Home Institution

Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2022

Program Name

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development


Mapuche silver jewelry (rüxan) is one of the best known symbols of the Mapuche people and is an important aspect of their history and cultural tradition. Silver jewelry production reached its peak in the mid-19th century, but declined drastically with the Chilean invasion and annexation of Mapuche territory in 1883. Despite this loss, Mapuche rüxan and rüxafes (silversmiths) exist to this day.

I analyzed the modern use and relevance of mapuche jewelry to understand why this tradition has survived the repression and poverty the mapuche people have faced. I asked the question: What are the roles of silverware in the maintenance and transmission of contemporary Mapuche culture? My general objective is to understand the meaning of silver jewelry in Mapuche culture today. My specific objectives are to learn why some rüxafes make silver jewelry and why some people continue to use it while others do not.

I spoke to two Mapuche Rüxafes and four Mapuche women in Chapod and Temuco about their experiences with Mapuche jewelry. For the Rüxafes, Mapuche jewelry encompasses their livelihoods and their life's work. It plays a fundamental role in their experiences as Mapuche. They desire to preserve its technique and philosophical meanings and bring them into a modern context. On the other hand, Mapuche jewelry does not play an active role in the lives of the women I spoke to in Chapod. Rather, it is something of their childhoods. Their memories of jewelry connect them to their pasts, but the religious-philosophical basis of mapuche jewelry is no longer a part of their mapuche identity or cultural expression.

These are a few specific examples of the roles silver jewelry plays in people’s lives. Future studies should incorporate more points of view to better grasp the complex and diverse range of Mapuche experiences.


Indigenous Studies | Latin American Languages and Societies | Metal and Jewelry Arts | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Culture


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