The Southern Cross

The context and meaning of "Melipal" are explained by Dr Jorge Calbucura, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social Work of Mid Sweden University and Coordinator of the Mapuche Documentation Centre, Ñuke Mapu, in Chile.

In Mapuche tradition, existence is understood as an integrated whole; the Universe is conceived as an organism of high complexity that is born, grows and reaches the capacity of self-regeneration. Its genesis or existence is the term that in Mapuche knowledge corresponds to the energies that make up the Universe, which manifest themselves in different dimensions in Nag Mapu, this material world, or Huenu, also expressed as Wenü Mapu, the immaterial world.

In Mapuche knowledge, the beginning of the Universe starts with a great explosion, Chrufken Ruka, "the bursting of the upper house". In its origin, the Universe is configured as the ashes of the embers of the burning coal. From the Quimun or Kimün expression that denominates the ancestral knowledge we take the axiom that tells us "Kom kiñe mew muten deumalei pu antu, pu pullig, ka pu wangelen, pu che, pu mapu", which translates to "Everything is made of the same thing, the Sun, the spirit, the stars, the people, and the Earth corresponds to the truth of everything that exists and is connected with everything else".

In this way, like all the original peoples, the Mapuche conceive the notion that besides being men and women of the Earth, we are also men and women of the Universe, which gives us the duty to live with respect for the cycles of nature and the Universe.

Melipal is the name of the Southern Cross constellation. In the conception of the Universe, Wenuleufü (River of the Sky), the Milky Way, is also the representation of a hunting field of rheas, where the hunters use boleadoras[1] (bolas) represented by Melipal while the Magellanic Clouds represent the bodies of the hunted animals and the Pleiades are the rheas’ nest. Melipal, the constellation of the Southern Cross, is worshipped as a nocturnal guide.

The story of Pascual Coña in his "Memorias de un cacique Mapuche" tells us the name of the mentioned constellation: "Ká kimfiñ feichi pénon-choike, ka tranalékai, ka Melipal, lastawariél in ka kalolasta phiei kai, ka malal-ofisha, ka kushü weke", whose translation means: "I also know the ostrich trail (the Three Marys), the extended boleadoras, the cruiser or star cart, the cattle corral, the dark skin (dark spot on the Milky Way)". Melipal, the extended boleadoras or the cruiser are the names that Coña uses to identify the Southern Cross.


[1] Boleadoras (bolas): throwing weapon consisting of a set of ropes, weighted at the ends. Mapuche and the Inca army used them in battle and for capturing cattle by entangling their legs. There is no uniform design; most boleadoras have two or three balls, but there are versions of up to eight or nine. Most boleadoras have balls of equal weight others vary the knot and cord.


CAÑUMIL, T. (2015) Astronomía Mapuche. Ponencia presentada en la Primer Jornada Lengua, Cultura e Identidad, Universidad Nacional de Quilmes.

de AUGUSTA F.; PAINEMILLA ÑAMCUCHEU P.; COLÜÑ J.; HUENUÑAMCO D. (2007) Diccionario Mapuche. Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Cerro Manquehue, cuarta edición.

CALFÍO, M. (2012) Peküyen. En Comunidad de Historia Mapuche Ta iñ fijke xipa rakizuameluwün. Historia colonialismo y resistencia desde el país mapuche. Temuco: Ediciones Comunidad de Historia mapuche

COÑA, Pascual, según lo dictó a De MOESBACH, Willhelm, (2000) Memorias de un cacique Mapuche. Santiago de Chile: Ed. Pehuén