Mapuche culture transcends and makes us remember the meaning of happiness

Two years ago I was in a remote place called Cole Cole, which is located 25 kms of the Chiloé national park (173 km away from Castro). I was there for more than a month doing trails and long walks for an ethnographic study. It was hard for me to get pencil and paper in this place, without mentioning the 4 hours I needed to cross a forest in the hope of getting a ride from a fisherman truck or some macheros to give me a ride to a place with internet access in order to pass my writings from paper to digital.

The central idea was to learn about the relationship that exists between the Mapuche culture and some specific aspects of Positive Psychology, hope, optimism and flow from the experience of living with the inhabitants of the Island of Chiloé, the huilliche (southern folks), a southern branch of the Mapuches that share common culture.

The culture

When talking about culture it is necessary to understand that this is characterized by the beliefs, customs, practices and ways of being that a group of individuals share, which gives them a feeling of belonging and an identity. Currently some native people live some processes of acculturation, which means they’re adopting a part of the prevailing or dominating group which in this case would be the Creole culture.

It is worth mentioning that in the XVII century the Jesuits took care of evangelizing the natives of Chiloé- which are currently producing urban environments processes of acculturation. This is worse because some urban Mapuche are losing their identity and culture by not having spaces for reproducing ethnic identity, not using their Mapudungun-language and  losing connection with the earth. Acculturation does not occur in all cases and there are many rural Mapuche which strengthens aspects of their culture. By spending time with some of them, it was possible to see how their ways of thinking, feeling and acting is expressed with glow in its rich culture; wisdom, cooperation, goodwill, respect, optimism, hope and perseverance.  Psychological aspects called values ​​and strengths, are being thoroughly investigated by Positive Psychology, in order to identify ways in which to experience positive emotions, life satisfaction, quality of life and ultimately happiness.

Routine vs. pleasure

As an example of the relationship between Mapuche culture and some of these issues, I remember one day accompanying Don Juan Nain Nain who is Toqui (the title that Mapuche gave his military leader) during one of his routine days. Although we might often complain or avoid these activities, for him it wasn’t routine but a pleasurable activity in which he was involved in an cognitive, emotional and behavioural way. He was experiencing what is called by Positive Psychology ‘flow’ –the ability to perform a task enjoying and flowing living the here and now, often without noticing the passage of time.  Whilst collecting the net that crossed the river Cole Cole, he answered to my question: “What do you do when there are no fish in the net?” He replied “Not thinking about that, just having the hope that we will never miss but if ever that happens, there will be no need to worry as the next day it will be more crowded“.

This clarifies how hope and optimism being proper dimensions of the psychological capital of this person allows him to experience positive emotions and states of confidence and self-efficacy. It can also demonstrate how identification with Mapuche culture generates pleasant and lasting states of happiness expressed as gratitude, kindness and a sense of humor, which is essential to experience happiness.

Disposable consumerism

On the other hand it is difficult to describe this same view for our Chilean culture by finding it currently so divided and permeable to individualistic and hegemonic cultures that pursue materialistic and superficial aspects calling them a part of the welfare. This results in a constant cycle of disposable consumerism, causing us to believe that we will be happy when we get a new car, the latest electronic equipment or are more successful than others. It has been shown that at no time do these things make us experience happiness, as happiness can only be experienced in relationship with others, through communication of affection, gratitude and kindness and achieved with optimism, hope, resilience and self-efficacy.

Finally, I share the following; I could see how many inhabitants of small islands like Lin-Lin, Chaulinec, Apiao, Mechuque and Quenac, experienced true states of happiness which I could share with them. These didn’t focus at any time on material aspects but simple sharing, not from a role but from the person who seeks to transcend from their own culture and from others.


About the author: Dr. Cabezas was born in Chile, South America. He is a Clinical Psychologist known for his involvement in psychotherapy which he terms the Super-paradigm of Well-being. For the last several years he has been dedicated to spreading positive psychology in Latin America and the Caribbean


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