Pacification of the Mapuche in Chile 1881-1883

[ 1881 - 1883 ]

After battling the Peruvians and Bolivians in the north, the military turned to engaging the Araucanians in the south. The final defeat of the Mapuche in 1882 opened up the southern third of the national territory to wealthy Chileans who quickly carved out immense estates. No homestead act or legion of family farmers stood in their way, although a few middle-class and immigrant agriculturalists moved in. Some Mapuche fled over the border to Argentina. The army herded those who remained onto tribal reservations in 1884, where they would remain mired in poverty for generations. Like the far north, these southern provinces would become stalwarts of national reform movements, critical of the excessive concentration of power and wealth in and around Santiago.


In 1810, the Spanish descendants, anti-royalists and Creoles from Chile and Argentina started a war for the independence from Spain that lasted almost 10 years. After the final defeat of the Spanish forces, and the declaration of independence of Argentina and Chile, these latter abrogated the Treaty of Quillin between the Spanish Crown and the Mapuche, and declared Mapuche land as theirs by decree. Under the same pretext of promoting civilisation used by the Spanish, they started a gradual take-over of Mapuche land that led to military aggression, persecution and extermination of entire communities. 

”Yet, on November 5, 1881, the Mapuches arose one last time in a general insurrection. According to José Bengoa, a prominent Chilean anthropologist, it was the first time in their entire history that all the groups of the very decentralized Mapuche had joined in a single insurrection. They did not engage in this act to secure their political and military independence -that was now lost beyond recovery. As Bengoa notes, 'the Mapuche knew perfectly well that they were going to lose and that the majority of them would die in this general insurrection.' So why did they make the effort? Again, to quote Bengoa, the last insurrection was 'a cultural imperative that obligated (the Mapuches) to appear with their lances, in front of the huinca (the Mapuche word for non-Indians) forts and cities and say: We are still an independent people and we will cease to be such only in a ritual act of combat and death.'”.[Worthen K.J.; The role of indigenous groups in constitutional democracies: a lesson from Chile and the United States , in: Coehn C.P.; The human rights of indigenous peoples , Transnational Publishers, New York, 1998, pp.253] 

In 1883, in Patagonia, the Mapuche people was finally defeated by both armies, and many people were either killed or forced from their homes to live impoverished lives in small rural communities and in the cities. During this campaign, recorded in Chilean history as the 'Pacification of Araucania' and in Argentina as the 'Campaign of the Desert', many children were taken from their families and given to white people to be trained as servants.

Related Conflicts

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