The Pehuenche
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The Pehuenche

People of the Trees

People of the Trees

Wander the plains, guarded solemnly by the peaks of the Andes. This is the ancestral home of the remarkable Pehuenche people.

The Pehuenche (sometimes Pewenche) get their name from the seed of the monkey puzzle tree, which has been their primary food source for generations.


  • Region is South America

  • Climate here is Mild

  • The challenge here is Medium

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



In the past, the Pehuenche would live a nomadic lifestyle; traveling, hunting, and gathering upon the high plains in small family groups. Today, they mostly stick to one place, rearing cattle. They do still move their herds to greener pastures depending on the season.


The simple, small, rectangular houses found in the Andes are made from various local timber. Logs are placed vertically to form walls. More logs are cut in half and laid across to form the roof. The whole thing can be constructed without using a single nail.


Social Structure

The Lof is the center of Pehuenche society. This is an extended family unit living together, usually consisting of parents, sons and unmarried daughters. It’s usually headed up by an elder man, known as a Lonko, who makes the decisions for the community.


ha Chao is the god worshipped. Beliefs among this community focus around God, known as ha Chao, and the cosmic world which consists of three levels; Wenu Mapu (the future, the
heaven), Nag Mapu (the present, the Nature), and Miñche Mapu (the past, the unknown). There is both good and evil on each level.

They live closely with the earth and believe in the power of nature. The pewen tree for example, is sacred—it is worshipped and offered gifts.

Shamans called machi are present in each group. They perform ceremonies for curing diseases, warding off evil and bringing favourable weather and good harvests.


Many Pehuenche customs are still practised today, including archery, pottery, and weaving.

The traditional woven clothing is worn less today in favour of foreign designs. But Men used to wear skirts, earrings and mantillas, while women wore ponchos, colored belts, and headbands.


The Pehuenche language is part of the Araucanian language family. This is a small group of similar indigenous languages spoken by various peoples in South America


The art of clothing design is particularly prominent in Pehuenche culture. Knowledge of weaving is past down in families and usually the exclusive domain of women.

They’ll weave beautifully colored ponchos and belts, often with geometric designs.


Gillatum: In this spiritual ceremony, the Pehuenche ask for the strengthening of ties within the community as well as general well-being.

We Tripantu: This is the Pehuenche new year celebration and of the winter solstice.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

The Pehuenche are also known as the “people of the trees”. The pewen tree has sustained them spiritually and physically for generations and they have also played a fundamental role in guarding the Araucaria forests. For decades, starting in the 1950s, loggers threatened the forest and violence and persecution of the Pehuenche persisted. But in the 1990s, the Chilean government outlawed logging in this area and bought the land from logging companies to give to the Pehuenche.

Photo credit: Malalcahuello, Chile

Photo credit: Puma Austral