Mapudungun language/History


Huamán Poma de Ayala's picture about the confrontation between the Mapuches (left) and the Incas (right)
Picture of Mapuches during a malón raid

The origin of the Mapuche is not clear. The Mapuche language, Mapudungun, has been classified by some authorities as being related to the Penutian languages of North America. Others group it among the Andean languages [1], and yet others postulate an Araucanian-Mayan relationship [2]; Croese (1989, 1991) has advanced the hypothesis that it is related to Arawak. Recent DNA analysis has found that Mapuche pre-Columbian Araucana chicken came from Polynesia,[3][4][5] suggesting contact between the Mapuche and Polynesia. One of the earliest sites of human occupation in the Americas, Monte Verde, lies within what was later to become Huilliche territory, although there is currently no demonstrated link between the Monte Verde people and the Mapuche.

War of AraucoEdit

The Mapuche successfully resisted many attempts by the Inca Empire to subjugate them, despite their lack of state organization. They fought against the Sapa Inca, Tupac Yupanqui, and his army. The result of the bloody three-day confrontation known as the Battle of the Maule was that the Inca conquest of the territories of Chile ended at the Maule river. They fell back to the north behind the Rapel and Cachapoal Rivers where they established a fortified border guarded by fortresses like Pucará de La Compañía and the Pucará del Cerro La Muralla.

After the successful subjugation of the Picunche in the Conquest of Chile, the Moluche of the area the Spanish called Araucanía fought against the Spaniards for over 300 years. Initial conquests of land by Spain in the late 16th century were repelled by the Mapuche so effectively that there were areas to which Europeans did not return until late in the 19th century. One of the main geographical boundaries was the Bío-Bío River, which the Mapuche used as a natural barrier to Spanish and Chilean incursion. The 300 years were not uniformly a period of hostility, but often allowed substantial trade and interchange between Mapuche and Spaniards or Chileans. Nevertheless, the long Mapuche resistance has become primarily known as the War of Arauco, and its early phase was immortalized in Alonso de Ercilla's epic poem La Araucana.

From the mid 17th century the Mapuches and the governors of Chile made a series of treaties in order to end the hostilities. By the late eighteenth century many Mapuche loncos had accepted the de jure sovereignty of the Spanish king of their lands while having a de facto independence.

When Chile revolted from the Spanish crown during the Chilean War of Independence, some Mapuche chiefs sided with the royalists of Vicente Benavides in the Guerra a muerte. The aid of the Mapuches was vital to the Spanish since they had lost the control of all cities and ports north of Valdivia. Mapuches valued the treaties made with the Spanish authorities, however most regarded the matter with indifference and took advantage of both sides. After Chile's independence from Spain, the Mapuche coexisted and traded with their neighbors, who prudently remained north of the Bío-Bío River, although clashes occurred frequently.

Occupation of the AraucaníaEdit

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

Chilean population pressures increased on the Mapuche borders, and by the 1880s Chile extended both to the north and to the south of the Mapuche heartlands. Further, Chile in the 1880s, as a result of its preparation for and its victory in the War of the Pacific against Bolivia and Peru, found itself with a large standing army and a relatively modern arsenal for the period. Finally, in the mid- to late-1880s, partially on the pretext of crushing a French adventurer, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, who had declared himself King of Araucania, Chile overwhelmed the Mapuche in the course of the so-called "pacification of the Araucanía".

Using a combination of force and diplomacy, Chile's government obliged some Mapuche leaders to sign a treaty absorbing the Araucanian territories into Chile. The immediate impact of the war was widespread starvation and disease. It has been claimed that the Mapuche population dropped from a total of half a million to 25,000 within a generation[6], though the latter figure has been called an exaggeration by several authorities. In the post-conquest period, however, there was internment of a significant percentage of the Mapuche, the wholesale destruction of the Mapuche herding, agricultural and trading economies, the wholesale looting of Mapuche property (real and personal - including a large amount of silver jewelry to replenish the Chilean national coffers), and the creation and institutionalization of a system of reserves called reducciones along lines similar to North American reservation systems. Subsequent generations of Mapuche live in extreme poverty as a direct result of being conquered and expropriated.

Recent historyEdit

Many Mapuche descendants now live across southern Chile and Argentina; some maintain their traditions and continue living from agriculture, but a growing majority have migrated to cities in search of better economic opportunities. However, contrary to popular imagination, the majority of the Mapuche people live in urban areas, especially around Santiago[7]. Chile's region IX continues to have a rural population made up of approximately 80%; there are also substantial Mapuche populations in regions X, VIII, and VII.

In recent years, there has been an attempt by the Chilean government to redress some of the inequities of the past. The Parliament voted, in 1993, Law n° 19 253 (Indigenous Law, or Ley indígena) [8] which recognized the Mapuche people, and seven other ethnic minorities as well as the Mapudungun language and culture. In the frame of this law, Mapundungun, which was prohibited before, is now included in the curriculum of elementary schools around Temuco.

Despite representing 4.6% of the Chilean population few Mapuches have reached government positions, in 2006 among Chile's 38 senators and 120 deputies only one declared to be indigenous. The number is however higher at municipal levels.[9]

Furthermore, representatives from Mapuche organisations joined the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) seeking recognition and protection for their cultural and land rights.

Land disputesEdit

Land disputes and violent interactions do continue in some Mapuche areas, particularly in the northern sections of the IX region between and around Traiguén and Lumaco. In an effort to defuse tensions a special government body, the Commission for Historical Truth and New Treatment, issued a report in 2003 calling for drastic changes in Chile's treatment of its indigenous people, more than 80 percent of whom are Mapuche. The recommendations included the formal recognition of political and "territorial" rights for aboriginal peoples, as well as efforts to promote their cultural identity.

Though Japanese and Swiss interests are active in Araucanía (Mapudungun: "Ngulu Mapu"), both of the main forestry companies are Chilean-owned. The firms have planted hundreds of thousands of acres with exotic species such as Monterey pine, Douglas fir's and eucalyptus trees, sometimes substituting native Valdivian forests, althought substitution is nowadays forbidden.

Chilean exports of wood to the United States, almost all of which come from this southern region, are about $600 million a year and rising. Though an international campaign led by the conservation group Forest Ethics resulted in the Home Depot chain and other leading wood importers agreeing to revise their purchasing policies to "provide for the protection of native forests in Chile," some Mapuche leaders were not satisfied.

In recent years the delicts committed by Mapuche activists have been prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation originally introduced by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The law allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from the defense for up to six months and to conceal the identity of witnesses, who may give evidence in court behind screens. There are several violent activist groups, such as the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco, which utilize tactics including burning of structures and pastures, and death threats against people and their families. Protesters from Mapuche communities have used these tactics against multinational forestry corporations and private individuals.[10][11]

  1. Greenberg 1987, Key 1978
  2. Stark 1970, Hamp 1971
  4. [1][2]
  5. Polynesians - And Their Chickens - Arrived in Americas Before Columbus
  6. Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, 109.
  7. Chile I., 1992, Censo de Población, Instituto Nacional de Estatisticas, Santiago de Chile.
  8. Law n° 19 253 Indigenous Law
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  11. Mapuche struggle for autonomy in Chile