Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Chile1,508,722 (2012)[1]
 Argentina205,009 (2010)[2]
Mapudungun • Spanish
Christianity (Catholicism and Evangelicalism) adapted to traditional beliefs
Related ethnic groups
Picunche, Huilliche, Benei Sión

The Mapuche 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 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. 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.

The Araucanian Mapuche inhabited at the time of Spanish arrival 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.

Historically the Spanish colonizers of South America referred to the Mapuche people as Araucanians (araucanos). However, this term is now considered pejorative[3] by some people. The name was likely derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco), meaning "clayey water".[4][5] The Quechua word awqa, meaning "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano.[4]

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 Mapuches 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.


Huamán Poma de Ayala's picture of the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right)

Pre–Columbian period

Archaeological finds have shown the existence of a Mapuche culture in Chile and Argentina as early as 600 to 500 BC.[6] Genetically Mapuches differ from the adjacent indigenous peoples of Patagonia.[7] This suggests a "different origin or long lasting separation of Mapuche and Patagonian populations".[7]

Troops of the Inca Empire are reported to have reached the Maule River and had a battle with the Mapuches between the Maule River and the Itata River there.[8] The southern border of the Inca Empire is believed by most modern scholars to have been situated between Santiago and the Maipo River or somewhere between Santiago and the Maule River.[9] Thus the bulk of the Mapuche escaped Inca rule. Through their contact with Incan invaders Mapuches would have for the first time met people with state organization. Their contact with the Incas gave them a collective awareness distinguishing between them and the invaders and uniting them into loose geo-political units despite their lack of state organization.[10]

At the time of the arrival of the first Spaniards to Chile the largest indigenous population concentration was in the area spanning from Itata River to Chiloé Archipelago—that is the Mapuche heartland.[11] The Mapuche population between Itata River and Reloncaví Sound has been estimated at 705,000–900,000 in the mid-16th century by historian José Bengoa.[12][note 1]

Arauco War

The Spanish entered Mapuche territory from Peru. Their expansion into Chile was an offshoot of the conquest of Peru.[13] In 1541 Pedro de Valdivia reached Chile from Cuzco and founded Santiago.[14] The northern Mapuche tribes, such as the Promaucaes and the Picunches, fought unsuccessfully against Spanish conquest. Little is known about their resistance.[15]

Picture El joven Lautaro of P. Subercaseaux, shows the military genius and expertise of his people.

In 1550 Pedro de Valdivia, who aimed to control all of Chile to the Straits of Magellan, traveled southward to conquer more Mapuche territory.[16] Between 1550 and 1553 the Spanish founded several cities[note 2] in Mapuche lands including Concepción, Valdivia, Imperial, Villarrica and Angol.[16] The Spanish also established the forts of Arauco, Purén and Tucapel.[16] Further efforts by the Spanish to gain more territory engaged them in the Arauco War against the Mapuche, a sporadic conflict that lasted nearly 350 years. Hostility towards the conquerors was compounded by the lack of a tradition of forced labour akin to the Inca mita among the Mapuche, who largely refused to serve the Spanish.[18]

From their establishment in 1550 to 1598, the Mapuche frequently laid siege to Spanish settlements in Araucanía.[17] The war was mostly a low intensity conflict.[19] Mapuche numbers decreased significantly following contact with the Spanish invaders; wars and epidemics decimated the population.[15] Others died in Spanish owned gold mines.[18]

Caupolican by Nicanor Plaza

In 1598 a party of warriors from Purén led by Pelantaro, who were returning south from a raid in Chillán area, ambushed Martín García Óñez de Loyola and his troops[20] while they rested without taking any precautions against attack. Almost all the Spaniards died, save a cleric named Bartolomé Pérez, who was taken prisoner, and a soldier named Bernardo de Pereda. The Mapuche then initiated a general uprising which destroyed all the cities in their homeland south of the Biobío River.

In the years following the Battle of Curalaba a general uprising developed among the Mapuches and Huilliches. The Spanish cities of Angol, Imperial, Osorno, Santa Cruz de Oñez, Valdivia and Villarrica were either destroyed or abandoned.[21] Only Chillán and Concepción resisted Mapuche sieges and raids.[22] With the exception of the Chiloé Archipelago, all Chilean territory south of the BíoBío River was freed from Spanish rule.[21] In this period the Mapuche Nation crossed the Andes Range to conquer the present Argentine provinces of Chubut, Neuquen, La Pampa and Río Negro. Spain never again attempted to retake those territories.

Incorporation into Chile and Argentina

Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez in meeting with the main lonkos of Araucania in 1869

In the 19th century Chile experienced a fast territorial expansion. Chile established a colony at the Strait of Magellan in 1843, settled Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue with German immigrants and conquered land from Peru and Bolivia.[23][24] Later Chile would also annex Easter Island.[25] In this context Araucanía began to be conquered by Chile due to two reasons. First, the Chilean state aimed for territorial continuity[26] and second it remained the sole place for Chilean agriculture to expand.[27]

Between 1861 and 1871 Chile incorporated several Mapuche territories in Araucanía. In January 1881, having decisively defeated Peru in the battles of Chorrillos and Miraflores, Chile resumed the conquest of Araucanía.[28][29][30]

Historian Ward Churchill has claimed that the Mapuche population dropped from a total of half a million to 25,000 within a generation as result of the occupation and its associated famine and disease.[31] The conquest of Araucanía caused numerous Mapuches to be displaced and forced to roam in search of shelter and food.[32] Scholar Pablo Miramán claims the introduction of state education during the Occupation of Araucanía had detrimental effects on traditional Mapuche education.[33]

Ancient flag of the Mapuche on the Arauco War.

In the years following the occupation the economy of Araucanía changed from being based on sheep and cattle herding to one based on agriculture and wood extraction.[34] The loss of land by Mapuches following the occupation caused severe erosion since Mapuches continued to practice a massive livestock herding in limited areas.[35]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Mapuche
العربية: مابوتشي
Avañe'ẽ: Mapuche
azərbaycanca: Araukanlar
беларуская: Мапучэ
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Мапучы
български: Мапуче
Boarisch: Mapuche
català: Maputxes
čeština: Mapučové
Cymraeg: Mapuche
dansk: Mapuche
Deutsch: Mapuche
Ελληνικά: Μαπούτσε
español: Pueblo mapuche
Esperanto: Mapuĉoj
euskara: Maputxe
فارسی: ماپوچه
français: Mapuches
galego: Pobo mapuche
한국어: 마푸체
hrvatski: Mapuche
Bahasa Indonesia: Mapuche
italiano: Mapuche
עברית: מפוצ'ה
Basa Jawa: Wong Mapuche
ქართული: მაპუჩე
қазақша: Араукандар
latviešu: Mapuči
lietuvių: Mapučiai
მარგალური: მაპუჩე
Bahasa Melayu: Mapuche
Nederlands: Mapuche
日本語: マプチェ族
Nordfriisk: Mapuche
norsk: Mapuche
norsk nynorsk: Mapuche
polski: Mapuche
português: Mapuches
Runa Simi: Mapuchi
русский: Арауканы
Scots: Mapuche
slovenčina: Mapuče
slovenščina: Mapuči
српски / srpski: Арауканци
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mapuche
suomi: Mapuchet
svenska: Mapuche
Türkçe: Mapuçeler
українська: Мапуче
中文: 马普切人