The story of the Mapuches (men of earth) is one of the most compelling in the history of South America. In a bloody general revolution beginning in 1599, the Mapuches drove the Spanish conquerors from their homeland. The Spaniards were never to regain a foothold in Araucania (South of Chile). And for 300 years, this territory remained as Mapuche as ever. In fact, during this period, Mapuche territory actually expanded, spreading east and south of Chile – -proving the vitality and adaptability of the only native culture in Spanish America to successfully resist conquest.
What did these native Chilean `men of earth’ eat that made them such strong, resilient warriors? Our friend Pablo Zapallar, a 37-year-old high school History teacher from Santiago (capital city of Chile) says, “The traditional Chilean diet is basically Mapuche Indian diet. And Mapuche Indian diet is vegetarian: corn, rice, beans, wheat, potatoes, vegetables (such as beetroots, mushroom, kohlrabi, pumpkin, marrow, aubergine and other greens) and fruits (such as apples, pears, currants, strawberries, peaches)”.
Then of course, there is the fruit of the araucaria tree called Pinon-the main nutritious food source of the Mapuches. These trees are said to be at least two thousand years old. Today, this tree species is preserved in National Parks and Forest Reserves. Further South is another of Chile‘s living landmarks-the Alerce (or Larch tree), the second-longest-living tree in the world. “Sometimes on week-ends, when I need some time off my work, my family and I drive down Araucania. It’s such a naturally charming place – -beautiful landscape”, says Pablo.
The native Mapuche Indian civilization as well as other smaller Indian tribes like the Aymara, Atacameno, Cuncos, Chonos and Quechua Indians have existed in this land known as Chile for thousands of years. “Today, some of the most famous regional food specialties of Chile are of Mapuche origin”, says Pablo. Examples of these are Pastel de Choclo (baked corn casserole with raisins and onions), Pastel de Papa (mashed potatoes) and Cazuela de Ave (hearty soup made from rice and vegetables).
Our friend Pablo himself spent years studying the Mapuche, other Indian lifestyle and healthy diet as a History major student. He says we can actually learn many interesting and important lessons in life from them. They, who the European conquerors regard as `only good enough to be hunted down and captured as slaves for their guano mines’ are actually more advanced in philosophy, more pious, more human in all respects. In ancient times, every Mapuche male child was reared to be a warrior. From the time they were babies, the Mapuche women fed them with a super nutritious porridge made from wheat and corn mixed with wild honey, pollen and the juice of some special high-protein herbs from the surrounding forests. The male babies were fed these to make sure they developed strong arms and legs and keen eyesight for shooting arrows.
As they grew older, they were trained in archery and warfare strategy, cultural arts (poetry, music, dancing), morals and religious worship. Simultaneously, the diet included larger amounts of produce from the earth- -more grains, root crops, vegetables and wild fruits. The Mapuches strictly follow rules set by their ancestors. The two main ones namely: 1) never to kill unnecessarily- men or animals, and 2) never retreat in battle. In fact, this is the reason why Mapuches call themselves `men of earth’. They believe the produce of the earth nurtures their strength, not by the blood and meat of slaughtered animals.
The male babies were fed these to make sure they developed strong arms and legs and keen eyesight for shooting arrows.