The Mapuche are a group of traditionally anti-authoritarian indigenous communities living in Chile and Argentina. They successfully resisted Spanish colonization for nearly three centuries, and today they fight against land grabs by the timber and hydroelectric industries.
An estimated 1 million indigenous Mapuche lived in the territories now known as Chile and Argentina, when Spanish colonizers arrived in the sixteenth century. The Mapuche people were sedentary small farmers who also hunted and gathered, subsisting largely on fish, potatoes and beans. The Mapuche were organized into small familial clans or communities, each with a lonco, or chief. Today, most loncos are men, but some are women. Other leadership positions include the maichi, who is a religious figure and healer, and the weaken, or spokesperson. Traditionally, the clans also had a war leader. Each community manages its land collectively and makes many of its decisions at a popular assembly.
Unlike their neighboring, centralized indigenous nations, the Mapuche escaped Spanish rule and remained autonomous for some 260 years, until being conquered at the end of the nineteenth century by the new state of Chile. In fact, the Mapuche put the Spaniards on the defensive in 1598 and destroyed all of the Spanish cities south of the Bio-Bio region. The historian José Bengoa attributes the Mapuche's successful resistance to their decentralized structure:
in contrast to the Aztecs, who had centralized governments and internal political divisions, the Mapuche had a non-hierarchical social structure. In the Mexican and Andean cases the conquerors struck at the heart of political power and, by seizing it, assured the dominance of the empire. This was not possible with the Mapuche, given that subjugation would entail conquering thousands of independent families
The Mapuche Struggle today
Today, the Mapuche struggle against devastating land grabs from the timber and hydroelectric industries. 1 million Mapuche live in Chile, 40 percent of them in the city of Santiago. Mapuche groups have used strikes, road blockades and setting fire to forests, in order to resist the theft of their land. The Chilean government responds with the the sharp criminalization and repression of Mapuche "terrorism".
Mapuche autonomous communities practice horizontal organization, communal land ownership, and collective agriculture. Numerous autonomous Mapuche villages have achieved food sovereignty.
- Raúl Zibechi, Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements (Oakland, AK Press, 2010), 109-119. Anonymous, "With Land, Without the State: Anarchy in Wallmapu," The Anarchist Library, http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-with-land-without-the-state-anarchy-in-wallmapu.
- Zibechi, Territories in Resistance, 109-119.
- Peter Gelderloos, The Failure of Nonviolence (Seattle: Left Bank Books, 2015), 101.