War Of Arauco: Causes, Stages, Consequences

The War of Arauco is the name given to the confrontations that took place during almost three centuries between the Mapuches and the Hispanics, Creoles and Chileans, depending on the moment. It was not a war maintained throughout that time, but there were more intense periods and others almost of tense coexistence.

The Mapuche Indians had already resisted the invasion attempts of the Incas. When the Spanish reached their zone of control, the Mapuches put up strong resistance. Despite the Spanish military superiority, the conquerors were unable to subdue them.

Historians divide the Arauco War into several stages. There is a certain discrepancy in the date of its beginning, since some point to the expedition of Diego de Almagro in 1536 and, others, to the battle of Quilacura, in 1546, as its beginning.

The same goes for its ending. The independent Chilean governments combined military campaigns with more or less prolonged truces and negotiations. In fact, it can be pointed out that the conflict did not completely end until the so-called Pacification (or Occupation) of Araucanía, in 1883.


The Arauco war is the longest war in the history of Chile. There were almost three hundred years of confrontations between the Mapuches and all those who tried to occupy their lands.

When the Spaniards, under the command of Pedro de Valdivia, arrived in Biobío, inhabited by these indigenous people, they had little reference to them. However, the Mapuches had experience in facing superior armies, as was the case with the Incas.

Valdivia and the rest of the conquerors prepared for an easy conquest, as had happened in other parts of America. Its purpose, apart from keeping the territory, was to evangelize those who lived there.

The reality, however, was very different. They were quickly met by stiff opposition. The Mapuches got the support of other Chilean peoples , such as the Pehuenches, the Picunches or the Cuncos, strengthening their troops. Thus, they managed to stop the desire for conquest of the Spanish.

The causes that led to this resistance are varied. Historians rule out that there was any patriotic component among the indigenous people, but there were others that reinforced their will.


The clash between both cultures was immediate. There was no common ground between Spaniards and indigenous people and, furthermore, the former always tried to impose their vision on what they considered inferior.

The Mapuches had a great attachment to their traditions, as well as to their ancestors. They always tried to maintain their idiosyncrasy, preventing the conquerors from ending it and imposing another.


As with the previous one, the religious differences were insurmountable. The Mapuches had their own gods and ceremonies, while the Spanish arrived with the mandate to convert the conquered to Christianity.


From the beginning of the conquest, one of the reasons that most motivated the Spaniards was the search for wealth. In all the areas they occupied they tried to find precious metals and other elements with which to trade or send to Spain.

Mapuche warrior spirit

The Mapuches had ample experience in violently resisting attempts at conquest. They had shown that their desire not to be conquered could defeat stronger adversaries, so they did not hesitate to face the Spanish.

His superior knowledge of the terrain contributed decisively to this. In the thick forests, between the rivers and a difficult climate, they could balance a little the Hispanic advantage in terms of weapons.


The first contact between the Spanish and the Mapuches took place in 1536. Already in that meeting, the conquerors realized that the indigenous people were not going to accept their presence.

The arrival in the area of ​​Pedro de Valdivia, in 1541, meant that the Spanish troops began to move towards the south of Chile. The confrontation was inevitable.


The battle of Quilacura, in 1546, was the first serious confrontation between the Mapuches and the Spanish. These, seeing that the natives presented superior forces, decided to withdraw and did not return until four years later.

The campaigns launched after 1550 were, in principle, favorable to Spanish interests. They began to found some cities in the middle of the Mapuche territory, such as Concepción, Valdivia or La Imperial.

This triumphant start was soon stopped, with a name as the main protagonist. Lautaro, an indigenous man who had served Valdivia, was able to devise an ingenious plan to face his enemies.

In 1553, he starred in an insurrection that managed to defeat the Spanish at Tucapel. After two years of triumph by Lautaro’s men, the conquerors managed to defeat them at Mataquito and the indigenous leader was killed during the battle.

From that moment until 1561, the Mapuches had to keep folding their positions, won by the Spanish, but they never stopped rebelling.

After that of Lautaro, the second great uprising took place in 1598. Pelantaro, an indigenous leader, destroyed the Spanish cities raised to the south of Biobío, except Valdivia. Only smallpox and typhus stopped the Mapuches before reaching Santiago.

Offensive War

The second stage took place between 1601 and 1612. A new governor arrived in the region, Alonso de Ribera, who established a professional army in the Captaincy General of Chile. For this, it obtained financing from the capital of Vierreinato of Peru, being able to build several forts along the Biobio.

That line of fortifications was the unofficial border between the Mapuches and the Spanish, without any side being able to make progress.

This period was characterized by the incursions that both sides carried out in enemy territory. Those carried out by the Spaniards received the name of Malocas and their objective was to capture indigenous people to sell them as slaves. For their part, those carried out by the Mapuches were called Malones.

Defensive War

The lack of results of the previous tactic led the Spanish to start a new stage that would last from 1612 to 1626. The ideologue of the strategy to be carried out was Luis de Valdivia, a Jesuit who had come to the country. He proposed to King Felipe III a plan for what he called Defensive War.

The proposal, which the king approved, consisted of trying to incorporate the indigenous people into the life of the country. For that, hostilities were suspended and some missionaries, also Jesuits, were sent to Mapuche territory.

However, the natives did not receive the missionaries peacefully and killed the first to arrive. Thus, a certificate issued in 1626 put an end to this attempt at peaceful conquest. From that moment on, they returned to offensive warfare and, finally, to the so-called Parliaments.


Given the lack of success of the previous strategies and the maintenance of the territorial status quo, the tactic changed completely. Starting in 1641, Spaniards and Mapuches held periodic meetings in which they negotiated agreements.

According to the chronicles, these meetings were, practically, parties, with plenty of liquor and food. With these meetings, both sides reached commercial agreements and began to interact.

There were some Mapuche uprisings, but in 1793 Governor Ambrosio O’Higgins and the indigenous chiefs signed a peace agreement.

The treaty agreed that the Mapuches would maintain control of the territory, but this, nominally, came to belong to the Spanish Crown. The indigenous people promised to allow passage to those who wished to travel to the cities in the south of the territory.



One of the consequences caused by the war was the appearance of the mestizos . Many Spaniards lived with several Indian women, while the Indians, to a lesser extent, took some white women as prisoners.

Indigenous cultural loss

Despite Mapuche resistance, the conflict ultimately weakened their culture. It came, in many respects, to disappear.

In addition, the Spanish gave land in the occupied areas to white settlers, which contributed to this loss of identity and to causing continuous disagreements.

The missionaries who were arriving in the area also contributed to the Mapuches abandoning their old beliefs, although not completely. At some times they collaborated in helping the indigenous people to acquire a certain regulated education.

The percentage of Spanish blood increased

The Spanish Crown was forced to send a large number of Spaniards, especially the military, to the colony. The three centuries of conflict meant that the army needed a lot of reinforcements.

This influx of Europeans contrasted with the loss of indigenous life. A calculation made in 1664 affirmed that the war had killed 180,000 Mapuches, in addition to 30,000 Spaniards and 60,000 other auxiliary Indians.


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