(Recopilación de Luz Alejandra Melgarejo Soto - Periodista - CHILE - Article by Luz Alejandra Melgarejo Soto, journalist, Chile

The Mapuche are descendants of ancient population groups and cultures which were gradually developing in what is now Chile. Archeological research that has been carried out in Arauco Province indicates that there was early human occupation as far back as the Middle Archaic period (from 6,500 - 4,500 BCE). Vestiges of the considerable indigenous population in this area are to be seen in all the present Mapuche communities, from Arauco to Tirua, including Isla Mocha.


The Mapuche differentiate, between four groups according to their geographic orientations (o Meli Wutran Mapu): Wilimapu (Williche, people of the south), Picunmapu (Picunche, north of Biobio), Puelmapy (Puelche, the cordillera), and Lafkenmapu (referring to the sea coast with its Lafkenche population.)

The Mapuche enjoy considerable influence due to their linguistic unity. In the middle of the sixteenth century, the chroniclers of the period mentioned that from the Choapa River to the Chiloe Archipelago, the same language was spoken. One wonders how could these indigenous groups share a similar language, customs, rituals, social conventions and politics over such an extended territory without having a centralized state. No clear answer to this question exists.

The Spanish invasión and conquest had a similar effect across the entire American continent. In Chile there was some resistence on the part of the population in the north and center of the country, but they were defeated by the Spanish army and were incorporated into the plans for domination of the conquerors, which consisted of using indigenous manpower for the Spanish system of production, known as "encomienda." Nevertheless, this system failed to be imposed in the south of Chile, the the territory of the Mapuche, and this population was unique in having remained independent of Spain for more than 260 years. Many explanations, absent of course, from the history books, have been given for the Mapuche resistance. Today the accepted theory is that it was based on the Mapuche social structure. Unlike the Incas and Aztecs, who had a central government and internal political divisions, The Mapuche did not have a hierarchical social structure with centralizad power, each family being an independent unit with no obligation to obey an external authority.

During the nineteenth century Mapuche society was quite different from that observed at the time of the arrival of the Spanish. War and commerce had modified their economy and social structure.


Socio-political Structure


- Family: The basic unit is the family. Most male descendents of the head of the family live together with the wives joining the families of their husbands.


- Lof: A wider level of social integration in which various families which are related by blood and of the same lineage as the leader, or Lonko, are grouped together.


- Rewe: A traditional organization uniting a group of lofs and led by a Futcha Lonko. (The word rewe has a separate meaning when it is applied to the field of religión, in which case it designates a sacred space where the Nguillatun takes place.


- Ayllarewe: An organization composed of nine rewe led by a Kűme Futcha Longo.


Traditional Religious Authorities


In charge of the relationship and communication between humans and the spiritual world. Among the most important:


- Ngen Pin: The highest authority of Nguillatun. The one who is familiar with all aspects of the Mapuche World.


- Ngizol: Assistants to the Ngen Pin during the Nguillatun.


- Lonko: Heads of a lof, they play an important role in the Nguillatun.


- Machi: Authority on traditional medicine with knowledge of the secrets of the Mapuche world. In the territory of the Lafkenche they are required to lead the Nguillatun.


- Dugunmache: An intermediary between the machi and the Mapuche people who interprets ifthe messages of the machi during the Machitun as well as the Nguillatun.


Religious, Social and Cultural Activities


- Nguillatun: A ceremony in which all aspects of the material and spiritual life of the Mapuche people converge. It is a solemn act of restatement and agreement on the function of the individual, the family and the community with the totality of life.

- Machitun: A ritual of spiritual and physical purification under the authority of the machi.

- Elűwűn: Mapuche burial.


- Wetripantu: The commencement of a new natural cycle, such as the winter solstice.

- Palin: A traditional Mapuche sport played by two teams in order to strengthen the friendship among the Lonko. It is played with a wino or chueca on a long narrow playing field. The team that first scores four goals is the winner.

- Lakutun: A social and religious ceremony by means of which the paternal grandfather, or lakku, surrenders his name to his grandson.


Lafkenche Tourism

During the last ten years the province of Arauco has seen a growing offering of tourist services associated with the recognition of the value of the cultural and natural patrimony of the Mapuche Lafkenche communities. This presents an interesting economic opportunity for increasing family income.

The current challenge for the Mapuche communities that are offering these services is to increase their quality and to focus on sustainability and responsible tourism, which correspond to the Mapuche, and in this case Lafkenche, world view.

Lafkenche tourism is centered in the communes of Canete, Contulmo and Tirua, with close ties to the sea and to lakes Lanalhue and Lleu Lleu.




Valle de Elicura

Comuna de Contulmo

Región del Biobío

Centro-sur de CHILE






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Manuel Maribur Cheuquelao

Especialista en Turismo Mapuche


Turismo Lafkenche

Elaboración y gráfica