Mapuche Nation: the living Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia
September 10, 2018 10:15 AM   Subscribe

The Mapuche have long defended their region, first against Incas at the end of the 1400s, then for more than three hundred years (PDF), against the Spanish shortly after they arrived to the area in the 1540s, and later Chilean military forces, until the early 1880s, when the Chilean government won decisive battles. In the midst of this ongoing fight, a French lawyer named Orélie-Antoine de Tounens traveled across the Atlantic with dreams of being a king, and in doing so, played a role in the birth of what he called the Kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia, as portrayed in Rey (trailer). The story is also notable because that "kingdom" was the only post-colonial Native American country, the Mapuche Nation – except it is not only found on old maps.

In Spain's conquest of Chile, they found formidable opposition in the Mapuche, a macroethnic group that includes smaller groups like the Huilliche people in the southern portion of the region. As a whole, the Spanish called the Mapuche "Araucanos," and their territory Araucanía. Some of these battles were turned into something of an epic fantasy poem, La Araucana (also known in English as The Araucaniad) by Spanish poet-soldier Alonso de Ercilla, which informed many in Europe of the "noble savages" who fought against the Spanish.

It was this epic that inspired Orélie-Antoine de Tounens to seek out support from the "Indians of Araucania and Patagonia" to conferred upon him power, which they did, and he accepted it, per his (translated) manifesto. But to his countrymen in France, he told a different story. As noted in an interview with writer and director, Niles Atallah found other messages:
In Chilean history the adventurous Frenchman is viewed as psychologically unhinged. The king had a flag and a national anthem, he wrote a constitution and even appointed ministers. De Tounens was arrested, thrown in prison, hauled before a judge, convicted and then deported [instead of being executed, because he was deemed insane].

However, the letters he wrote to people in France paint an entirely different picture says Atallah. "In his correspondence the calculating lawyer promises his countrymen a colony he will call 'New France'. The area three times the size of the motherland was full of mineral wealth. As far as he’s concerned, the Mapuche can continue to live there."

In Rey (IMDb), Atallah doubts everything. He views history as a performance, a creation, a process of decay. "You can’t trust historical sources, you can’t write clear, unequivocal history. No one knows what De Tounens really thought. Perhaps he was lying. And don’t forget, context erodes, language and meaning change and memories fade."
But the exile of De Tounens is not the end of the Kingdom. According to several researchers, Great Britain, Italy, France, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay appear to have formally recognised the Kingdom’s independence (Brazil and Persia evidenced de facto recognition), and though he had no offspring, Orllie-Antoine I has had five successors, who were succeeded by Prince Antoine IV, and now Mr. Frédéric Luz is the new Prince of Araucania and Patagonia.

Back to the fate of the nation: Chile followed the successful Argentine War of Independence, and with that, Chile replaced Spain nominally as the force against the Mapuche. The conflicts did not end until the early 1880s when Chilean soldiers returned from the War of the Pacific and were the victors in the Mapuche uprising of 1881.

As noted in the article titled Why the lost kingdom of Patagonia is a live issue for Chile's Mapuche people, "the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia was dismissed as the 19th century folly of a quixotic Frenchman but it left a powerful legacy of indigenous sovereignty" (Mat Youkee for The Guardian, March 21, 2018).
On the walls of Tourtoirac Abbey in southern France hangs a map that portrays a very different vision of Latin American history. A reproduction of a 19th century original, it shows a huge swath of southern Chile and Argentina as the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia.

For a brief period in the early 1860s the Mapuche tribes of southern Chile were united under a French king in what was – to their minds at least – an independent and sovereign state.

On Thursday, the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia’s enduring government-in-exile will choose a new king with a mandate to raise international awareness of the Mapuche people’s continuing conflict with the Chilean state.

The election comes at a time when Mapuche historians are reconsidering the legacy of the kingdom’s first monarch.

In 1860, Orélie de Tounens, a quixotic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed south of Chile’s Biobío river into lands uncolonized by the Spanish empire.

De Tounens donned a poncho, learned the local language and gained acceptance from his hosts. And then, with the consent of Mapuche tribal leaders, he established himself as King Antoine, ruling over a territory stretching to the southern tip of the continent.

Chile was displeased, and in 1862 he was captured, convicted of sedition, and only spared the death penalty due to his perceived insanity.

Since then, de Tounens has been seen as a bizarre footnote in Chilean history, but that version of events is now being challenged by Mapuche authors.

“Chile’s official historiography caricatures de Tounens as a madman, but he was anything but,” says Pedro Cayuqueo, author of Historia secreta mapuche (The Secret Mapuche History), a 2017 bestseller. “His example feeds the current debate with new and powerful arguments in favour of Mapuche sovereignty.”
Seven years ago, Argentinians were re-evaluating their history books, and the Argentinian founding father recast as genocidal murderer, as "Julio Argentino Roca [was] being removed from banknotes and street names for alleged role in exterminating indigenous culture" (Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent for The Guardian, January 13, 2011)
For a century it was a name to inspire schoolchildren: Julio Argentino Roca, the military hero and statesman who tamed Patagonia's wilderness and made Argentina a modern nation.

He was George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one, a founding father who gazed from banknotes, adorned plinths and gave his name to avenues from Buenos Aires to Santa Cruz.

But maybe not for much longer. Avenues are being renamed and there is a campaign to topple the former president's statues, erase him from banknotes and teach children a new version: that Roca was a genocidal murderer who brought shame to Argentina.

The man portrayed for generations as a talented visionary has been recast, according to revisionist history, as a villain who exterminated indigenous communities and their culture from much of South America.
Chile has not been so reflective. In 2013, a UN expert stated that Chile must stop using anti-terrorism law against Mapuche indigenous group, though the UN's new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in her second term as Chilean President extended a formal apology to the Mapuche people
Speaking from La Moneda presidential palace in the capital city of Santiago, Bachelet conceded that “we've failed as a country.”

“I want, solemnly and with humility, to ask forgiveness from the Mapuche people for the errors and horrors committed or tolerated by the state in our relation with them and their communities,” she added.
Bachelet also promised to submit a proposal to Congress which seeks to create a ministry for Indigenous people.

More internet resources on the Mapuche: Mapuche International Link ( is coordination between a group of Mapuches and Europeans with the fate of the indigenous peoples and nations of the Americas, and in particular with the Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina.

The Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia ( and covers more of the kingdom's past, but also supports North American Araucanian Royalist Society (NAARS), which has worked to promote awareness in the English-speaking world of the history and claims of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia since 1995.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Bonus link: Do you want to discover the secrets of Mapuche cooking? Spoiler: it's a spice mix, called merkén, which is made from drying or toasting aji cacho de cabra (goat horn peppers-the shape of the pepper resembles a goat’s horn) and then adding toasted, ground coriander seeds and salt. It’s about 75% aji, 15% salt & 10 % coriander seeds, though you can find references to it without salt or coriander seeds.

But from there, the article goes on to describe other dishes that you can make.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:04 AM on September 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have discovered that Merkén Mapuche spice is very good on a baked potato, especially with a good cottage cheese.
posted by bz at 11:30 AM on September 10, 2018

This is really fascinating, thanks for the post! It's interesting to hear about Argentina's reckoning with Julio Argentino Roca's legacy, something similar is starting to happen in Canada.
posted by deadtrouble at 11:33 AM on September 10, 2018

Thanks for a great post, I'm looking forward to digging further into all these links!

And another bonus link: enjoy some recent Mapuche hip-hop.
posted by dr. boludo at 12:04 PM on September 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Pouring some yerba into the mate and settling in to a good post.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:16 PM on September 10, 2018

As a mostly non-mapuche Chilean, I thoroughly applaud this post and am profoundly embarrassed of what my country has done to the Mapuche.

"Mostly" because all Chileans who are not 100% descendants of recent immigrants have some mapuche blood, and racism around here is a matter of degree, it's not just whether you're mapuche or not, but how much indian blood you seem to have, how dark your skin is, how wide your cheek bones, the texture of your hair, etc.

There's a strong correlation between your skin color and your chance of success in life. Darker = lower income, lower life expectancy, worse health and education. Lighter = country clubs and vacations in Europe. You never see a mapuche looking person managing a bank. You never see a nordic looking person digging a ditch.

Up until recently it was normal to see want ads which required 'buena presencia', ie: 'good presence' ie: 'not too mapuche looking'.

Chile is one of the few countries I'm aware of where 'indio' is used as a general insult, not specifically referring to actual indians, so if I say 'no seai indio weon', it means something like 'don't get out of control dude', which isn't racist the same way that saying 'don't jew me on this deal' isn't racist.

Also, many people, until recently, claimed that Chile wasn't racist because there weren't any black people (I'm not making this up (really)). "Recently" because there have been waves of immigration from Venezuela, Colombia and Haiti so now there are black people here, and now these same Chileans start out their sentences with 'I don't want to be racist, but…'

So all in all, Chile is a land of contrasts. Racist contrasts.
posted by signal at 5:18 PM on September 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Lautaro of the Mapuche is one of the 36 leaders represented in Civilization VI, as of the Rise & Fall expansion this past year, and over on the reddit, this week's "Civ of the Week."
posted by Navelgazer at 6:55 PM on September 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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