppes for millennia.

When Araucanians and Pehuenches from the cordillera began to send hunting and raiding parties (Malones) into the pampas east of the cordillera (late seventeenth-eighteenth centuries), they came into conflict with the Creole ranching interests there. When competition with Chilean colonists for control of fertile land in southern Chile accelerated in the early nineteenth century, increasing numbers of Araucanians moved from the eastern cordilleran highlands and precordillera to settle in permanent encampments in the Argentine pampas. In this epoch, the Araucanians enjoyed a cultural and economic renaissance, expanding their material and ceremonial base through raids and alliances to coalesce into powerful intertribal confederations.

Traditionally, the Araucanians have been treated as interesting but marginal forces in the historiography of both Chile and Argentina. Because primary archival sources tend to be located either in Chile or in Argentina, knowledge of the Araucanian world prior to their ultimate military conquest in the late nineteenth century tends to be colored by nationalistic concerns. The story of Araucanian military resistance to Spanish conquest was recast by creole independence leaders in the nineteenth century as emblematic of a Chilean nationalism. Public statuary in Santiago immortalized as a national hero Lautaro, the Araucanian warrior held responsible for Valdivia's capture and death in 1553, at the same time that government policies of "pacification" eroded Mapuche lives and property in the south. On the other side of the cordillera, the Araucanians traditionally have been viewed as invading hordes who plagued the expansion of the southern Argentine frontier in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although in Argentina, too, the Araucanians on occasion have been cast as symbols of independence and nationalism, as exemplified by the first Montoneros in the early nineteenth century.

More recent analytical approaches to Araucanian history, which have led to a reassessment of the role of the Araucanians, tend to view them as significant actors who participated in fundamental ways in the history of both Chile and Argentina.

See alsoAnthropology; Indigenous Peoples; Valdivia, Pedro de.


Julian H. Steward, ed., Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 2 (1946), pp. 687-766.

Louis Faron, The Hawks of the Sun: Mapuche Morality and Its Ritual Attributes (1964).

Bernardo Berdichewsky, "Araucanians," in Encyclopedia of Indians of the Americas, vol. 2 (1974).

Patricia J. Lyon, ed., Native South Americans (1974), pp. 327-342.

José Bengoa, Historia del Pueblo Mapuche: Siglos XIX y XX (1985).

Judith Ewell and William Beezeley, eds., The Human Tradition in Latin America: The Nineteenth Century (1989), pp. 175-187.

Leonardo León Solis, Maloqueros y Conchavadores en Araucanía y las Pampas, 1700–1800 (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Ercilla y Zúñiga, Alonso de, and Isaías Lerner. La Araucana. Letras hispánicas, 359. Madrid: Cátedra, [1569, 1578 & 1589] 1998.

Mallon, Florencia E. Courage Tastes of Blood: The Mapuche Community of Nicolás Ailío and the Chilean State, 1906–2001. Radical perspectives. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

                                          Kristine L. Jones


views updated May 11 2018

Araucanian Independent language family of South American Indians who live in Chile and Argentina. A loose confederation of Araucanian-speaking sub-tribes (including the Picunche, Mapuche, and Huilliche) offered strong resistance to the Spanish invasion under Diego de Almagro in 1536. They drove the Spaniards back to the River Bio-Bio in 1598, and retained possession of interior portions of Chile to the present time. Their descendants prefer the name Mapuche (land people). The population has declined from c.1 million in the 16th century to c.300,000 today.