Mapuche, people of the land

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

The history of the Mapuche people nation is unique in Latin America. From the beginning of the conquest they opposed a fierce resistance to the Spanish weapons to the point that Madrid decided to grant the Mapuche as independent territory, recognized by a bilateral treaty, the huge strip of land that extends from the Bio Bio river to the South of the current Chile. But with the birth of the national republics, at the end of the nineteenth century, which violated the treaties, the Mapuche began to lose control of their territory. Since then, the economic consortia and the Chilean oligarchies have consistently carried out an action of depredation and depletion of the ecosystem and natural resources, subtracting the homeland to the Mapuche. The military regime of Pinochet further aggravated the controversy by supporting the reasons of the great landowners. The Mapuche today live in conditions of extreme poverty, in isolated and unproductive lands, in the region of Araucania. The land subtracted from the Mapuche has been deforested and the native tree species have been replaced by intensive cultivation of eucalyptus to make cellulose pulp and to export the raw material, especially in China. The balance of the ecosystem has been undermined; the eucalyptuses absorb so much water and have drained the water resources of the area forcing the natives to emigrate to the mountainous regions. The same fate occurred to those who suffered the damage caused by the construction of the Ralco hydroelectric plant, because the dam forced the Bio Bio River to overflow, flooding the valleys where the Mapuche once resided. A cruel destiny wants these “people of the Earth”, this means Mapuche in the native language, to survive thanks to a subsistence economy based on the sale of goats and cows. The feistiness of the past is paralyzed in the face of the application of the anti-terrorism law which enforces up to three years of preventive prison awaiting trial. Mapuche actually means in native language “people of the land”. Ironically the Mapuche are fast becoming a land less people. The reportage by Luca Catalano Gonzaga in the rugged region of Aracuania describes the isolation, the poverty of these proud people portrayed in their daily lives and in the intimacy of their homes. (text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga).


A selection of photos from the archive of Luca Catalano Gonzaga is available as collector’s prints. The goal of print selling is to contribute to the realization of the photographic projects of Witness Image that narrate the great transformations of our time.