“Men and women are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Article 1 of Chile’s Political Constitution.
When the Spaniards arrived, in 1536, it is calculated that there were around a million indigenous people, dispersed irregularly from north to south.
A majority of the original indigenous peoples no longer exist, except fhor te Aymara (close to 90.000) and Atacameños (around 10.000) in the north; Mapuche (around a million) in the south-central zone; Rapanui (3.500); and some Kawaskhar and yagans on the islands of the extreme south. Their customs and cultural heritage are protected by the Indigenous Law, wich recognizes the unique character of these people and their right to live according to their own customs and cultural patterns. The law has also permitted the establishment and protection of the boundaries of their lands.
On January 18, 2001, President Lagos established the Commission on Historical Truth and New Treatment with indigenous peoples. It is headed by former President Patricio Aylwin and composed of politicians, academics and representatives of diverse ethnic groups.
Its objective is to lay the foundation for a State policy concerning the original inhabitants that values and respects each group’s world view and seeks to integrate it into the broader national environment, with an eye toward the country’s Bicentennial of Independence in 2010.
One of the commission’s main tasks is to analyze the relationship between the State, society and indigenous groups, and to address the issues of intolerance, lack of recognition for diversity and the cultural differences in Chilean society.
The web site for finding out information about the indigenous people is www.beingindigenous.org
The conquest of Chile was the most difficult in the Americas, owing to distance, the territory’s isolation and the insurmountable resistance of the Araucanians.
Two-thirds of the Aymaras have settled in coastal cities, while the rest still devote themselves to farming and cattle ranching in mountains areas. In their world view, the water, hills, vegetation and animals are part of an organig whole, in which each element possesses its own kind of life. Mother Earth or Pachamama, is the origin and destiny of flora, fauna and mankind. They are taking advantage of tourism as a source of income: they have set up an agency to provide tours ina region that they know better than anyone else.
The Atacameños are active in agriculture, cattle ranching, handicrafts and tourism. They have developed outstanding technologies for the efficient use of their scarce resources, among them an irrigation system that uses canals.
The Mapuches – “people of the earth” -, whom the Spaniards called “Araucanos”, were intimidating warriors and the most numerous indigenous group. They made the conquest of Chile so long and difficult. The Mapuches demonstrated a surprising ability to copy the Spaniards’ battle tactics and appropriate their weapons. They also obtained Spanish horses and used them to create a new breed, sturdy and strong, of short stride and lively disposition.
The Mapuches continue to defend their land and lifestyle. The government has insisted on dialogue in each instance where they have sought to promote their aspirations. Of the more than 2.200 indigenous communities living in the south, only around 50 are still in a state of conflict and continue to resortt to violence. One of Chile’s greatest challenges is to reconcile historical demands with the requirements and strategies of national development.
The Rapanui are the inhabitants of Easter Island. They attribute their origin to king Hotu Matua, who arrived from the legendary land of hiva in the 7th century. Since then, they have developed a unique culture, rich in ceremonies and rites, with faith in one god. They live sorrounded by extraordinary natural beauty, but since being “discovered”, they have been forcedto endure domination, slavery and devastating epidemics, as well as to adapt to Western culture. Today they are learning to select the best from both worlds.
At present, four weekly flights, as well as broadcasts from the national television station, connect Easter Island with mainland Chile. The principal streets of Hanga Roa, the only town, have been paved, tha Mataveri airport has been enlarged, plans for a longer-range control tower are underway, and a new secundary school is about to be constructed.