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Chango whale hunt, El Madano, ca. 1000 AD

Changos whale hunt, El Madano, ca. 1000 AD

There were probably people living in Chile (a narrow strip of land in South America between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean) by around 12,000 BC. They came south with their dogs along the coast of South America, either walking or in small boats.

Like most other people in South America, they lived mainly by fishing, hunting seals, and collecting shellfish and seaweed. We call these people the Changos. Different Changos families specialized in fishing for particular kinds of fish. Like other fishing people, the Changos made pottery to ferment their fish in. As in ancient Egypt, Chile’s very dry climate caused many dead bodies to naturally become mummies, and when Changos people died, the Changos, like the Egyptians, learned how to make their bodies into mummies on purpose.

Andes mountains: very jagged, with snow on top

Andes mountains in Peru

The Changos traded with people on the other side of the Andes mountains. They traded dried fish, shells, and sealskins for vicuna wool, fruit, corn, cocoa, and peanuts. By about 8000 BC, the Changos were growing their own peanuts. Eventually the Changos settled the river valleys leading up into the Andes Mountains. By about 4000 BC, they kept tame alpacas. They wove wool clothing from the alpaca wool.

About 600 or 500 BC, the Changos organized themselves into the Mapuche culture (or the Mapuche people may have come over the Andes, possibly pushed out by the Guarani, and conquered the Changos). Like the earlier Changos, the Mapuche farmed some of their food and fished a lot. The Mapuche grew corn, beans, potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, sweet potatoes, squash, and tomatoes. They chewed coca leaves as a stimulant and to prevent altitude sickness in the high mountains. They also kept guinea pigs for their meat, and raised llamas.

Mapuche families measured their wealth according to how many llamas they had. That was because trade with other people was how you got rich. Families traded the wool cloth they made from llama wool. In exchange, they got cacao (chocolate) from rainier climates further inland. Their leaders, caiques, generally ruled only their own village. So many independent villages led to a lot of wars, and Mapuche people spent a lot of time fighting. They fought with wooden clubs and bows and arrows. Their doctors got good at setting broken bones and dislocations from all these battles!

In 1470 AD, the Inca attacked the Mapuche, but the Mapuche fought them off in a great battle. In 1540, the grandchildren of the men who had fought the Inca off met the first Portuguese invaders.

More about the Guarani
More about the Inca
More about the history of Chile

Bibliography and further reading about the Mapuche:

South America after 1500 AD home