Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Indigenous Stories > Mapuche > The Creation

According to the Mapuche cosmovision, in the beginning there was only air, and the master of that air was called Ngen, a powerful spirit who dwelt among other spirits. Some of them disputed his rule over the air, saying: “Let us take charge, because we are many and he is but one.” This angered Ngen the most powerful, so he brought together all of the good spirits that remained and imprisoned the bad ones. The ruler of the air kicked them, and in his anger shot fire from his eyes. Then he and the other good spirits spit on the bad spirits and their bodies were transformed into stones. Ngen stepped on them and in their heaviness they fell over. The air opened up, and the spirits spilled out, breaking up the round sphere of the Earth. The stone spirits spilled out and became mountains. Those that had not been touched by the spit were made of glowing fire and became trapped between the stone spirits. They could not escape, so they fought amongst themselves attempting to get out. As their bodies were igneous, some of them burst and produced the smoke, fire and rumbling noise heard in the mountains. The people believe that these bad spirits remain imprisoned to this day. Then the ruler of the air allowed some of the spirits, who were not as bad, to escape among the ashes and smoke. These became the stars, fixed in the night sky where their incandescent bodies glow like lights.

The spirits cried for many days and many nights and their tears fell onto the high mountains, causing ashes and stones to flow down, forming the rivers and the seas. The bad spirits trapped inside the mountains are called the Pillanes, and it is they who cause the volcanoes to erupt.

As there was nothing else on the Earth at this time, the powerful spirit sent one of his young sons to live there, despite his mother’s pleas. Later, he took a star and made it into a woman, and sent her over to the young man with his breath. The land was hard and the stones hurt their feet, and so the ruler of the air ordered soft grass and flowers to grow. The woman played with them, plucking their leaves, which were transformed into birds and butterflies. The fruit they ate was turned into trees. The young man was very happy with the woman. The great spirit opened a hole in the air to look down upon the Earth, and the sun shone through it and warmed the land. The young man’s mother put her eyes up to the rent, creating a filter that allowed a soft white light to shine down upon the land.

The spirit of the volcanoes remained angry. When one of them fell in love with a woman and could not escape its prison, it became even angrier. That Pillán spoke with an envious female evil spirit, who pulled out one of her long hairs and sent it flying out of the volcano. The hair survived the ordeal, and when it emerged it turned into a thin snake, which slithered to where the man and woman were sleeping like brother and sister.

These first Mapuches went about naked because God wanted to see whether they could handle the cold. But some say that the snakes, which in those early days walked among men, convinced the people to cover their bodies with nalca leaves. This angered the Creator, who punished the snakes by removing their feet and condemning them to slither along the ground forever.

The powerful spirit was also infuriated with the man and woman for listening to the snake. He made the Earth shake and the volcanoes rumble, and all that had been created was destroyed until only the man, the woman and a white copihue flower were left. They say that the couple had many offspring, including a tiger, a lion and a fox, along with some other fur-covered creatures that ran away from their parents.
At this time there was no light. Cold and darkness reigned. The Moon opened a hole in the sky to look upon her son, and as she did she let fall several seeds onto the Earth, which the woman sowed. Later, the woman bore another son, who was very good and handsome. And she sang such beautiful songs to the child that the powerful spirit opened a doorway in the sky to find out why. Every day he crouched down at the hole to listen to her singing, which once again allowed the golden light to return to the Earth and the trees, plants and fruit to grow. But the older brothers became jealous of the child, and one of them killed him. His blood fell upon the copihue flower and turned it red. All of the man and woman’s children—all the brothers and sisters—married animals and had families of their own. And that is the origin of the Mapuche people, who are courageous like the lion and the tiger, and clever and careful like the fox.

Mitos de Chile
Diccionario de seres, magias y encantos (Myths of Chile, Dictionary of beings, magic and spells)
Sonia Montecino Aguirre