Mapuche woman chile.jpg
Total population
c. 1,950,000
Regions with significant populations
Chile1,745,147 (2017)[1]
Argentina205,009 (2010)[2]
Mapudungun • Spanish
Related ethnic groups
Core groups: Boroanos, Cunco, Huilliche, Lafquenche, Moluche, Picunche, Promaucae
Araucanized groups: Pehuenche, Puelche, Ranquel, Tehuelche

The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious, and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their influence once extended from the Aconcagua River to the Chiloé Island and spread later eastward to the Argentine pampa. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile, and about 9% of the total Chilean population. Mapuches are particularly concentrated in Araucanía. Many have migrated to the Santiago and Buenos Aires area for economic opportunities.

The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organization consists of extended families, under the direction of a lonko or chief. In times of war, Mapuche would unite in larger groupings and elect a toki (meaning "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them. Mapuche are known for the textiles woven by women, which have been goods for trade for centuries, since before the arrival of European explorers.

At the time of Spanish arrival the Araucanian Mapuche inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers. South of it, the Huilliche and the Cunco lived as far south as the Chiloé Archipelago. In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and pampas, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poya and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranquel and northern Aonikenk, made contact with Mapuche groups. The Tehuelche adopted the Mapuche language and some of their culture, in what came to be called Araucanization.

Mapuche in the Spanish-ruled areas, specially the Picunche, mingled with Spanish during colonial times losing their indigenous identity. But Mapuche society in Araucanía and Patagonia remained independent until the Chilean Occupation of Araucanía and the Argentine Conquest of the Desert in the late nineteenth century. Since then Mapuche have become subjects, and then nationals and citizens of the respective states. Today, many Mapuche and Mapuche communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights in both Argentina and in Chile.


Historically the Spanish colonizers of South America referred to the Mapuche people as Araucanians (araucanos). However, this term is now considered pejorative[3] by some people. The name was likely derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco), meaning "clayey water".[4][5] The Quechua word awqa, meaning "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano.[4]

It's thought that the various Mapuche groups (Moluche, Huilliche, Picunche, etc.) called themselves "Reche" during the Spanish conquest due to their supposed pure native blood, "Re" meaning pure and "Che" meaning people.[6]

The name "Mapuche" is used both to refer collectively to the Picunche, Huilliche and Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía, or at other times, exclusively to the Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía. However, Mapuche is a relatively recent endonym meaning "People of the Land", is preferred to be used when referring to the "Mapuche" people after the Arauco War.[7]

The Mapuche define themselves with territorial entities arranged along geographical lines as:

  • Pwelche or Puelche: "people of the east" occupied Pwel mapu or Puel mapu, the eastern lands (Pampa and Patagonia of Argentina).
  • Pikunche or Picunche: "people of the north" occupied Pikun-mapu, the "northern lands".
  • Williche or Huilliche: "people of the south" occupied Willi mapu, the "southern lands".
  • Pewenche or Pehuenche: "people of the pewen/pehuen" occupied Pewen mapu, "the land of the pewen (Araucaria araucana) tree".
  • Lafkenche: "people of the sea" occupied Lafken mapu, "the land of the sea"; also known as Coastal Mapuche.
  • Nagche: "people of the plains" occupied Nag mapu, "the land of the plains" (located in sectors of the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta and the low zones bordering it). The ancient Mapuche Toqui ("axe-bearer") like Lef-Traru ("swift hawk", better known as Lautaro), Kallfülikan ("blue quartz stone", better known as Caupolicán – "polished flint") or Pelontraru ("Shining Caracara", better known as Pelantaro) were Nagche.
  • Wenteche: "people of the valleys" occupied Wente mapu, "the land of the valleys".[8]