A population that refused to be submitted to the Incas and later to the Spaniards
Mapuche means “people from the land” in mapudungun, the Mapuche language. Even before the arrival of the Spaniards, they occupied a vast territory on each side of the Andes Mountain Range, of the province of Buenos Aires, and on the South of Patagonia. It was a sedentary population that had reached certain degree of development living on hunting and agriculture, they were an organized society.
In the 15th century, they put at risk the conquest of the Inca Empire who could not subdue them. The Spanish conquerors could not subdue them some tens of years later either. After several confrontations, a border is settled demarcating the Mapuche territory.
By mid 19th century, after the Independence and the birth of Argentina, the government decided to colonize the Southern lands with all the European immigrants coming en masse. So far, Patagonia, Chaco and a great extension of La Pampa were free aboriginal territories. There were contacts between the aboriginal and Creole societies: they entered into treaties to establish the borders, they made commercial exchanges, and even several caciques took sides and combated in the fight for Independence.
In 1860, Orélie Antoine de Tounens, a French adventurer who got thrilled by the Mapuches, the Puelches and the Tehuelches, was self-proclaimed King of Araucania and Patagonia. Warned by this secessionist intention, the Chilean government started a military campaign and ended up subduing the Mapuches in 1880, two years after the death of Périgueux, who had made a confession in exile in Dordogne where he had been born.
Orélie Antoine I had had time to draft a constitution, compose a national anthem, and create a flag… The kingdom was amazingly perpetuated with a landless King, Prince Philippe, born Philippe Boiry in Paris in 1927. A story that made many people laugh but never lacked glamour.
Mapuche population in Chile and Argentina
According to the last census, there are 600,000 Mapuches in Chile, that is, 4% of the population and 30% less than at the beginning of the 1990s. They live in rural areas in the IX region (Temuco), in the X region (Puerto Montt), and in the metropolitan region of Santiago. They were persecuted under Pinochet’s government and now they hardly fight to recover their territories or identity.
The “aboriginal issue” reappeared with the return of the democracy in the 1980s. In 1994, the Constitution of the Argentine Republic recognized the rights of the aboriginal populations with access to a bilingual education. Mapuches are the best-organized population with associations, councils and confederations. Their goals: to reaffirm their cultural identity, their language, their culture, their traditions and their territories.
The Mapuche culture is packed with a deep respect for the lands; they do not consider it private property but community wealth. Every year in autumn, the Nquillatún, a big party is held to ask for a good harvest with rituals, music, songs and dances. Their other precious treasury is the family that is gathered in the ruca (Mapuche house) and the community; their social ties are very strong.
Many Mapuches today live on selling their pieces of craftsmanship. The silver objects and jewels have great true and symbolic values in their culture: stunning necklaces, earrings, brooches, diadems, bracelets carried by women in parties and religious ceremonies. Men pay great attention to anything that may be an ornament to their horses: spurs, stirrups, etc. The work is very fine with antropomorph patterns, ideograms, and animal or flower representations. The colors and the drawings of the knitted works also entail symbolic values. Women still make, in the traditional manner, their blankets, ruanas (ponchos), rugs or bags.