The Mapuches are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their influence once extended from the Aconcagua River to the Chiloé Archipelago and spread later eastward to the Argentine pampa. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile, and about 9% of the total Chilean population. They are particularly concentrated in Araucanía. Many have migrated to the Santiago area for economic opportunities.
The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organisation consists of extended families, under the direction of a lonko or chief. In times of war, they would unite in larger groupings and elect a toki (meaning "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them. They are known for the textiles woven by women, which have been goods for trade for centuries, since before the arrival of European explorers.
At the time of Spanish arrival the Araucanian Mapuche inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers. South of it, the Huilliche and the Cunco lived as far south as the Chiloé Archipelago. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and pampas, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poya and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranquel and northern Aonikenk, made contact with Mapuche groups. The Tehuelche adopted the Mapuche language and some of their culture, in what came to be called Araucanization.
Some Mapuche mingled with Spanish during colonial times, and their descendants make up the large group of mestizos in Chile. But Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the Chilean Occupation of Araucanía and the Argentine Conquest of the Desert in the late 19th century. Since then Mapuche have become subjects, and then nationals and citizens of the respective states. Today, many Mapuche and Mapuche communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights in both Argentina and in Chile.
Historically the Spanish colonizers of South America referred to the Mapuche people as Araucanians (araucanos). However, this term is now considered pejorative by some people. The name was likely derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco), meaning "clayey water". The Quechua word awqa, meaning "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano.
It's thought that the Mapuche (Moluche, Huilliche, Picunche, etc) called themselves Reche during the Spanish conquest due to their supposed pure native blood, Re meaning pure and Che meaning people
The name "Mapuche" is used both to refer collectively to the Picunche (people of the north), Huilliche (people of the south) and Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía, or at other times, exclusively to the Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía. However, Mapuche is a relatively recent endonym meaning "People of the Land", is preferred to be used when referring to the "Mapuche" people after the Arauco War