Monument to the Indigenous People – Santiago, Chile - Atlas Obscura

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Monument to the Indigenous People

This sculpture meant to honor the bravery of the Indigenous Mapuche people of Chile proved controversial. 


In Santiago’s main square stands a striking sculpture called the Monument to the Indigenous People (Monumento a los Pueblos Indígenas). Rising 26 feet tall, the concrete-and-granite monument was created by renowned Chilean sculptor Enrique E. Villalobos Sandoval. It’s comprised of three elements: some vegetation, a seed, and a human face. The last of these proved to be particularly controversial, as it depicts the broken face of a Mapuche man.

Although the monument was intended to be an homage to the bravery of the Mapuche people, the indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile, the fact the face appears to be broken left room for misinterpretation. The unveiling of the monument in October 1992, as a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, did not help deter criticism.

The Mapuche people fought against the Spanish conquistadores for 350 years. Before the arrival of the Spaniards they were a group of loosely connected farming communities with a minimal overarching political structure. But starting in the 16th century, the Mapuche radically restructured their societies to become a military force to fight against the foreign invaders. Their struggle outlived the Spanish Empire and continued well after Chile’s declaration of independence in 1818. 

Upon gaining independence, the Chilean government forced the Mapuche into reservations, where, by and large, they reverted back to farming. Under this situation, their ownership of the land was protected by law. But in a questionable move in the 1980s, the Chilean government transferred land ownership from the collective to Mapuche individuals. Having used the land as collateral for borrowing money, many Mapuche people have lost their land and livelihood, and more are likely to follow. Often discriminated against by other Chileans on top of that, the Mapuche fight continues to this day.

Against this backdrop, it’s not too surprising that controversy welcomed the unveiling of a monument representing the fractured face of a Mapuche man, on the anniversary of the conquistadors’ arrival in Chile.

Know Before You Go

The monument is located in the Plaza de Armas in central Santiago, accessible 24/7.

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