The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History

The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History

The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History

The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History


A valuable and original work by its focus (cultural history), the scope of the period, and the cases examined (historiographical, anthropological, literary), which has not been done in Chile until now."--André Menard, University of Chile

The Mapuche are the most numerous, most vocal and most politically involved indigenous people in modern Chile. Their ongoing struggles against oppression have led to increasing national and international visibility, but few books provide deep historical perspective on their engagement with contemporary political developments.

Building on widespread scholarly debates about identity, history and memory, Joanna Crow traces the complex, dynamic relationship between the Mapuche and the Chilean state from the military occupation of Mapuche territory during the second half of the nineteenth century through to the present day. She maps out key shifts in this relationship as well as the intriguing continuities.

Presenting the Mapuche as more than mere victims, this book seeks to better understand the lived experiences of Mapuche people in all their diversity. Drawing upon a wide range of primary documents, including published literary and academic texts, Mapuche testimonies, art and music, newspapers, and parliamentary debates, Crow gives voice to political activists from both the left and the right. She also highlights the growing urban Mapuche population.

Crow's focus on cultural and intellectual production allows her to lead the reader far beyond the standard narrative of repression and resistance, revealing just how contested Mapuche and Chilean histories are. This ambitious and revisionist work provides fresh information and perspectives that will change how we view indigenous-state relations in Chile.


Postcards depicting the Mapuche, or Araucanians, of southern Chile can be bought in souvenir shops all over downtown Santiago. According to the Chilean National Institute of Statistics, this indigenous people make up between 4 and 10 percent of the country’s population today. Tourist postcards tend to include historic images of Mapuche people, such as the photographs shown in figures 1–5, which were taken by Gustavo Milet Ramírez circa 1890. This was shortly after the Chilean state concluded its military conquest of Mapuche territory.

Milet’s photographs present us with the typical objects of travelers’ curiosity in 1890: a proud Indian leader; a young, half-naked man with a spear; a chief on horseback; a woman wearing traditional silver adornments; and women and children preparing food around a tree. Together, they portray a romanticized, rural idyll—inhabited by an imagined mixture of the bellicose Araucanian warrior of colonial times and the tamed Indian of the present—that was destined to disappear as the Chilean nation marched toward “progress and modernization” (the catchphrase of most liberal states in Latin America during the late nineteenth century). In a sense, such photographs erased indigenous historical agency. And yet, at the same time, the Mapuche people photographed here (the people behind the images) were actively partaking in the performance of indigenous identity. They were posing for the camera. They were impressing upon the viewer just how staged the photographs were. No one could miss the studio setting and the European garden–like background of some of . . .

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