Chile Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Chile is a country located in South America. It is made up of a very large number of ethnic groups, however only a couple make up the vast majority of the country. Find out which ones those are in this lesson.

A Bit About Chile

Chile is a long but relatively narrow country located on the western side of the continent of South America. Before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, northern Chile was ruled by the Inca while the central and southern parts were inhabited by the Mapuche. In the early 1800s, Chile gained full independence from Spain.

It is a country with a rich history and a rich collection of diverse ethnic groups. This lesson will discuss some of the ethnic groups found in Chile.

Whites & Mestizos

The vast majority of the Chilean population is white and Mestizo, a mix of white (European) ancestry and Amerindian ancestry. The latter is a term that refers to the indigenous (native) people of North and South America. The main Chilean racial type was produced by a mixture of Spanish ancestry, principally Andalusians and Basques, and the indigenous Mapuche.

However, there have been immigrants to Chile from England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, and even Eastern Europe that have contributed to the mix of people. Chileans with European ancestry are those that tend to be part of the political elite, run important financial sectors, or important manufacturing operations.

Chileans speak Spanish, are predominantly Roman Catholic, and have a strong sense of cultural identity. Poetry, football (soccer), and music are some of the more important cultural elements of Chilean society.

The Mapuche & Other Indigenous Groups

The only significant ethnic group within Chile outside of those of European and mixed ancestry are the Mapuche people. Historically, the Mapuche were called Araucanians, and Mapuche means 'people of the land'. Most Mapuche live in the Central Valley of Chile, although some are found in Argentina.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuche lived in farming villages. They farmed corn, potatoes, squash, and beans. They hunted and even kept guinea pigs for meat. They used llamas as pack animals and as a source of fiber (wool). A man's wealth could be determined by the size of his llama herd.

The Mapuche are well-known for being fiercely independent. When the Spanish arrived, the Mapuche went from a scattered collection of villages to a large network of political, military, and economic alliances designed to stop the Spanish in battle. They were relatively successful at this. In fact, the founder of Chile's present capital, Santiago, was a conquistador named Pedro de Valdivia who was killed by the Mapuche. After Chile gained independence from Spain in the early 1800s, it took the central government many decades to subjugate the Mapuche and incorporate their lands into what is now Chile. The Mapuche were then settled into reservations by the Chilean government.

Nowadays, about 60% of the Mapuche live in cities and not their traditional rural communities. Others live in rural villages, subsisting on whatever wheat, oats, and animals they can raise for food. Almost all of them fight for the restoration of their former lands. Disputes over land ownership between the Mapuche and Chile's government has sometimes led to police raids, violence, and calls for autonomy.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account