Monday, December 3, 2007

Language and Culture of the Mapuche Nation

Mapuche spirituality is closely linked to the land and nature. All life is thought to emanate from the earth. The word Mapuche can be split into two morphemes mapu: meaning 'land' and che: meaning people. Similarly the word mapudungun is constructed from mapu: 'land' again and dungun: meaning 'speech'. ( The spiritual lives of the Mapuche are guided by leaders called Machi who are the mediums for communtication with the celestial family. Mapudungun is an oral language passed from generation to generation. Acording to Mapuche ancestral beliefs the language was derived from "listening to the land and all earthly elements, sounds and movements, including the animals, birds, trees, wind, rain, and even the mountain springs". Like many native languages of the Americas Mapudungun is in danger of dying out. There are organizations dedicated to the creation of an alphabet in order to preserve the language. (
Today the language is spoken on a daily basis in Chile. There is a resurgence of youth learning the language. The Chilean government has begun to cooperate with the Mapuche Nation in regard to education and there are schools that incorporate Mapudungun into their curriculum. The language is being recorded in the arts, poets write in the language, and there is Mapudungun dialogue in the movies. (Internet Movie Database)

Examples of Mapudungun

Mapudungun Word Set


Mapuche Poetry

It was hard to find examples of poetry in Mapudungun, possibly because it was not until very recently a written language. There are efforts in progress to develop a Mapudungun alphabet in the interest in preserving the language. Poetry and mythology have also played their roles in this effort. Here are a few verses that I found posted on an internet forum from a contemporary Mapuche poet named Jaime L. Huenún Villa. I hope that the poet does not mind my use of his work here or my attempt at English translations of the Spanish text.

FENTXEN ÜL (Jaime L. Huenún Villa - poeta mapuche)

Kiñe nutxu ta puliwen geg
chef ta mülemum
ta pu kürew.
Peykiñ anümka
tami llawfeñ mu
Punwi müpüwi ko
wente antü ka wente
Kürü Pillmaykeñ,
txipaymi tañi pewma mu
fey konimi mapu mew
wüño kintunon.
txoltxo mew
kom egün pülpültukelu.
Mawüzantü kütxal,
antú ñi txufken.
Ragi antü tañi
mapu mew.
Wirintükunen tañi püllü zügu
pu mawüza mew.
Müpüwigün chi pu üñum
fey tañi pu ül mew mefürfigün
tañi wirintükuel.


Un notro es la mañana
donde habitan
los tordos.

The morning is a notro (sort of shrub)
the thrushes live.
Árboles fantasmas
en tu sombra

There are
the ghosts of trees
in your shadow.
Honda vuela el agua
sobre el sol y el bosque.

The water flies deep
over the sun and forest.
Negra golondrina,
sales de mi sueño
y entras en la tierra
sin voltear.

Black swallow
you leave my dream
and enter the earth
without returning.
en el cardo
que todos evitan.

on the thistle
that everyone avoids.
Fuegos de montaña,
cenizas del sol.
Mediodía en mi

Fires of mountain,
ashes of the sun.
Midday in my
Escribo mi poema
en las hospederías del bosque.
Los pájaros vuelan
y borran con sus cantos
lo que escribo.

I write my poem
in the hospitality of the forest.
The birds fly
and erase with their songs
what I write.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Land of the Mapuche

The Mapuche people inhabit a large area of southern Chile between the Itata and Tolten rivers and a portion of Argentina. (

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Structure of Mapudungun

Mapudungun utilizes a SOV word order ( and is a polysynthetic language with noun and verb incorportation. It has a complex agglutinative sufixal verb morphology. Some analyses provide as many as 36 verb suffix slots. (Data Collection and Analysis)

Sound system:
  • Prosody: In Mapudungun the stressed sylable is generally the ultima if this is closed (awkán 'game', tralkán 'thunder'), and the penult if the ultima is open (rúka 'house', lóngko 'head'). There is no phonemic tone. (
  • Vowels: Mapudungun has six vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ and a high central unrounded vowel, /ɨ/. The last sound is spelled ï, ü or v depending on the alphabet used, and is pronounced as a schwa /ə/ when unstressed. (
  • Consonants: Mapudungun does not distinguish between voiceless and voiced plosives. There are three approximants (or glides). Liquids consist of the three lateral sounds and what is phonetically close to a retroflex approximant. Some authors do not recognize /s/ as a separate phoneme; rather, they class it as an allophone of /ʃ/. /tʂ/ (spelled as "tr", "tx" or even "x") is often described as a /ʧ/ sound followed by a /ɻ/ sound; it is similar to the sound of English tr in tree, but without aspiration. Particularly interesting are the relatively rare interdental sounds t̟, n̟ and l̟, which contrast with their dentoalveolar counterparts; roots may have either only interdental ([l̟afken̟] 'sea, lake') or only dentoalveolar ([lwan] 'guanaco') consonants. (
  • Nouns in Mapudungun are grouped in two classes, animate and inanimate. This is e.g. reflected in the use of pu as a plural indicator for animate nouns and yuka as the plural for inanimate nouns. (
  • Verbs can be finite or non-finite (non-finite endings: -n, -el, -etew, -lu, -am, etc.), are intransitive or transitive and are conjugated according to person (first, second and third), number (singular, dual and plural), voice (active, agentless passive and reflexive-reciprocal, plus two applicatives) and mood (indicative, imperative and subjunctive). In the indicative, the present (zero) and future (-(y)a) tenses are distinguished. There are a number of aspects: the progressive, resultative and habitual are well established; some forms that seem to mark some subtype of perfect are also found. Other verb morphology includes an evidential marker (reportative-mirative), directionals (cislocative, translocative, andative and ambulative, plus an interruptive and continuous action marker) and modal markers (sudden action, faked action, immediate action, etc.). There is productive noun incorporation, and the case can be made for root compounding morphology. (

Population estimates

The ethnic population of speakers of Mapudungun, numbering 928,000 ( live in both Chile and Argentina so the estimates are split up accordingly. Some 200,000 people use the language regularly. (

Total Number of Speakers in All Countries:
300,000 (
440,000 (

In Chile:
200,000 (
400,000 (

In the Argentine Region
40,000 (


Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate the spoken language of Mapudungun.

Mapuche Creation Story:
This story is told in Mapudungun and has Spanish subtitles.
If you can't see the video go to

This is an example of a Mapuche song.
If you can't see the video go to