Chile's Mapuche People: History

If you plan to study Spanish in Chile or Argentina, you may want to learn a little bit about the Mapuche people. This indigenous group lives in both Chile and Argentina. According to 2002 estimates, there are about 604,000 individuals in Chile and 300,000 in Argentina, making the Mapuche one of Latin America's largest indigenous groups.

The earliest history of the Mapuche people is still unclear. Some experts believe that their language is related to the Penutian languages in North America, while others believe it is similar to languages spoken in the Andes. Even though the Mapuche lacked a formal government structure, they were impressively able to resist subjugation by the Incan Empire on many occasions.

The Mapuche were also able to repel Spanish conquests in the 16th century. In fact, they seemed to keep the Europeans from returning to certain areas until the late 19th century. The Mapuche used the natural barrier of the Bio-Bio River to remain isolated from the Europeans. This resistance lasted about 300 years and is referred to as The War of Arauco. In the middle of the 17th century, the rulers of Chile and the Mapuche people created a peace treaty.

By the late 1880s, Chile had developed a very large army with the latest military equipment. The Mapuche were overwhelmed. The leaders from the Chilean government forced some of the Mapuche leaders to sign a treaty and agree that they were to be absorbed into Chile. As a result, there were hard times for the Mapuche people including starvation and disease. Their population dropped significantly. Plus, their agricultural and trading economies were destroyed, leaving many Mapuche men and women in poverty. Unfortunately, the poverty has remained until this day.

Sadly, the Mapuche are looked down on as the lowest social class in Chile. They did not fare well under Pinochet's rule, as their land was privatized and sold to businesses and foreigners. Pinochet also refused to admit that they were indigenous people.

Quite a large number of Mapuche moved into cities in recent years. In an attempt to assimilate into modern Chilean society, many Mapuche even changed their last names. A high number of Mapuche moved to Santiago hoping to find work, but found it was difficult for them to find jobs and be accepted into mainstream life.

The Mapuche have made huge strides in regaining their land and trying to get recognition as a protected indigenous people. They did have some success with the Indigenous Act in 1993, which prohibited indigenous people from being forcibly moved from their land. As a result of this legislation, the government must now offer the people a similar piece of land and the Mapuche must accept the terms of the arrangement before they can be moved. Further, the Mapudungun language and culture was officially recognized under this law.

The formation of the CONADI (Corporación Nacional de Desarollo Indígena) also benefited the Mapuche. Under this state authority, the cultural identity of the people is respected and Mapuche land is to be protected.

When you study Spanish in Chile, you may have the opportunity to meet Mapuche people, especially if you spend time in Santiago. You may even see protests take place. In October 2011, thousands of Mapuche people marched to protest the treatment of their people. While this may not be something that you expected when you signed up to attend Spanish school in Chile, the Mapuche and the ongoing fight for their rights is quite important to understand.

ECELA Viña del Mar is a Spanish school in Chile that provides cultural lessons and activities in addition to the language course. For more information on how to study Spanish in Chile =>

EasyPublish this article: