Maria Eugenia Coeymans





We are unclear about where to go
if we are unclear about where we came from

This is in reference to a Mapudungun saying in mapuche language, according to Saul Schkolnik, a learned author on theme that concerns us.

Chile is a country located on the southern tip of South America colonized by the Spaniards. Our culture is a mixture of the Spanish heritage culture traits of the indigenous peoples and other European influences.

We will be celebrating our bicentenary in 2010 and our nation is striving to modernize its infrastructure , embellish its cities and erradicate extreme living conditions. In other words we are working to structure a country that is respectful of all its citizens.

However, in the face of such an event we have some queries to deal with:
What kind of a country are we striving for?

What characterizes our identity?

There is a wide scope of intellectuals working on the answer: scientists, politicians, educators, sociologists, pshycologists.  Writers have risen to the occasion by going in search of the identity visage as well, beginning by the cultural roots that are imprinted in the pages of our children’s books in the way of myths and legends of the different indigenous peoples who gave life to our country. 

In a globalized world that is doing away with cultural barriers we need to safeguard the identity of all peoples so as to be able to develop fruitful encounters with others for the future benefit of all.

Gaining knowledge of their children’s literature helps the child and young adult to come to grips with his own roots, from where he will begin to forge his future national identity and later be able to go forth to encounter the world and its diversity.

The question that arises is ¿in what way are our ethnic indigenous peoples represented in our children’s literature?

This presentation will focus on the books published in the past 20 years on the growing significance of the indigenous peoples and the increasing interest to create and recreate myths of origin, folktales and legends.

It will be centered, precisely, on the interest that arose in writers and publishers for the full recovery of our oral tradition by means of the written word.


The interest in writing about the indigenous people of Chile is made evident in the written word of the relevant authors consulted in this survey.

Sckolnick sustains : “I became interested in the subject of our ethnic indigenous peoples through the awareness of certain facts that were of the highest importance to me.

First, the Licanantai, or atacameño indians, inhabited the desert for over 10.000 years without their being wars among them. This fact revealed that they must have been people of  human principles with an elevated culture.

Secondly, we know that the Mapuches resisted the invasion of the huincas or white men from the years 1590 up to 1890; it was 300 years of fierce resistance in the struggle to protect their land.

Thirdly, in the study of the Selknam indigenous peoples I discovered that they managed a vocabulary of around 4.000 words, that is to say they employed the same number of words that the chilean population actively use today, or as in the case of the Diaguitas that were well known for their skilled artistic handcraft, all of which leads to think that they developed a high level of culture.

Therefore I believe that the ethnic indigenous people that inhabited our land and still do, have handed us down a sound message of love, endurance and promise and it would be my wish for our children and adults to acknowledge this message and adopt it.“

Another recognized writer, Morel, author of the book Cuentos Araucanos holds:  “I became interested in the Mapuche myths and legends because of their beauty and innermost truth. For me the myths and legends of the American indigenous peoples are “ our own singular fairy tails”  unhandled like the European were, that told stories of virginal maidens in a state of nature. This is the case with all the ethnic indigenous people of America, the Bororos in  Brasil, the Aymaras, the Pieles Roja, the Aztecs and the Mayas.”

Meanwhile, Carvajal, whose work in the field is well recognized said, “people tend to overlook the fact that the indigenous people as a whole possessed great wisdom, and somehow they fail to recognize this as a heritage, a true life treasure expressed in harmony with  time, the environment, spirituality and the art of living together in oneness with creation. The wisdom of the indigenous people was non discriminatory, non judging and non distorting, there was no dissecting the parts from the whole for the purpose of ulterior study which is the western way of approaching the world.

Primitive man considered the human being as an integral part of his circumstance in complete harmony with the elements that make up his culture, such as his rites, history and faith which formed part of this and other possible worlds. And it is precisely here where the magic and marvel of their gift of domain resides.”

Another autor, Peña, doctor in filology and a specialist in children’s literature, affirms: I believe that we are unable to grow if we do not value our roots. There is no tree top without tree roots and therefore I believe that  we should work to instill these values in children so that they can shape their thinking through the knowledge of stories, folktales, myths and legends”

Publishing houses have developed book collections of pre-hispanic as well as contemporary indigenous peoples to make them known. Myths, legends, stories and folktales.

Amanuta has published the Kiwala collection, Mil Sur, Indigenous Peoples and Ñandu.

Sol y Luna libros has published works about the pascuences or rapa-nui, the pehuenches, aymaras and mapuches. Other publishing houses with books published along these lines are Andrés Bello, Salo Editors, Alfaguara and S.M.
  Pehuén Editores
and the Ministry of Education have lately published bilingual educational material.

Finally  in this search for the recovery of our roots new schools of languages have been formed: The Academies of the Languages  Rapanui, Aymara and Mapudungun.


Chilean children’s literature, in its written word, includes the presence of myths as part of the macrocosmos of the indigenous peoples and describes them as” Fantasy tales situated on the edge of historical times,  characterized by heroes or heroines of a divine nature”.

They tell about the birth of the universe, the discovery of fire, and the creation of life as originated from clay, of people, animals, mountains and  the presence of spirits as protectors and shields against all evil.

In Elal and the animals, Pavez and Recart, relate” His loneliness was such,that Kooch began to cry. He cried for so long that his tears gathered and later formed the sea.         

The deluge and the rise of the waters is retold in various editions by Morel, Gevert, and Perez, in the myth Treg –Treg Vilú, the good serpent of the earth and Cai Cai Vilú, the bad serpent of the waters.

This last one wishes to destroy the mapuche people and Treg-Treg makes the mountains grow to save the people from the treacherous waters. And being saved meant “the responsibility of the continuation of the mapuche race on either side of the Andes Mountains.” (L.Gevert)       

In the book, "Would you like to know why I tell tales in Rapanui?" Sckolnik reveals the myth of the birth of Maku-Make, creator of the world. And also about the birth of the island known as the “ navel of the world”, Easter Island.

In the case of the microcosm there are epic poems and legends that portray the heroic acts of the different indigenous peoples, Their encounters with mythological beasts, the warfare between the conquerors and the conquered people and other tales of battle.       

Benaprés inTegua expresses the belligerence between the mapuches and the Spaniards : “As unexpectedly as the surprise attack took place the mapuches disappeared into the thick of the forest, out of reach of the soldiers.  The valley remained sunken in deathly silence….How long before these formidable warriors returned to the charge?”        

Ibáñez and Zegers, in their novel “Alonso in the Arauco war” show evidence of how friendship  was possible between the Spaniards and the Indians, in spite of the war.
In the genre stories, there are some that reflect the community spirit of the indigenous peoples and others regarding animals proper to the environment where they live in.

Condors, ñandus, llamas, quirquinchos… between aymaras and atacameños in the north of Chile. Pumas and huemules in the mapuche Lake Region; dolphins and whales among the Yaganes and Selknam in the southernmost tip of the country.

Pavez and Recart tell about the transformation of an “atacameña” sheperd girl into a condor, in El  Condor y La Pastora.

Sckolnik shows how the “huemul” beats the “puma” in “ The best hunter among mapuches”.

In “ The boy and the whale”, Recabarren talks about the hunting of whales and the heroic act of Lasix, a “yamán” boy who is eager for his town to obtain food, fat and bones for their harpoons. It makes us remember Jonas in the bible story.

Love stories are a relevant part of the literature of the indigenous     
peoples as well.

In “Ayün –ül, The love song””, Gallegos relates a moving story
where a lover is quoted telling his loved one “ time and distance do not count, Rayentai, because you will forever abide in the trees, in the flowers and in the pasture lands of the north. I will see you there... wherever my eyes dwell upon and if at long last I become unable to see at all, I shall behold you with the eyes of my soul.”

The love theme becomes visible among the conquerors and conquered ones. In reference to “María Carlota and Millaqueo”  Peña , the author, sustains: I intended to mean that our country was born, exactly,, as a result of the union of both cultures, for María Carlota simbolizes the presence of the Spanish culture and Millaqueo simbolizes the native inhabitant of the land. A relationship is born between them and as a result of that union a new race is born which is not Spanish or native Indian. It is a cross culture.

Conflict is also present in the literature about the indigenous peoples.  In “The legned of the araucarias” Morel tells the story of how Cuyén, a young pehuenche girl, is able to stop foreign intruders from cutting down the Araucaria pine, a millenary species from whose pine nuts the indigenous peoples have always fed on. 

Similar to this story is the case of  “Chipana” by Carvajal, who on realizing that they were selling his llamas in the village feels a deep desire to rebel against the greed and ambition of the unscrupulous traders, “those rich, boisterous , arrogant men.  Chipana felt that he could not endure the situation with the same meekness as his animals did any more”.

Del Río goes beyong conflict and foreshadows the integration of the indigenous people. This author presents Manu, a young aymara girl who portrays a  heroic act that saves her people producing, as a result,  the integration of its culture.
Along the line of fairy tales there is a charming love story known as
“The girl of the skeleton”  by Recabarren, portraying  a wicked stepmother, the intervention of a machi, a witch doctor, the goodness of the character and a happy ending.     

In the genre novels we find history and fiction.

In “Guakolda and Lautaro”, Sckolnik presents the cruelty of war as well as the love of the mapuche heroes Lautaro and Guakolda.

Lautaro’s loved one whispers to him - ” I have had a terrible dream. I have dreamed that you leave my side. I have dreamt with your death.
A warrior never dies – he answers. Us warriors take leave of this world only to start eternal life beyond the clouds.
You shall never be alone- he said. Every time someone says your name they will also be saying mine”.  

In Quidora, the novel by Güiraldes and Balcells  we learn about the love  between a  native girl and a young spaniard with an unfortunate ending.

In Antai, Sckolnick writes about the interaction of the indigenous peoples, about the Incas and the Aymaras and about the art of fair government.

Other novels talk about ritual ceremonies.

In “Sakanusoyin, The hunter of Tierra del Fuego”, Carvajal gives an account of the episodes in the life of a Selknam hunter, the ritual ceremony of his coming into adulthood and the drilling lessons that he needs to master in order to become the chamán of his people.


•    There is a growing interest in learning about the traditions and the
ways of life of the indigenous peoples of Chile. Our society is looking      for integration and stories that tell about ethnic culture roots that  may help to keep the balance with what is proper of today’s modern society.

•    The ethnic indigenous peoples present in children’s literature are: the Mapuches, people of the earth, who outnumber the others in works and population numbers. The Aymaras, Licantanai, Selknam, Rapa-nui, Yaganes and the Kaweskar.

•    There is very little in the way of children’s literature written by the indigenous people about their oral tradition and very few works written in their original languages which are strongly needed. What is known today has been written in spanish by non indigenuos chilean authors.

•    In summary, Children’s literature in Chile recognizes the human values of the indigenous peoples as being representative of the chilean cultural identity: a strong community spirit, integration and unity with the environment, as well as a sacred respect of nature and its rhythms together with fair government.

I began this presentation with the phrase in mapudungun: “ We are  unclear about where to go if we are unclear about where we came from” and I’ll end it by saying” to gain knowledge and respect for our cultural roots as a nation give us a clear cultural identity to enable us to go peacefully to the encounter of other nations.”

Maria Eugenia Coeymans, Chile

31st IBBY Congress, Copenhagen 2008

Translated from Spanish by Valerie Moir


  1. Balcells, Jacqueline y Güiraldes, Ana María. Quidora, joven araucana. (Quidora, young mapuche maiden). Editorial Zigzag 1992.
  2. Benaprés, Raúl. Tegua. Arrayán Editores 1996.
  3. Carvajal, Víctor. Sakanusoyin, cazador de Tierra del Fuego. (Sakanusoyin, the hunter of Tierra del Fuego). Alfaguara Juvenil.2000.
  4. Carvajal, Víctor. Mamire, el último niño. (Mamire, the last boy) Alfaguara Infantil,1996
  5. Carvajal, Víctor. Chipana. Ediciones S.M. 1988
  6. Carvajal, Víctor. El pequeño Meliñir. (The little Meliñir).Ediciones Sol y Luna, 2003
  7. Carvajal, Víctor. El pequeño Manu. (The little Manu). Ediciones Sol y Luna 2002
  8. Carvajal, Víctor. Peñi,Peñi, Juan y Pedro. S.M. Ediciones.
  9. Del Río, Ana María.  La Historia de Manú. (The history of Manu). Alfaguara Infantil 2000
  10. Gallegos, Manuel. Ayün-ül. El canto del amor. Ayün-ül. (The love song). In, Cuentos para los Niños del Mundo. SALO Ediciones 1996. Huilliche.
  11. Gevert, Lucía. Mitos y Leyendas de nuestra América. (Myths and legends of our America). Editorial Mare Nostrum, 2005
  12. Ibáñez, Magdalena, y  Zegers, María José. Alonso en la guerra de Arauco. (Alonso in the Arauco War). Editorial Andrés Bello, 2004.
  13. Morel, Alicia. Cuentos de Araucanos. (Stories from Araucanian people). Editorial Andrés Bello 1982.
  14. Morel Alicia. Leyendas bajo la Cruz del Sur. (Legends Ander the Southern Cross). Editorial Andrés Bello, 1996.
  15. Morel Alicia. Leyenda de las araucarias. (The araucarias pine trees legend). In, Cuentos chilenos para los niños del mundo. SALO Editores 1999.
  16. Muñoz, Carmen. Txeg Txeg egu Kay Kay feichi antü ñi chaliwnhon. El día que Txeg Txeg y Kai Kai no se saludaron. (The day when Txeg Txeg and Kai Kai didn’t say hello) Pehuén Ediciones.
  17. Muñoz, Carmen. Mä ancha suma anata ispira / Una mágica víspera de carnaval. (A magic Carnaval’s vesper). Pehuén Ediciones.
  18. Muñoz, Carmen. Tega Aku Aku ha’uruera i te ahí ahí u hora / Los Aku Aku y su siesta de verano.(The Aku Aku and their summer siesta) Pehuén Ediciones.
  19. Muñoz, Carmen. Feichi pünh ta ñi elugemum kütxal / La noche que nos regalaron el fuego (The night when fire was given to us) Pehuén Ediciones.
  20. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Elal y los animales. (Elal and the animals). Editorial Amanuta. Colección Pueblos originarios.2005
  21. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Los delfines del Sur del Mundo. (The South of the World Dolphins)Editorial Amanuta. Colección Pueblos originarios.2003
  22. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Kiwala conoce el mar. (Kiwala meets the ocean). Editorial Amanuta. 2003
  23. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Kiwala va  a la selva. (Kiwala goes to the jungle). Editorial Amanuta. 2003
  24. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Kiwala, la llama de cobre. (Kiwala the copper llama). Editorial Amanuta. 2003
  25. Pavez, Ana María y Recart, Constanza.  Kiwala y la luna. (Kiwala and the moon). Editorial Amanuta. 2003
  26. Peña, Manuel. María Carlota y Millaqueo. (Maria Carlota and Millaqueo) Editorial Andrés Bello.
  27. Pérez, Floridor . TrenTren y Caicavilu. (Trentren and Caicaivilu). In Mitos y Leyendas de Chile. Editorial Zig Zag 1999.
  28. Pérez, Floridor. Llacolén. In Mitos y Leyendas de Chile. Editorial Zig Zag 1999.
  29. Pérez, Floridor. Origen de Muga Iri. (The origin of Muga Iri). In Mitos y Leyendas de Chile. Editorial Zig Zag 1999.
  30. Prats, M. Angélica. Editora. Lo que se cuenta en Arauco. (These is told in Arauco). Fundación Educacional Arauco. 1999
  31. Recabarren, Marcela. El niño y la ballena. (The boy and the whale). Colección Pueblos originarios. Editorial Amanuta 2005
  32. Recabarren, Marcela. El cóndor y la pastora. (The vulture and the sheperd girl). Colección Pueblos originarios. Editorial Amanuta 2005.
  33. Recabarren, Marcela. La música de las montañas. (The music of the mountains). Colección Pueblos originarios. Editorial Amanuta 2005
  34. Recabarren, Marcela. El Calafate. (The calafate). Colección Pueblos originarios.   Editorial Amanuta 2003
  35. Recabarren, Marcela. La niña de la calavera. (The girl of the skeleton). Colección Pueblos originarios. Editorial Amanuta 2003
  36. Schkolnik, Saúl. Antai. Andrés Bello 1994
  37. Schkolnik, Saúl. Cuentos en Arauco. (Stories in Arauco) SALO Editores. 1995.                                                                                                           a.    Piri el gusanito  (Piri, the little Worm)                                                   b.    La princesa Murta  (Murta, the princesse)                                              c.    Rayén y Llacolén. (Rayen and Llacolen)                                                d.    El mejor cazador. (The best hunter)
  38. Schkolnik  Saúl ¿Quieren saber por qué les cuento cuentos Rapanui? (Do you want to know why do I tell stories in Rapanui?) Editorial Don Bosco S. A. 2005
  39. Schkolnik  Saúl ¿Quieren saber por qué les cuento cuentos Aymara? (Do you want to know why do I tell stories in Aymara?) Editorial Don Bosco S. A. 2005
  40. Schkolnik, Saúl. Guacolda y Lautaro.  (Guacolda and Lautaro). Pehuén Ediciones 1997.