According to archeological traces, development of metal work in the mapuche culture dates back to the Neo-Araucanian period from 1550 to 1750. A particular moment in history expressed in more than two centuries of resistance and autonomy, attained at the Negrete Parliament in 1726, "which consolidated a pre-agrarian and pre-mercantile economy that enabled the mapuches to appropriate not only the animals brought by the Spaniards, but also the capacity to adopt and adapt the enemy’s goods, instruments, and techniques for their own service."1

Appropriation of the techniques of casting and lamination by hot and cold percussion, depending on the piece requiring it, was a masculine trade, that of the retrafe (silversmith), which intensified during the XVIII and XIX centuries as a result of the introduction of trade, establishing an exchange process with the huinca society by means of the conchavo (exchange) and solid silver pesos, which were cast by the retrafe for making the women’s trousseau, normally consisting of trarilonko (headband), lloven nitrowe (female headdress), chaway (earrings), traripel (neck sashes), tupu (clothes pins), katawe (clothes pins), kilkai (hanging necklace), sükill (pectoral pendant), trapelakucha (pectoral pendants), among others of more recent use such as the prenteor (pectoral pendant with three chains); as well as also riding gear, of undoubted Moorish-Spanish influence, such as the ispuela (spurs), istipu (stirrup), and fittings consisting of reins, headstalls, and bits called witram plata, kafishatu, and ketrel pirińa.

The ordering dualism of the mapuche culture’s vision of the cosmos also influences the material manifestation of their silverwork, since it delves into two distinctly different universes: The woman, support of the mapuche symbolic discourse, where the ad mapu tradition hides and is resisted, through the vision of the cosmos endorsed both in the form and content drawn in the silverwork; and the masculine embodied in the horse harness, which represents the submission of huinca form and content to the dominant mapuche lineage.

The tremendous symbolic density of the jewelry used by mapuche women leads us to outline new interpretations of their form and content, in terms of their vision of the cosmos, since the pectoral pendants, both the sükill, the trapelakucha and the three chain brooch, refer to the division of vertical space between the ethereal superior world, wenu mapu, where the benign powers of auxiliary spirits and ancestors abide, and its articulation with the horizontality of the physical world, mapu, where the weküfe, evil spirits, and the ngen, spirit owners of natural nature, live. To that end, the retrafe has used a common composition for the pectoral pendants, whose finish varies, and which consists of an upper plate, generally rhomboidal and exceptionally in the shape of a shell or half arch (trapelakucha and sükill), or in the case of the three chain brooch, consisting of a trapezoidal shape adapted to the figures of the two birds facing each other beak to beak, whose union with the upper plate descends in rectangular or square plates joined by flat links which end in the shape of a cross (trapelakucha), in a trapezoidal shape (sükill and three chain brooch), or in elliptical shapes (sükill).

The finish of the pectoral pendant, either in a cross or rhomboid, tells of the fourfold division of space, to which have been assigned typical positive and negative aspects of an "Integral, interpretative system of the universe, whose foundation resides in the conjunction of opposites that form pairs of opposition"2, with the center being the place occupied by the mapuches, whose representation in the sükill is given by a repoussé volume located in the center above the lower plate; or by the combination of this plus a volume with anthropomorphic features and, in the case of some trapelakucha, by the drawing of a circle with a dot inside.

A reading of the pendants as a whole in terms of their forms and contents (inserted drawings, repoussé volumes, hanging figures), tells us of the interrelationship of protective mapuche spirits and ancestors located in the wenu mapu (Heaven) and the mapuches located in the mapu (earth), whose representation of their ancestors is given by the birds facing each other in the three chain brooch, or by the relationships that exist between the ngen protective spirits (spirit owners of natural nature, of a phytomorphic nature), which descend from the upper plates of the sükill to the center of the elliptical plate where the mapuches live, thus creating the representation of the constant transition between heaven and earth.




- Bengoa, José, Historia del Pueblo Mapuche, Santiago-Chile, Ediciones Sur,1985.

- Dillehay, Tom, Araucanía presente pasado, Santiago-Chile, Editorial Andrés Bello, 1990.

- Foerster, Rolf, Introducción a la religiosidad Mapuche, ("Colección Imagen de Chile"), 2° edition, Santiago-Chile, Editorial Universitaria, 1995.

- Grebe, María Ester, "El Subsistema de Ngen en la Religiosidad Mapuche", Revista de Antropología, Santiago-Chile, s.f.

- Montecinos, Sonia, Sol Viejo, Sol Vieja, Santiago-Chile, Editorial Universidad de Chile- Facultad de Ciencias Sociales,1996..

- Morris von Bennewitz, Raúl, Los Plateros de la Frontera y la Platería Araucana, 1° edition, Temuco-Chile, Ediciones Universidad de la Frontera., 1997.

Carla Miranda Vasconcello


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