Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Mapuche


Mapuche art can be described as a synthesis of two major traditions—pre-Hispanic and Hispanic-European. It is an expression of the people’s ideology and cosmology and has been passed down from generation to generation, like other Mapuche traditions. One form of that art is the people’s renowned silversmithing techniques (called rutran), which began when the Spanish arrived and small scale smelting was introduced. The Mapuche combined these new techniques with their knowledge of metal sheetwork, traditionally used to manufacture copper jewelry. Over time, silver Mapuche jewelry became a central feature of Mapuche women’s traditional attire and an important component of their bridal dowry. Typical pieces include the chain link belt (trarilonko), earrings (chaway, upul), breast ornaments (trapelakucha, sikil, runi, llol-llol), breast pins (akucha), and the pins used to hold their woolen shawls (tupu, ponzón), as well as silver rivets adorning the leather and woven straps used for their horses. Silver was also used to make the horse tack, most notably the beautifully crafted Mapuche horse shoes, spurs and stirrups. Woven cloth is also a central element of Mapuche identity. Usage and traditional symbolism determined which colors and designs would be used to make their ponchos (makuñ), woven sashes (trarihue), blankets (pontro), bedcovers and woolen bags. Mapuche pottery boasts its own emblematic pieces, including metawe, earthenware jugs in asymmetric designs made to resemble animals such as ducks, chickens and frogs. The Mapuche are also known for their woodwork in beautiful native hardwood species such as roble, laurel, raulí, alerce and coigüe. The items they produce range from domestic utensils (platters, bowls, spoons) to ritual objects such as the kollong (mask), the rewe (ceremonial altar) and the chemamull (carved tree trunks with multiple heads that were used for funeral rites). Less well known is Mapuche basketry, which produced heavy, densely woven baskets that were used for carrying, transporting and washing food, as well as for winnowing grain. Mapuche art also includes music and dance, with instruments such as the kultrún and truruka used to produce the unique sounds that characterize traditional rites celebrating the Mapuche cosmovision and cycle of life.