The Mapuche


The name “Mapuche” is composed of two parts: “Mapu”, which means land; and “che”, which means people. The Mapuche call their language Mapudungun. The language was first written down by missionaries, and the orthographic systems they used were adaptations from European languages, and varied from author to author. As a result, the many written documents that exist today do not all necessarily use the same alphabet. Mapuche’s language is also called Araucano, a name given by the Spanish colonialists. However, the Mapuche people also speak Spanish. Nowadays Araucanian speakers have almost disappeared from Argentina, while in Chile, the Mapuche—who used to speak only Mapudungun—are now mostly bilingual. Mapadungun lacks substantive protection or promotion, despite the Chilean government’s commitment to improve the situation and provide full access to education in Mapuche areas in southern Chile.


Che – People

Mapuche – People of the land

Lafkenche (people of the sea), Pehuenche (people of the acorn), Picunche (people of the North), Wiyiche (people of the South)

Lonko  – Chief

Werken – Spokesperson

Winca – White (non-Mapuche) person

Peñi – Brother

Paco – Police (Chilean general slang)

Machi – Medicine woman

Nehuen – Forca naturaleza (natural forces)

Mai-mai – “hello”

Treng-treng – (“growing-growing”) Two small hills between two spots mark a sacred Mapuche place/territory. It is a place that saves people. (seen in Lleu-lleu)

Rehue – wood pole with white flag with steps on both sides that belongs to Machi. It’s objective is to absorb all the diseases and evil that is withdrawn from the people that are cured by the Machi. Sometimes Rehue are in the communa and thrown in the river when that machi dies.

Coli, Maki, and Bordo – sacred trees/plants

Tamarugo – trees with 1,000 meter deep roots



Their socio-cultural and political relations have always been shaped and complemented by their spirituality, their religious beliefs and the strong relationship between man, land and nature. They have a deeply religious society. The Mapuche of today have managed to establish a new dimension of what is religious in a syncretism that includes the catholic religion as well as protestant evangelic movements. The Machi(shaman) is fundamental in the configuration of the Mapuche’s myths and rites. He is the mediator between the natural and supernatural world and usually has a great knowledge of traditional medicine. Mapuche perform ritual ceremonies, such as: the nguillatun, a ceremony of prayer; the machitun, healing ritual; the wentripantu or celebration of the New Year; day of the winter solstice; funeral and initiation rites.


Information collected from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization