Mapuche silverwork is one of the best known aspects of Mapuche material culture. The adornments have been subject to changes in fashion but some designs have resisted change. Let’s meet the Mapuche people!
The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage.
They are particularly concentrated in Araucanía. Today, many Mapuche communities are engaged in the so-called Mapuche conflict over land and indigenous rights in both Argentina and in Chile.
The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organization consists of extended families, under the direction of a chief.
Central to Mapuche cosmology is the idea of a creator called ngenechen, who is embodied in four components: an older man, an older woman, a young man and a young woman. They believe in worlds known as the Wenu Mapu and Minche Mapu. Also, Mapuche cosmology is informed by complex notions of spirits that coexist with humans and animals in the natural world, and daily circumstances can dictate spiritual practices.
One of the best-known arts of the Mapuche is their textiles. The Mapuche women were responsible for spinning and weaving. Knowledge of both weaving techniques and textile patterns particular to the locality were usually transmitted within the family.
In the later half of the 18th century Mapuche silversmithing began to produce large amounts of silver finery. The coins and silver coins obtained in political negotiations served as raw material for Mapuche metalsmiths. Old Mapuche silver pendants often included unmelted silver coins, something that has helped modern researchers to date the objects.
The jewelry designs were made to be identified with different families, lands and chief or shamans. Mapuche silver finery was also subject to changes in fashion albeit designs associated with philosophical and spiritual concepts have not undergone major changes.