Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Haga clic aquí para una página en Español.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 2

 p1  Chapter I
The Natives

The Primitive Population

Very little is known of the first inhabitants of Chile. We are ignorant of their origin, their appearance, and their customs. Some of their implements, which have been found in the lower strata of the earth, enable us to form an idea of the degree of culture they had attained and the means of livelihood at their disposal.

These native remains consist of rudely wrought stones, the bones of animals, and sea shells. They have been discovered accidentally in opening up mines, in cutting through mountains to build canals and railroads, and in digging for the foundations of buildings. Wherever it has been necessary to excavate to a moderate depth, these remains have been found by the thousands. The most common are those of stone, and their classification is not difficult because the uses for which the natives intended them were much the same — war, hunting, fishing, and whatever related to the food supply, nothing more. The following are the principal types:

1. Bored Stones. — These are cobblestones polished by friction in the beds of rivers. Some are round and flat, like a disk; others are compact, like a sphere. The perforation is usually conical, like two funnels united at the narrow opening, with the tops outward. The natives apparently used them to hold down the sharpened prongs of a kind of fork with which they scraped the earth in order to pull up roots and tubers.

2. Hatchets. — These stones are generally small. They were provided with a thick handle and were probably used in skinning animals, in cutting up the bodies of war captives, in separating shellfish from rocks, and in other ways.

3. Arrowheads. — These are pointed like the leaves of trees and are of two kinds — serrated and smooth-edged. It is thought that the serrated arrowheads were used in hunting, because they would stick in the wounds of the prey and prevent flight, or make it difficult. The others seem especially adapted to fighting and are much more numerous than the serrated variety.

Since these implements are found in deep strata of the earth, at a depth of from twelve to twenty-five feet, and since near them in similar soil are found also the bones of extinct animals like the  p2 mastodon, it is generally agreed that they belong to remote antiquity. From this we conclude that the primitive population of Chile dates from an epoch which must be reckoned in thousands of years, perhaps from the earliest time that it was possible for human beings to exist on the earth.​a

This information is the first gain derived from our study of these prehistoric remains; and, by comparing them with similar implements used by peoples who live today in a stage of culture about equal to that of these primitive aborigines, one can deduce the purposes for which the prehistoric implements were designed and the living conditions of the peoples who used them. Chile, then, like other countries, had a very remote Stone Age.

Remains of buildings of these prehistoric times are lacking, but on the seacoast and in almost all of the central zone there are sites where vestiges of huts and burial grounds of this distant age have been found, along with utensils of stone, baked clay or wood, the bones of animals, and even petrified bodies. There are no other traces of primitive man. Rude and poor he may have been, but he was the forerunner of civilization in Chile, as other men of the same kind and condition were the forerunners of civilization in other countries.

Geographical Distribution of the Aborigines

Another advantage is gained from the discovery of the native remains. By means of them we have been able to determine the geographic distribution of the primitive population and the general conditions of climate and production in Chile in the remote past. It is obvious that the men of the Stone Age could not have lived except in those places where the means of livelihood were readily available, and we observe in this connection that almost all of the native relics are found near the coast, lakes, and rivers, or in those places where vegetation, up to recent times, has been most developed. From this we may conclude that living conditions in Chile have varied little in the long course of the centuries.

The abundance of primitive remains and the unchanging nature of the climate and products make it easy to determine the first centers of population. It must not be thought, however, that permanent establishments are meant, or even towns more or less permanent. The savage is a nomad not so much by nature as by necessity. He has to go from place to place, following atmospheric changes and the seasons most favorable to him in his search for food and shelter.

 p3  The coast is his most hospitable refuge because its climate is not subject to such sudden changes as the rest of the continent, nor is it so severe. The ocean also provides him with its inexhaustible supply of fish and mollusks. Therefore primitive natives frequented the Chilean shore. The almost straight coast line from Tacna to Chiloé offers sheltered sites where dwelling places can be established under favorable conditions. Each of these sites is today a harbor or a fishing inlet.

On the eastern side, along the slopes of the Andes, there are many fertile valleys with abundant water and numerous animals. In the central zone especially, these valleys occupy the mountain gorges from which spring the torrents and rivers crossing the territory to the west. On each side the great cordillera presents an extremely varied aspect. On its summit lies perpetual snow, which pressure little by little transforms into ice; on its slopes grow forests of different kinds of trees, which become more and more impenetrable as they approach sea level; and at the foot of the slopes stretch meadows perennially covered with grasses which grow spontaneously, like the rest of the vegetation. In the cordillera region of central Chile there were in former times, just as there are now, lands well adapted to the easy sustenance of man. It is not strange, therefore, that a relatively numerous population dwells there.

Nor did the Patagonian Andes lack inhabitants. The topography of this zone on the Chilean side does not permit the concentration of a very large number of people, but at any rate the Patagonian did not lack food. The irregular distribution of the mountain ranges which cover western Patagonia to the sea permits many rivers to pierce the ranges through winding valleys and form great lakes of moderate depth. These accidents of topography guard the lowlands from the cold winds characteristic of that latitude and in some places are propitious to vegetation and colonization.

Parallel to the Patagonian region extends the insular zone. It was formerly, as now, almost uninhabitable. Beaten constantly by snowstorms and the strong winds from the Antarctic Ocean, its wide expanses present a spectacle of utter desolation. The severe temperatures make the development of vegetation difficult and almost prevent it. Not all these islands are alike, however, in climatic conditions. The archipelago of Chiloé, which is the most northern group, does not have the rigorous climate of those farther south. It shares the temperature and vegetation of the  p4 mainland. For this reason it sheltered an abundant aboriginal population. The real insular zone begins with the Chonos Islands and therefore these islands, like those which continue southward as far as the Strait of Magellan, had only a very sparse population composed then, as now, of aborigines.

Farther south, and on the other side of the Strait of Magellan, extends the large southern island of the American continent, Tierra del Fuego, which belongs about equally to Chile and Argentina. It is surrounded by many other islands of less importance. The latitude in which it lies shows at once that living conditions there are not favorable; rather, constant freezing temperatures and winds from the south and west laden with snow discourage vegetation. Even fish and mollusks are scarce. Nevertheless, man has been able to maintain himself there and, although a savage and few in number, he continues to do so successfully. Toward the center and northeast of the island conditions of life are better.

Two mountain ranges, the Andes and the coastal range, form the base of the topography of Chile. In the central belt, lying between the ranges and stretching from Azapa to the Strait of Chacao, one notices an almost invariable correspondence between natural products and primitive population. In the north are the deserts, which extend from Arica, across the provinces of Tarapacá, Antofagasta, and Atacama, to the capital of the last named, Copiapó. This vast region was almost wholly unpopulated in primitive times. In spite of its being very rich in minerals of all kinds, the scarcity of water and, consequently, of plants and animals makes life there extremely difficult even now. The savage aborigine, who was not in a position to profit from the mineral wealth, could not inhabit it to any considerable extent except in its few oases, among them the valley of Azapa and that of Loa.

Continuing southward from Copiapó, the outlook changes. The climate is temperate, vegetation increases, the rivers are permanent, rainfall begins and tends to become periodic. Between the cordilleras of the coastal range and of the Andes a series of mountain spurs cross the territory in various directions as far as Aconcagua and form the so‑called transverse valleys. This belt of country today has many mines and produces choice grains and vineyards. In primitive times it was peopled by numerous tribes.

[image ALT: A photograph of a plain receding toward a range of tall hills or low mountains in the background. The plain is planted in rows of grapevines, and a horse-drawn cart stands in the foreground on the viewer's left, partly loaded with grapes. It is a view of a vineyard district in Chile.]

Gathering the grape crop of Chile, February-March.

Courtesy Grace Line.

But the primitive population was most abundantly concentrated in the region which is now called the central valley, which extend from the slope of Chacabuco south of the Aconcagua River to the Gulf of Reloncaví, fronting the island of Chiloé. This region was  p5 and still is extremely abundant and varied in flora and fauna because periodic and copious rains, as well as numerous rivers, water it. Enclosed between the slopes of the eastern cordillera and the coastal range, it forms a tongue of very fertile soil. The river systems that cross it from the Andes to the sea have such a decided fall that, with a few irrigating canals, the layers of soil are reached and kept moist for a long time. A mild climate, without very sudden changes, and a warm sun in spring and summer encourage natural growth. This part of Chile was in early times a vast forest, broken only by meadows on the banks of the rivers. But since then civilized man has for various reasons destroyed this rich natural treasure. Consequently, the rains have diminished, and the climate has lost much of its regularity. From the Maipo to the Biobío the trees have been almost entirely cleared, and the last traces of this primitive forest are to be found only in the ravines of the Andes. To the south of the Biobío destruction continues rapidly but has not yet succeeded in completely destroying the virgin forests in the valleys of Imperial and Toltén, heart of ancient Araucania.

From north to south within this central valley there existed a notable increase in the numbers of the primitive population. We can be sure that the most populated section was that which extended from the south of the Biobío to the Maullín. This is a zone of large lakes and big rivers. It is also a zone of more abundant rains and of a more humid climate. Therefore, its flora and fauna were, and continue to be, the most abundant in the country.

It is evident, then, that the primitive population of Chile grew denser from north to south as vegetation increased, until it reached the insular and Patagonian zone, which, like the extreme northern part of the country, could not maintain man easily because of its intemperate climate, nor can it do so even today.

The Native Race of Chile; the Araucanians.

Regions as distinct as those which are observed in that long stretch of territory harbored diverse races and groups of natives. But the only race of real importance in the history of Chile, the race which has contributed to form its nationality, is the one that inhabited the valleys extending from Taltal to Aconcagua and the great central valley as far as Chiloé. The innumerable tribes scattered throughout this zone were divided into various groups, which are designated by distinct names taken from the geographical localities in which the tribes were found. The most important were the Huilliches (people of the south) from Valdivia  p6 to Reloncaví; and the Pehuenches (people of Pehuén) between the Biobío and the Copiapó. All the rest of the native groups are included in the common name of Mapuches, that is to say, natives, or men of the soil.

In addition to this race were the Chonos, who dwelt in the south on the archipelago of that name; the Patagonians, in Patagonia, and the Fuegians, on Tierra del Fuego, who have never mixed with the population of the rest of the country. In the north lived the Changos and the Atacamians, grouped along the coast in the fertile spots of the deserts. These Indians of the northern region in all probability belonged to the aboriginal race of Bolivia and northwest Argentina, and only in certain periods united with the tribes of the central region.

Among the natives of the central zone toward the south the Araucanians deserve special attention as the most numerous type and the most characteristic of the native races of Chile. For some unknown reason the Spaniards gave the name Araucanians to the tribes living south of the Biobío. It may be derived from auca, a Peruvian word meaning free, or from ragco (clay water), a word used to designate the place where the first Castilian fort on the left side of the river of that name, the fort of Arauco, was erected.

The Araucanian type is as follows: of medium height, with well-proportioned limbs, large head, round face with narrow forehead, small eyes usually black, short and flat nose, pronounced cheek bones, medium-sized ears, and, completing the whole, a grave, sober manner, at times mistrustful but showing resolution and commanding respect. The complexion varies from mulatto to white but ordinarily it is copper-colored. Such, in its characteristic features, is also the national native type, which is still not difficult to recognize in the mass of the people.

[image ALT: A photograph of a woman, head and shoulders, with a wide face and even features, her hair gathered behind her, and wearing a small headdress that looks somewhat like a plant, and a large metal pendant at the neck. She is an Araucanian native of Chile.]

Modern Araucanian woman, typifying the Indian element in the Chilean blood stream.

Courtesy Grace Line.

The Araucanian had very few means of livelihood. His clothing was light. Some woolen fabrics and the skins of animals, like the guanacos, foxes, and mountain lions, some vegetable barks, and woven straw constituted all his apparel. The arms, the legs below the knees, and the feet were unprotected. The head was adorned with some animal skin, surmounted with feathers; the face was painted in black and red streaks, with colors extracted from trees.

The principal garment was shaped like a shirt without sleeves, made of two pieces, one in front and one behind, fastened together on the sides and on the shoulders with wool cords or strips of rawhide. It was called a chamal, and was used by both men and women. Later, when textiles came into common use, the men joined  p7 the chamal between the legs and drew it in at the waist. Thus worn it was called a chiripá. The women tightened the chamal at the waist with a belt or girdle and wrapped a full square scarf over their shoulders. They also adorned their heads, necks, and arms with rings, necklaces, or bracelets made of strings of beads, snail shells, sea shells, and sometimes tiny green stones. The last representatives of that people still preserve today features of that clothing.

The dwellings were very simple. The natives built them in sheltered places, frequently in ravines, on the banks of streams, or in the midst of forests. They consisted of a few forked poles or posts planted upright in the ground and joined at the top with sticks placed crosswise, forming in this way either a rectangular or a circle. A roof of straw or of cattails (totora) gathered from the marsh, descending like an inclined plane, and a fence of the same material or of quincha (reeds mixed with clay) completed the work. Such was the ruca. The farmhouses of today still imitate it.

This poor dwelling was, to the Indian, a valuable acquisition. Within it he ate, slept, and in the months of winter was protected from the rain and cold. The bed in a corner on the floor was only a heap of straw, and the pillow was a thick log or tree trunk. In the center of the hut a fire burned constantly. It was lighted by means of two sticks, one of which fitted into the other. By pressing the former into the latter with a rotary movement, a spark was produced which was fed with tow or dry leaves and carefully guarded to keep it from going out.

Few foods were cooked, however. It was the custom to eat meat and fish half boiled. For this clay pots and dishes were used, as well as utensils formed by hollowing out the center of trunks of such trees as laurel, cypress, or oak to form a large cavity. The meat and fish were put into such a receptacle, with water and a few vegetables. Stones were heated in a fire made for that purpose. When they became red-hot, or nearly so, they were thrown into the receptacle and stirred with the contents.

For fishing the Araucanians used a kind of wooden or bone fishhook. They ventured out on the rivers or along the shores of the sea in little boats of rushes, reeds, and straw. Sometimes a canoe was hollowed out, with the aid of fire, from a trunk of laurel, oak, or some other large tree, until it was given the shape of a trough.

The weapons most used in hunting were the boleadoras and the arrow. The former was composed of two or three stones tied to the ends of strips of strong leather. Taking one of these stones  p8 in his hand, the hunter swung the others over his head and threw the missile at the legs of the pursued animal. Tangled up in the cords, it fell to the ground and remained motionless. The arrows, fastened to a slender shaft about twenty inches long, were shot from a wooden bow, strung with a firm leather thong.

In hunting birds, traps smeared with some resinous substance drawn from trees were frequently used. The revolving traps of wood placed on the ground and today called guari-palos are also of primitive origin. Besides the weapons described, the hunting Indian took with him his dog, an indispensable aid. This animal was small and was generally spotted. It had slender legs, a sharp nose, and large ears. Very quick in its motions, it rarely lost its prey.

But the most common food of the Araucanian consisted of vegetables, which were the natural products of the country — roots and wild tubers, like potatoes, and beans. Fruits he not only ate in abundance but also made from them alcoholic drinks of various kinds.

Araucanian Society and Customs

The social organization of the Araucanians was very rudimentary. It consisted of the patriarchal farm and the tribe. Relationship was the foundation of the former; regional life of the latter. Relationship began with marriage. This act was celebrated after the groom had bought the bride from her father. The price paid for her was in animals, liquors, fruits, utensils, and ornaments of different kinds. Each individual lived with as many women as he bought. He was considered married to them all. Polygamy then existed. The ceremony of marriage was nothing but a feast for the married couple among relatives and friends of the tribe.

The woman did all the work of the home. She prepared the food and made the clothing for herself, her husband, and her children. She even had to follow her husband when he went on campaign, carrying provisions for him. Moreover, she cultivated the soil, wove woolen cloth, and made clay utensils. The Indian, notwithstanding all this, treated her badly. Since he had bought her he considered her his slave, whom he could, in turn, sell. The family was much neglected. During a boy's infancy, the father took no notice of him. Only when he was eight or ten years old did the father show him how to shoot an arrow and brandish the lance and the club. When a boy learned this he was considered a man.

 p9  However, the Araucanians wished their sons to develop into vigorous men. For this reason they accustomed them from boyhood to play the same games that the men played. Their favorite sports were those that required bodily agility, such as hockey and handball. In playing hockey, they formed two sides, which lined up at regular intervals. Amidst confused shouting each individual, armed with his own club curved at the point, tried to knock toward the opposite team the wooden ball with which his team played. In handball they also used a wooden ball, which they threw from one to another in the wide circle which they formed for the purpose. Besides such exercises, they used to bet on the one who could lift the greatest weight — tree trunks or stones, for example — or on the one who could first break a very strong piece of wood. With the same idea of preserving health and strength, they almost always took a bath in the river or in the nearest brook at daybreak.

Many families, who came, perhaps from a distant common ancestor, but whose strongest tie was the locality in which all were grouped, constituted a tribe. This tribe frequently occupied a valley, living on the banks of a river or an inlet, or in the shelter of a forest. It had the character of a free association. It recognized no chief except in time of war. In time of peace the father of the oldest family or the individual who was the most valiant was the most respected. He was called gulmen or cacique. Later, the richest person generally occupied this position.

In spite of the distrust with which one tribe regarded another, it happened frequently that many had to ally themselves in order to carry on war against a common enemy. Then all who united for this purpose elected a chief, called a toqui, whose authority lasted during the campaign and whose duty it was to direct military operations. These federations greatly helped to unite the natives and persuade them of their racial unity.

In other respects the Araucanians never constituted a nation with an organized government. Their only institutions of a public character were military assemblages. These always took place when the tribes discussed the undertaking of a war. It devolved upon the cacique of each tribe to summon them. But if the question were one which affected many tribes against a common enemy, any one of their chiefs called all the chiefs together. First he assembled his own tribe, and, if it decided on war, the initiating chief sent an emissary to the neighboring chief. An arrow stained with the blood of a guanaco served as an emblem for the emissary. The bloody arrow was delivered to the nearest chief, who, in turn,  p10 called together his tribe and sent the same arrow on to another chief, and so on until the arrow reached the last tribe. This proclamation of war was called correr la flecha (sending around the arrow). The general assembly was commonly held in a level, isolated field, half hidden among the woods and ravines. After vigorous speeches, one man was chosen as supreme chief for the campaign. He, the toqui, was almost always the one who had shown the greatest muscular force or the greatest eloquence, or he was the chief most renowned among all the allied tribes for valor and energy.

Their weapons were not many — the arrow, the pike or lance, the war club or macana, and the boleadoras. The arrow already described, was the least powerful and served more for hunting than for war. The lance, or pike, was formed of a shaft twelve to sixteen feet long with its point reinforced like that of an arrow. Handled with skill and vigor, it could easily pierce a man's body. But none of these weapons was more terrible than the war club (maza or macana). This consisted of a piece of hard and heavy wood​1 about five feet long and as thick as the wrist. In its lower part, for about a fourth of its length, it had an elbow or bludgeon, which narrowed toward the end, where it terminated in an edge. The boleadoras was used as a war weapon in the pursuit of fugitives after combat, in order to entangle their legs and make them fall.

The Culture and Character of the Araucanians

Aside from war the native Araucanian showed no great activity. His life was lazy and quiet save when assailed by some of the many superstitions and omens which made up his religious system. He knew the Supreme One of the gods by the name of Pillán. He believed this god to be an unknown power who managed the clouds and winds, who produced thunder, tempest, lightning, and earthquake. The heights formed his abode. The Araucanian also believed in the existence of other divinities or higher forces: one, evil, who occasioned misery and sickness and death; the other, good, who made the fields produce, brought abundance of birds and fish, and presided over human joys. In order to put the evil god to flight and to reconcile themselves with Pillán, when in some way he showed his anger, they were wont to burn the cinnamon, their sacred tree.​b

 p11  Their superstitions were innumerable. They believed in ghosts, which appeared at different hours of the night, and in the shades of the dead, corresponding to our idea of souls. They spoke of colocolos, under­ground lizards, which caused death when one drank their saliva; of chonchones, animals with human heads, and with ears so large that they acted as wings to bear them through the darkness in order to suck the blood of the sick; of pihuchenes, winged serpents, which bled those who slept in the depths of the woods.

Besides these and many other superstitions, the Araucanians believed in omens. Sometimes the direction of the clouds, the flight of a bird, the sudden step of a beast — these things that seem so natural to us were sufficient to make them suspend a campaign or a feast, convinced that the happening augured disaster for them.

This confused mixture of superstitions and omens also required a priesthood. The ministers of their cult served both as soothsayers and physicians. The dunguves and machis were reckoned the most important. The dunguve was properly the soothsayer who discovered thefts and secret crimes. A witness who was present at a ceremony conducted by a dunguve described it in this way: "He leaves his house by itself and from the outside, addressing it with various conjurings, he makes inquiries of it, and from within the house they reply firmly in a high though mellow voice, where the thing is that he asks for." The machi was the healer. The native could not conceive of a person's being sick or dying of his illness. Sickness to him was punishment by an offended deity or some injury caused by an unknown enemy making use of magic means. He must then chase away the evil hidden in his body, and for this he sought the machi.

The cure consisted in a very showy ceremony called machitún. The relatives of the sick person gathered together with him in a hut. They put him on the floor and formed a circle around him. The machi planted a cinnamon tree branch by his pillow. He had a guanaco brought in, quartered it, took out its heart, and sprinkled the branch with its blood. He burned some herbs and filled the dwelling with smoke. Then he approached the patient, pretended to search the part of the body where the suffering or wound was, spit red, and at a given moment, amid general wonder, showed those present a lizard, spider, or some similar object — the cause of the mischief. During these operations the women sang in a mournful voice and accompanied their song with a disagreeable noise produced by dried gourds containing small pebbles,  p12 which they shook in rhythm. This was their music.

But there were times, in spite of everything, when the sick person showed no change for the better. Then the witch doctor excused himself, saying that the sick one had hurt his "most noble vitals." All believed him. If the patient died, the dunguve was called in to discover the culprit, which the dunguve did, usually designating some destitute Indian — a poor devil who had no one to protect him. This did not prevent the infliction of punishment upon the victim. He was burned alive, for such was the penalty for wizards. Centuries afterward there were women who exercised divination and healing. Even today among the last of the Araucanians, the machi is known as a witch.

The Araucanians also believed in a future life and, consequently, held worship for the dead. They did not believe in reward or punishment in the other world, but they thought that the individual would enjoy life beyond the cordillera or the sea according to the occupation he had performed in this life. The warriors would keep on fighting in the clouds against the same enemies that they had had on earth. Therefore, when the wind stirred up heavy cloud masses, the people were filled with wonder as they watched the clouds, and they uttered great cries to urge on their own dead. The chiefs, they believed, continued to live in the tribe but only spiritually, or transformed into bumblebees or other insects. From this came the custom of throwing a portion of their drinks into the air during the feasts, in order to slake the thirst of these spirits.

Their funerals were very ceremonious, especially when some chief was to be buried. Forming a long double line, the men carried the body to the nearest hill. They opened a grave and built in it something like a niche of stones. There they placed the coffin together with the objects that had been most used by the dead, such as weapons, household utensils, ornaments, and even drink and food for the long journey he had to take. Then they sang long and solemn choruses, eulogized his acts in a discourse, and drank in his honor as at any feast of rejoicing. A year later they made a pilgrimage to his tomb, told him what had happened in his family and tribe since his death, again uttered a eulogy, celebrated a final feast, and left him forever in peace.

The exact knowledge of the Araucanians was very limited. It was with difficulty that they counted up to a hundred, and many of them could count only to ten or twenty on the fingers of both hands. The only measure they had was the jeme (distance from the end of the thumb to the end of the forefinger extended), the  p13 codo (ell), the foot, and the pace. It was not until a late date that they learned the Spanish league. They were guided in reckoning time by noting the movements of moon and sun. They knew the medicinal virtue of some plants and used them somewhat as they are used today. For example, pichoa and pircún were purgatives; huévil cured fever; chamico served as a narcotic; palqui was sudorific; cachanlagua2 furnished excellent refreshing beverages.

We cannot say what literature the Araucanian had. Undoubtedly he had a decided taste for oratory and poetry. In his popular assemblages he preferred eloquence to force. In his own festivals it pleased him beyond measure to have a singer celebrate in verse his acts, and later he even ostentatiously paid such a person. But as the singer did not write down his songs, it is impossible today to form much of an idea of them.

It is clear, however, that the Araucanian language — or Mapuche, as it is also called — was admirably adapted to harangues and verses, because it is both harmonious and flowing. Thousands of its words​3 are incorporated in the language of Chile today, including most of the geographical names. There is less to be said of the Araucanian's artistic productions. He did not paint. His carvings in stone or wood are too coarse to deserve the name of sculpture. As to his pottery, only a few vases and jars of baked clay tinted with colored stripes are worthy of notice. His music was sad and monotonous, and he lacked the more delicate instruments. Wood flutes, fifes, and gourd tambourines were all that he had.

It is not difficult to determine the outstanding features of the character of the Araucanians if one takes into account their means of livelihood, their customs, and the beliefs. Three admirable qualities were outstanding: they were patriotic, brave, and vigorous. But they also had three grave faults: they were cruel,  p14 superstitious, and drunken. Their patriotism and valor led them to prefer war above all other occupations; in everything else they were incurably lazy. War and superstition changed them into a cruel, vengeful people.

It is well known that all barbarous peoples are, or have been, handicapped by the same defects as were the Araucanians; no other barbarous people have surpassed their good qualities or have shown valor or more warlike tenacity in defending their land and their liberty. And for this reason they deserved being immortalized in La araucana,​4 the epic which the poet Alonso de Ercilla wrote in spite of the fact that he was among those who fought most bitterly against them.

The Domination of the Chinchas and the Quechuas

The native Chileans who dwelt north of the Biobío belonged only in part to the same race as the Araucanians. The so‑called Picunches or Mapuches extended to Copiapó and were divided into numerous groups. From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries they suffered first the invasion of the Diaguitas, coming from northeast Argentina, then that of the Chinchas from southern Peru, and finally that of the Quechuas, who at the arrival of the Spaniards formed part of the vast empire of the Incas, extending from Ecuador to Bolivia and Chile, with its capital in the city of Cuzco. None of these invasions went further than the Maule River and the first especially did not reach farther south than the Maipo; but from them came the culture of Chilean natives who inhabited the north and center of the country.

Of those three invaders, the Chinchas were the most progressive and the ones who imposed their material civilization and many of their beliefs and customs on Chile. They were shepherds, agriculturalists, miners, and industrialists. Their most useful domestic animal, the llama, provided the wool for their clothing. They cultivated potatoes, corn, and peas. They distributed running water by means of long canals. They exploited copper, silver, and gold. They manufactured all kinds of articles, and utensils of wood, metal, and baked clay. They built cities containing temples and palaces. They constructed roads on which houses or inns were located at intervals for maintaining a postal service, and they carried on an active trade with other sections of the country.

The Chinchas were conquered by the Quechuas, an aggressive, dominating people who appropriated to themselves all the elements  p15 of the Chinchas' culture and who, with their rulers, the Incas, formed the most extensive and prosperous state of America. Two of these rulers made an expedition against Chile in the middle of the fifteenth century and conquered the country as far as the Maule. In the territory they crossed, they did not find a completely barbarous population, but one already semicivilized by the influence of the Chinchas, a condition which had prevailed for more than two centuries.

For a long time it was thought that the level of material progress at which the Spaniards later found the Chilean natives of the northern zone was due to the beneficial influence of the Quechuas. The latest archaeological discoveries have corrected this opinion, which did not account adequately for the Chilean state of culture, since the Incan domination had lasted only until the date of the expedition of Almagro, 1536, a little more than eighty years — a very short period in which to raise a people from complete barbarism — and were engaged only in effecting the administrative organization of the conquered territory in order to exact an annual tribute from its inhabitants.

However, the Chilean natives continued to develop their incipient culture under the rule of the Quechuas. The northern and central zones of the country were crossed by roads. There was a postal service carried on by Indians on foot, with inns every fifteen or twenty miles. The curacas, or governors, were engaged in developing the prosperity of the hamlets and villages where the natives gained their livelihood and in encouraging productive activities.

For cultivating the fields, the natives opened irrigating canals or ditches in places where the soil best permitted it. Among the canals constructed in the Incan epoch and still existing somewhat on the same plan is the one that descends from the hills of the Salto in the vicinity of Santiago and irrigates the neighboring farms. It is called the Vitacura Canal,​5 after the name of the governor who ordered it opened. From the time that canals were opened, the crops of squash, corn, beans, and potatoes, which were native to this country, became more abundant. The production of fabrics made from the wool of the guanaco, vicuña, and llama also increased. The llama had been bred for centuries in Chile. The manufacture of articles of baked clay, also practiced for a long time by the natives, now received a new impetus. Vases, jars, and pitchers of clay became of prime importance in the household of the Chilean Indian.

 p16  But the work to which the subjects of the Incas gave the greatest impulse was the exploitation of mines. Gold, silver, and copper were found and were capable of being exploited in Chile just as in the country of the Incas. They concentrated their attention principally on gold, however, because this metal made up the tribute that was sent to the emperor. Among the gold washings where exploitation was then carried on, those of Marga-Marga, near Quillota, are especially noteworthy. Gold and silver pins and chains were painstakingly made in gypsum and clay molds. Numerous remains of these ornaments have been found in native graves of that period, because the Chinchas and Quechuas interred their dead at the foot of a hill, gathering about them the utensils they had used in life; but, unlike the Araucanians, who placed their corpses in the graves lying down, the former placed them in a squatting position, with arms crossed and knees almost in front of the breast.

The influence of the Chinchas and Quechuas was felt also in the intellectual development of the Chilean Indian. Idolatry was introduced into his religion and this meant progress in comparison with his former condition. In figuring, he learned to count up to a thousand without confusing quantities. He added to his vocabulary many words of the Quechuans, which still are incorporated in the national language. Apa, cacharpa, callana, cancha, locro6 are among the several hundred words derived from the Quechua language.

The Native Prehistoric Civilization

During the fifteenth century and at the beginning of the sixteenth, the customs of the Chilean Indians improved considerably. In their towns, in which population increased, ties of family and of tribe were more closely drawn. The cultivation of the new land, the development of clay pottery, the exploitation of metals, and the diffusion of wool clothing provided for them better food and wearing materials. The eating of cooked meat and vegetables became general; corn and potatoes served as the principal ingredients of many cooked dishes; and, in time, the bean became the most common and nutritious food.

As for clothing, shirts of wool, ponchos, girdles for the waist, and ribbons for the hair — which the women wore in the manner of  p17 braids — were owned by the greater part of the population. From some plants, principally the quintral,​7 they extracted different colors to dye their clothes. The feet were shod with sandals of leather. The head was covered with a chupalla.​8 Streams and marshes were commonly crossed on stilts.

The advance of civilization in the midst of barbarism was noteworthy. The transformation wrought during the rule of the Incas did not cost more than the payment of an annual tribute to the sovereigns in large stamped blocks of gold, through the curacas (governors) as intermediaries. Nor do we know of any shedding of blood in persecutions or battles.

At the end of some eighty years of tranquil submission the natives of north and central Chile virtually recovered their liberty. At the beginning of the sixteenth century scarcely any traces of the Incan rule remained. A little while afterward the Inca, Huaina Capac,​9 died and civil war arose in Peru between his two sons for the succession to the throne. For this reason the garrisons maintained by the Incas in Chile were weakened and the curacas and caciques were left almost independent.10

The civilization which the Chinchas and Quechuas helped to develop in the north central part of the country likewise spread, through the frequent contacts among the indigenes of both zones, to the south central part, as far as the region inhabited by the Araucanians. But in the first half of the sixteenth century  p18 even the influence it exercised over these last was not sufficiently strong to unify their type of living with the tribes located more to the north. Thus we have a situation in which the population in all the central part of the territory was becoming more dense and the forest vegetation more abundant while the degree of material progress in the same direction decreased, although not in very marked proportion.

Such was, briefly, the social, economic, and political state of the people who inhabited the territory of Chile in the era in which they were first brought into contact with Europeans coming from Spain. Their prehistoric civilization was now to be recast into the fully historic civilization to which "the conquerors" belonged and with them Chile's own history begins. Not only will both civilizations be intermingled, but at the same time both races will be fused in order to give rise to a new race which will without doubt inherit the characteristics of its ancestors. Therefore the prehistoric period which we have sketched has a fundamental significance for understanding the formation and the spirit of the Chilean people.

The Author's Notes:

1 In the original text, Galdames mentions the following: Luma, the Myrtus luma, a native hardwood of Chile; boldo, a Chilean plant of the Lauraceae family; espino, the hawthorn; huayacán, the common name in Chile for the Porliera hygrometrica.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Pichoa, the Euphorbia portulacoides; pircún, the Anisomera drastica; huévil, the Vestia lycioides; chamico (a Quechuan word), the Datura stramonium, related to the hemlock; palqui, a plant of the family Solanaceaeº (used in Chile as a remedy for ringworm); cachanlagua, feminine form for cachanlahuén, Araucanian word for Erythraea chilensis, a reed plant.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Those named in the original are: calcha, name applied to the clothing or bedding of a workman; chancho, the hog; chape, applied to a peasant's costume; chercan, a thin porridge; chaco, name applied to a hollow in a tree, hence to the round section of a tree trunk used as a wheel or roller; echona, sickle or reaping hook; huira, bark of the maqui, used as a cord for binding; humita, a cake made of fresh corn similar to the tamale; luche, a seaweed, the Ulva latissima; llalli, a fruit similar to a persimmon, eaten as a vegetable; poncho, blanket; rulo, a roller used to move heavy objects; trola, a fib; ulpo, a Chilean drink prepared in sugared water with flour.

[decorative delimiter]

4 See pp4984.

[decorative delimiter]

5 See pp282343.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Apa, an expression meaning to raise up or put on one's back; cacharpa, name given to the ordinary equipment of a trade; callana, an earthen baking griddle; cancha, an open space suitable for sports, applied to a cockpit; locro, a kind of stew.

[decorative delimiter]

7 The common name for the Phrygilanthus tetrandrus.º

Thayer's Note: Phrygilanthus tetrandrus Ruiz & Pavon, more commonly known today as Tristeryx corymbosus (L.) Kuijt.

[decorative delimiter]

8 A coarse straw hat.

[decorative delimiter]

9 His rule lasted from 1488 to 1526, up to the eve of the Spanish conquest. See Sir Clements R. Markham, The Incas of Peru (New York, 1910), pp95, 198, 241; and his History of Peru (Chicago, 1892), p53.

[decorative delimiter]

10 For further information relative to the Indians of Chile, consult among others, the following books: Domingo Amunátegui Solar, Las encomiendas de indíjenas en Chile (Santiago, 1909); Diego Barros Arana, Los antiguos habitantes de Chile (Santiago, 1874); Agustín Edwards, Peoples of Old; Joaquín Edwards Bello, in Imágenes de Chile (Santiago, 1933), pp1‑63. The material in this volume was selected from contemporary travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Mariano Picón-Salas and Guillermo Feliú Cruz; Capt. Allen F. Gardiner, A Visit to the Indians on the Frontiers of Chile (London, 1841); Tomás Guevara, Historia de Chile: Chile prehispano;º Ricardo E. Latcham, La alfarería indígena chilena, and La prehistoria chilena (Santiago, 1928); Francis J. G. Maitland, Chile: Its Land and its People (London, 1914); Carl Martin, Landeskunde von Chile (Hamburg, 1923); José Toribio Medina, Los aboríjenes de Chile (Santiago, 1892);º Juan Ignacio Molina, The Geographical, Natural, and Civil History of Chile (London, 1809); Publicaciones del museo de etnología y antropología de Chile (Santiago, 1917‑1922); and Agustín Venturino, Sociología primitiva de Chile indiana (Barcelona, 1927).

Thayer's Notes:

a Galdames writes in 1904, with his latest revision in 1938. In the early 21c, scholar­ly consensus — which of course may change again — is that the populations of the Americas are on the contrary very recent compared to the history of the human race; maybe no more than 20,000 years.

[decorative delimiter]

b True cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is native to South Asia and was unknown in America in pre-Columbian times. The tree meant here is probably canella (Canella alba), native to the New World. I haven't seen the Spanish text of Galdames, but I suspect he wrote canela, which is the common name for both plants; if so, we have translator error here, as elsewhere thruout the book.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 27 Oct 17