The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. They constitute a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage. Their influence extended between the Aconcagua River and Chiloé Archipelago and later eastward to the Argentine pampa. The Mapuche make up about 4% of the Chilean population, and are particularly concentrated in the Araucanía Region. The term Mapuche can refer to the whole group of Picunches (people of the north), Huilliches and Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía, or exclusively to the Moluche or Nguluche from Araucanía. The Mapuche traditional economy is based on agriculture; their traditional social organisation consists of extended families, under the direction of a "lonko" or chief, although in times of war they would unite in larger groupings and elect a toqui (from Mapudungun toki "axe, axe-bearer") to lead them.
The Mapuche inhabited the valleys between the Itata and Toltén rivers, as did the Huilliche (people of the South), the Cuncos. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Mapuche groups migrated eastward into the Andes and pampas, fusing and establishing relationships with the Poyas and Pehuenche. At about the same time, ethnic groups of the pampa regions, the Puelche, Ranqueles and northern Aonikenk, whom Ferdinand Magellan called Patagons,but who are known now as Tehuelche, made contact with Mapuche groups. The Tehuelche adopted the Mapuche language and some of their culture in what came to be called the Araucanization. Historically Mapuches were known as Araucanians (araucanos) by the Spanish colonizers of South America. However, this term is now mostly considered pejorative by some people. The Quechua word awqa "rebel, enemy", is probably not the root of araucano: the latter is more likely derived from the placename rag ko (Spanish Arauco) "clayey water".
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