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Nice tribes finish last - Part I

CHILE | Friday, 26 October 2007 | Views [611] | Comments [3]

OK - a quick history lesson.

The European colonization of South America began in much the same way that it did in North America - with Spanish expeditions.  In South America, a 1495 Papal declaration ceded Brazil to Portugal and all lands west of Brazil to Spain (unbeknownst to the Incas and all other peoples who already lived here and thought that they, for some odd reason, had the right to the land themselves).  The conquistadores arrived in small numbers, but their germs arrived by the zillions, effectively wiping out the majority of the natives.  In some cases, as with the Mississipi cultures in North America, by the time the Spanish arrived, the germs had already cleared out the people, leaving eerie ghost towns behind.  More or less, the fact that the Europeans had lived clustered together in filthy cities and kept many filthy animals within close range of their living quarters had, over the previous 8000 years, allowed them to build up a natural immunity to common diseases.  The natives, having few large beasts available to domesticate and the privelege of a pristine wilderness, never built up these immunities and the germs had a field day.

Anyways, bringing us back to South America, a smallpox epidemic had made its way into the Inca empire, the dominant force around here in 1500, and wiped out a good number of Incas.  The devastation of the disease sewed unrest and killed their king, they fought a small civil war, and by the time the Spanish arrived, the empire was fractured.  The Spanish captured the Inca emporer Atahuallpa, promised to release him in return for gold, got the gold, killed him anyway, and then laid waste to the most of Peru.  Once devastated, they setup the encomienda system which basically allowed them to own large tracts of land and keep native slaves, or serfs, to farm it.

With the Incas in Peru out of the way, the Spanish were also free to go and wreak havoc on the rest of the old Inca empire.  They made their way South to the Rio Biobio in Chile, and it was there they met the Mapuche, the dominant native group in southern Chile and Argentina and the only group in the south to avoid colonization.  Pedro de Valdivia, who founded Santiago in 1541, attempted another swift Spanish defeat of yet another native population for yet more encomienda slaves.  The Mapuche annhilated his forces, killed him, and in a moment of historic poetic justice, stuffed his corpse with gold.

The Mapuche fiercely defended their homeland for another 300 plus years, first against the Spanish, and then against the Chilean government after independence in 1818.  Only in the late 1800s did they begin to allow the Chileans to keep permanent settlements south of the Biobio - a trip into Patagonia before then often meant the settlers' lives.  Fast forward about 100 years, the first incursions into Mapuche lands had turned into the purchase of large swaths of land by big business and the displacement of many native populations.  A military dictatorship in 1973 (installed with CIA help - more on that in another post) was even more disastrous for them, as their language and culture was frowned upon and more lands were seized.  After the peaceful ouster of the violent dictator in 1989, the Mapuche began to reassert their ancestral claims and have made a lot of headway in preserving their lands and culture.

Why is all this important - well check the next post!

Tags: Culture




Hey Stevie, are you practicing your Spanish? If not, you better be nice to Melissa because it sounds like she's the one getting you around!

I'm learning so much from your history lessons and your horseback ride sounded exciting and scarry. Pix were great. Keep them coming. Be safe.

Love, Aunt Patti

  Aunt Patti Oct 27, 2007 12:22 AM


Love the galloping horse story!!! I guess I'll have to experience the sensation of almost soiling my pants while galloping on a horse! LOL! hmmmmm, maybe not, but I like that you two are adventurous - - makes for great stories like these.

But, seriously - - sounds like such an amazing and tranquil trip - - you're having so fantastic experiences.

I want to hear more - this is getting me through my sucky job as a teacher in Newark!!

  michele Oct 27, 2007 10:31 AM


I love learning about the history and culture and seeing your pictures. It makes me want to go there and to learn how to do this stuff on the computer too. Have fun! It all looks great. Love, Aunt Barbara

PS YOur mom and I watched Gray tonight. He's actually running around now.

  Aunt Barbara Oct 27, 2007 12:47 PM

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