Chile’s Year of Indigenous Languages

Alzar School | 06.03.19

As of February 21st, Chile is celebrating the Year of the Indigenous Languages.  There are six indigenous languages in Chile, but of those people who claim to be a part of one of the indigenous populations, only 20% speak their native tongue.  This year is meant to celebrate the languages that are unique to this country and help preserve them.  It is the result of a broader push from the United Nations to honor and preserve indigenous languages and cultures from around the world. These cultures are a part of history that is quickly diminishing, but it is important to conserve and protect them.

Several Chilean government organizations are working in conjunction with UNESCO to promote these indigenous languages through cultural showcases and educational events.  The Year of Indigenous Languages kicked off with performances in Santiago from members of the Mapuche and Rapa Nui tribes.  Clad in their respective traditional garb, members performed dances and songs for audiences.

Mapuche women clad in their colorful traditional dress.

As a part of this year of celebration and promotion, the Department of Native Peoples from the National Cultural Heritage Service is offering free language classes to Chilean citizens to revitalize native tounges. Students can take courses to begin learning the language of the Mapuche people: Mapuzungun. Mapuzungun is Araucanian language, originating in the Andes mountains of Chile and Argentina. Current censuses estimate that it is spoken by roughly 250,000 indigenous people in Chile and Argentina.

In our short time in Chile, we have seen the influence of these indigenous cultures on things like place names and dance. On our first day in Chile, we visited a farm called Panguilemu which is a Mapuche word. We also saw people dancing the Quechua in the Plaza de Armas in Coyhaique. They were dressed in traditional clothing and students got to see a glimpse of a traditional Chilean dance. Beyond traveling to and exploring a Spanish speaking country for six-weeks, Alzar School students are also getting to experience the rich indigenous cultural heritage of Chile.