Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Mapuche

In the long transition from hunting, the Mapuche of what is today southern Chile benefited from the agricultural breakthroughs among the Diaguita. The Mapuche gradually adopted the cultivation of maize, potatoes, and peppers—each plant acclimated to conditions found in the temperate forests and valleys along the southern coasts of Chile. Game and fish supplemented their diet, enabling the Mapuche to settle into relatively permanent villages. Their deities represented the forces of nature and the harvest, and the shamans sought to appease them with offerings of food and sacrifices of domestic llamas. Masked dancers warded off evil spirits. With stone tools only, the Mapuche harvested the wood with which they constructed homes, corrals for llamas and alpacas, and the defensive palisades. These people occasionally carried out raids on neighboring villages, even though those attacked may have been of the same cultural and linguistic family.

Their forts and warlike independence served the Mapuche well when, in the 15th century, Topa Inca extended his conquests deep into present-day Chile. The outside threat sufficed to unite the competitive southern Chileans for an effective defense of their territory. Usually, the leaders had little control over their subjects and warriors, much like the decentralized political system among the Diaguita. To stop the Inca armies, however, the Mapuche elected war leaders, formed larger allied war groups, and mobilized great numbers of warriors. These same Mapuche later were to effectively and aggressively maintain their autonomy from European conquest, not submitting to outside authority until the 1880s.