Occupation of the Araucanía

Occupation of the Araucanía

The Occupation of the Araucania (1861–1883) was a series of military campaigns, agreements and penetrations by the Chilean army and settlers which led to the incorporation of Araucanía into Chilean national territory. "The Pacification of the Araucanía" was the expression used by the Chilean authorities for this process.



The indigenous inhabitants of "Araucanía", the Mapuche, had resisted for more than three hundred years Spanish attempts at conquest known as the Arauco Wars. They had also previously defeated the Incas. Whilst their frontier with the Inca empire had been along the Maule River, the Spaniards had succeeded in establishing it at the Bío-Bío River. When the Arauco Wars faded in the 18th and 19th centuries, commercial relations began to grow and cultural and ethnic mixing increased in the frontier territories. Ambrose O'Higgins and other Chilean authorities made agreements with several Mapuche chiefs to end the hostilities on both sides.

In the 19th century the new Chilean Republic started a period of economic prosperity and successful wars against Spain, Peru and Bolivia. Its politicians became attracted to taking action against the Mapuche as well, drawing comparisons with the Spanish failure in that field and the Mapuche tribes that was permanently pillaging the Argentine countryside. The Chilean population was growing fast, immigrants had already settled south of Araucania in the surroundings of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue, and more land was required for settlement. Thus Manuel Montt as President of Chile designated in 1852 a province of Arauco, intended to administer all territories south of the Bío-Bío and north of the Toltén Rivers.

The plan

In 1860, under the then Chilean president José Joaquín Pérez Mascayano, the largely imaginary proclamation of "the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia" by a French lawyer became the pretext for the formal incorporation of Araucania. Under a plan made by General Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez, the authorities pursued a mix of military and cultural penetration, including agreements with the local chiefs, the foundation of settlements and the construction of roads and other public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.


In 1862 General Saavedra advanced quickly to the Malleco River and there founded the town of Angol, together with the forts of Mulchén and Lebu. From Valdivia in the south, troops also advanced into the Toltén River area. This first phase of the occupation was carried out with little resistance, but soon afterwards the tribes near the Malleco River rose. Despite the nascent insurgency, Purén was founded in the densest Mapuche population centre in 1869, securing communications between Angol and the coast.

From 1871 to 1879, Basilio Urrutia was left in charge of the occupation, which had by then been consolidated up to the Malleco River. On the north side of that river the army had established a line defended by 2,500 soldiers and a telegraph between Angol and Collipulli.

In 1879 many of the troops in the south of Chile were moved to the north to
fight Peru and Bolivia. In 1880, several Mapuche tribes took advantage of this to launch a series of largely unsuccessful attacks on Chilean forts. After victory in the War of the Pacific, the government of Domingo Santa María launched a final campaign to incorporate the heartland of the Mapuche into Chile. A colonel, Gregorio Urrutia, was chosen for this. The old Spanish town of Villarrica was refounded and forts set up at Carahue, Lautaro, Pillánlelbu, Temuco, Nueva Imperial and Pucón. The tribes living close to these forts lost their territory, and about ten thousand Mapuche were killed in skirmishes with the army. Many of the survivors escaped to the mountains where they joined with the Pehuenche and other tribes which were in flight from Argentine territory to the east. Some indigenous remnants were placed into reservations and their land given to Chilean and foreign settlers.


Araucania was not fully pacified after the close of the military campaigns, and it remained insecure despite the efforts of the central government. Even now, some Mapuche groups continue to pillage haciendas in what they consider to be their ancestral lands. With the construction of the Malleco viaduct in the 1890s, the region became more accessible and European settlement in southern Chile became more intense. The last areas to be occupied were the heights of the Bío-Bío River and the coast near Budi Lake. By 1929 the Chilean government had given nearly 5,000 km² of land in more than three thousand plots to settlers in Araucanía Fact|date=September 2007. In 1934 477 workers and Mapuches were killed during the Ranquil Massacre in the upper Bio-Bio River [ [http://www.mapuche-nation.org/espanol/html/articulos/art-59.htm Levantamiento campesino en Ranquil, Lonquimay] es icon] .

The Army of Argentina also led their own campaign of pacification in Patagonia, "the Conquest of the Desert", which led to the migration of Patagonian Mapuche to Chile. In Argentina, the remaining indigenous peoples perished. In Chile, the remaining Indian groups were forcibly assimilated into Chilean society.

The first units of Cuerpo de Carabineros, who in 1927 became Chiles national police and gendarmerie, were formed in 1903 to bring law and order to the Araucanía Region.



*Villalobos, Sergio. "Historia de Chile Tomo 4". Editorial universitaria, 1982.

ee also

*Conquest of the Desert
*The Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia
*The War of Arauco

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