Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mapuche natives and their possible link to the Guarani

A comment by John Scanlon (Here), led me to expand on something that I had already mentioned in a previous post. In that post, I had remarked that the Mapuche’s Quetronamun dwarf, which has one foot, turned backwards, was remarkably similar to the Guaraní Corupira which is a dwarf the size of a child having only one deformed foot.

In fact, while writing my book, I was surprised to notice that all of the “southern” Patagonian natives: Aonikenk, Tehuleche, Selk’nam, Yagan, Chono and Alakaluf (more on the native tribes Here) were quite different from the rest of South American natives; this has been revealed by a study of their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

This type of DNA is maternally inherited and allows researchers to trace the maternal lineage back in time and to establish connections between groups of people based on differences in their mtDNA.

mtDNA taken from skeletons of the now extinct Yagan, Selk’nam and Alakaluf populations as well as Aonikenk Tehuelche show that they, from a genetic viewpoint, were different from all other American natives (including the Mapuche in northern Patagonia).[1]

It made me wonder why.

Then, as I began to study the native myths, I kept coming across common myths shared by both the Mapuche people and the Guaraní people of the subtropical area of southern South America.

Besides Quetronamun and Corupira, I have found other “paired” myths:

- The black water dwarf Sompalhué among the Mapuche is replicated in a similar myth among the Paraguayan Guaraní people who have their own water blacks, the Y-Porá.

- Not surprisingly the Guaraní natives also have a lewd rapist dwarfish creature resembling the Mapuche Trauco: the short and sturdy Pombero, a dark creature with hairy hands and feet that likes to seduce women.

- The Mapuche water tiger hclosely resembles the Guaraní Yaguarú.

- The Cuero myth may be based on freshwater stingrays. But they do not live in Patagonia. The closest specimens are found in the Paraná River basin, homeland to the Guaraní people.

- The snake myths of the Guaraní and the Mapuche Culebrón.

- An ancient Mapuche fable, “uncle nahuel and his cousin the fox” indicates some kind of link between the Guaraní and Mapuche people. The fable involves nahuel a jaguar, an animal that does not live, and never did, in Chile. So how did they know about it? (it is quite common in the subtropical and temperate regions of eastern South America - and also, where the Guaraní people lived). I have posted about Patagonian jaguars Here.

This fact was first noticed by German-Chilean linguist and philologist Rodolfo Lenz (1863-1938): it is identical to the Guaraní story of the “vixen and the jaguar”. Lenz believed that it was proof of direct contact between both ethnic groups.

These cultural peculiarities plus the fact that the Mapuche are not related genetically to the other southern Patagonian natives may imply (in my opinion) that they were late arrivals in the region.

The origin of the Mapuche.

Chilean ethnologist and archaeologist Ricardo E. Latcham (1903-1965) suggested that they originated in the Amazon basin and later migrated into Chile.[2]

However this theory is less popular nowadays and the current belief is that the primitive hunter-gatherers that inhabited what is now Chile evolved locally into the Mapuche culture about 2,500 years BP.

The Mapuche people are adamant on this issue, politics are involved too: the Mapuche are actively demanding that the Chilean government “restore” part of the land taken from them during the wars that raged between Mapuche and Spaniards (later Chileans) between 1540 and 1830.[3]

They do not want anyone implying that they don’t have rights to their ancestral lands because they were “latecomers to Chile”.

Nevertheless, a recent study that analyzed the “dialectal prospection” among the Mapuche people showed that some dialectal groupings coincide with Latcham’s theory of Mapuche historical migrations.[4] For now there are no definitive conclusions on this issue.

The Guaraní

Before the arrival of the Spaniards and the Portuguese (1500s) they were farmers that lived in the subtropical jungles of Paraguay, south eastern Bolivia, southern Brazil and north eastern Argentina. They were assimilated into the Colonial system between 1540 and 1810. There are about 1.5 million Guaraní people and their language is still spoken by about 5 million people and is the official Paraguayan language.

If the Mapuche had come from the Amazon, they could have been in direct contact with jaguars, freshwater stingrays, Guaraní natives and giant otters, thus incorporating these animals into their traditions, fables and family lineages as well as assimilating the other natives myths into their own.

Alternatively, they could have encountered these animals while crossing central Argentina towards their final homeland in Chile or even in northern Patagonia after settling in that area in the mid 1600s.


[1] Lalueza, C. et al., (1997). Lack of founding Amerindian mitochondrial DNA lineages in extinct Aborigines from Tierra del Fuego-Patagonia. Human Molecular Genetics. v. 6, N° 1:41-46.
[2] Latcham, R., (1924). Op. Cit. pp. 228.
[3] Prensa Nacional. 22.08.2009. Conflicto estatal chileno y las legítimas reclamaciones por tierras ancestrales.
[4] Croese Mijesen, R. (1980). Estudio Dialectológico del Mapuche por Localización. Estudios filológicos. Nº 15, pp. 7-38.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Randomly googling pictures of the mapuche they remind me of the people in the Gran Chaco region, who appear to be a mix of Selknam and Guarani, with very high cheekbones and particular eyefold features that makes them look more like Aymaras. So, at least intuitively, it might be that the Mapuche have an origin in tropical south america rather than in the Andes. Strangely, nearby tribes like the Aché-Guayaki look more like the Selknam and speak a guarani-related language. Why race and culture are not related in south america?

  3. Good theory. Only one mistake. South of Brazil: here never was Amazon.

  4. Ricardo Latcham believed that the Tupi-Guarani people were linked to the Mapuche. Their territory stretched from NE Brazil, through central Brazil to Southern Brazil and Uruguay, Paraguay NE Argentina and even Eastern Bolivia. Covering the then (pre-European discovery period) jungles of southern Brazil, Central Brazil and the basins of the Paraguay, Parana and Uruguay rivers. The Amazon itself covers a smaller area, but I belive that Latcham meant the jungles of Central and SE South America as the homeland for the Mapuche people.

  5. Informative article, just what I was looking for. Attacks against the Guarani


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