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Three hypotheses

The origin of the mapuches is still a mystery, but there are three well-known theories: the first one, from the early XX century, says that they come from an Amazonian sub-group that gradually moved into the Andes over the years.

The second hypothesis, from 1924, proposes that they arrived to Chilean soil through Andean mountain passes from present-day Argentinean land, and after a long migration process, they became part of the picunche and huilliche cultures as a foreign ethnic and cultural group, ultimately settling between the Biobio and Tolten rivers. However, this thesis is currently being questioned and revised due to the discovery of some archeological remains. In Tirua and Pitren, traces of pottery have been found that confirm the presence of influence from the San Pedro or Atacameña and Diaguita cultures (from the north of Chile).

The third and final theory (1925) is based on the migration of this culture from the north to the south. Plus, there is archeological and ethnographic evidence of a clear affinity between the mapuches and the Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco people (an indigenous culture that lived on land that is currently divided amongst Bolivia, Peru and the north of Chile).

Their long struggle against the Spanish

After the Spanish conquistadors put an end to the Inca empire, they also tried to subdue the mapuches. But this culture put up much more of a fight, leading to a drawn-out conflict known as the war of Arauco, which lasted nearly 300 years. When the Spanish conquistadors, led by Pedro de Valdivia, arrived to the Region of Biobio, they had no idea the natives were so belligerent. After their experiences in Mexico and Peru, they thought it would be easy to subject the mapuches to the Spanish crown and then convert them. However, the situation was quite the opposite, because they put up a tough fight aided by other communities, such as the huilliches, picunches and cuncos. Furthermore, they had combat experience, for they had done battle with the Incan armies commanded by Tupac Yupanqui in the Maule river area 80 years before.

For all of these reasons, a fierce and close war ensued, many times causing a forced retreat from indigenous land on the part of the conquistadors. Victories were obtained evenly on both sides. There were attempts to reinstate peace through the so-called Defensive war of Luis de Valdivia, but ultimately, the Spanish became convinced that any attempt for peace was futile and the only way to achieve victory was through force. In addition, some diseases and viruses like typhus and smallpox gravely struck the natives, hindering their participation in the war. Mestization sprung up between Spaniards and mapuches, which also helped wear down the conflict, especially during its last years. Nevertheless, the Spanish never managed to control them.

After Independence

After Chile’s independence, in January of 1825, the new authorities called for a parliament session with the mapuches living south of the Biobio river, in Tapihue. The objective was to agree on an ordinance to regulate relations between the newborn Chilean republic and the mapuche people. However, due to later events, this never came to fruition.

In 1861, an episode that became a sidebar in history took place. The protagonist of this story is Frenchman Orelie Antoine de Tounens, a man who managed to convince the loncos (chiefs) of his project for independence. This adventurer created the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia and became its self-appointed king, taking on the name of Orelie Antoine I and creating a pseudo government that included a list of ministries.

The Chilean government reacting in cunning fashion: instead of refuting his proclamation, they simply declared Orelie Antoince insane. Thus, the Frenchman was locked up in an insane asylum and later extradited back to his home country.

After the taking of Lima in the Pacific war (January of 1881), the Chilean government decided to enact a plan conceived and led by general Cornelio Saavedra called the Pacification of Araucania. This project, which took place in the land south of the Biobio river called the Angol and Villarrica Border, subdued the mapuches into internment camps, finally achieving to control them for good.

The mapuches nowadays

After the Pacification of Araucania in the XIX and XX century, mapuches had a hard time becoming part of Chilean society because they suffered discrimination and bigotry. They were only allowed to work in certain jobs, their land was taken away or they had to give up whatever it was they did within their communities and take up a job that benefited the interests established by the state of Chile. Nevertheless, their pride for their ancient and highly cultural past remains intact, which is an invaluable part of our country’s cultural heritage.

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