The Araucanians Proper
Pushing his conquests and acquisitions further to the southward, the Spanish commander, in 1550, founded the city of Conception, but as the occupation of this spot led to the important events connected with the Araucanian war, we will follow the order of Molina, and give a brief account of the warlike people with whom the Spaniards were now to contend.
Character and Habits of the Tribe
This author speaks enthusiastically of the noble character of the Araucanians, their physical perfection, and their powers of endurance. He says “they are intrepid, animated, ardent, patient in enduring fatigue, ever ready to sacrifice their lives in the service of their country, enthusiastic lovers of liberty, which they consider as an essential constituent of their existence, jealous of their honor, courteous, hospitable, faithful to their engagements, grateful for services rendered them, and generous and humane towards the vanquished.” Their failings, on the other hand, are “drunkenness, debauchery, presumption, and a haughty contempt for all other nations.”
The district of Arauco, from which the nation takes its name, is but a small province of the country inhabited by the race. This lies in the beautiful region between Conception and Valdivia, extending back among the mountains. The inhabitants dwelt, in primitive simplicity, congregated in no large towns, but thickly scattered over the country in small rural villages. Their domestic and household arrangements were little more refined than we have described as common in Chili. Polygamy was generally practiced, and “the size of their houses proportioned to the number of women they could maintain.”
Houses and Dress
They wore woolen clothing, woven from the fleece of the native sheep, and consisting of close fitting under garments, and over all the national Poncho, a most convenient and easily-constructed cloak, especially adapted to the use of horsemen. The women wore long dresses, with a short cloak, both fastened with ornamental brooches of silver.
Sectional Divisions and Government
The Araucanian system of government is described by Molina as being an hereditary aristocracy. The country was divided from north to south into four sections, the mountainous region at the east, the high land at the base of the Andes, the adjoining plain, and the seacoast. Each division was under the nominal sway of a Toqui, or supreme cacique, but the real power was in the body of the nobility or Ulmenes, who presided over the various sub-divisions of the state, and who decided in grand council upon public matters. Our author does not speak very highly of the judicial institutions of the country. Much trouble ensued from a system of retaliation by which minor offenses were allowed to be punished. The capital crimes were “treachery, intentional homicide, adultery, the robbery of any valuable article, and witchcraft. Nevertheless, those found guilty of homicide can screen themselves from punishment by a composition with the relations of the murdered.” Each father of a family assumed and exercised absolute power over his wives and children, and, by the custom of the country, he was not responsible even for taking their lives.
System of Warfare
In war, as among the ruder North American tribes, the direction and command of the armies was not conferred upon the supreme civil potentate, unless from his known skill and bravery he was deemed fully competent. A war-chief was not unusually appointed from among the inferior officers, and, when this was done, an absolute dictatorship was vested in the chosen leader.
Soon after the arrival of the Spaniards in Chili, the Araucanians began to supply themselves with horses. Those which they obtained in battle multiplied to an immense extent, and the native inhabitants speedily acquired a remarkable degree of skill in their training and management. Swords, lances, slings, bows, pikes, and clubs were the national weapons.
Courage and Military Skill
Such skill in the arts of war, in fortifications, in military regularity and discipline, and such bravery and efficiency in the open field, as was evinced by the Araucanians in their long contests with the Spaniards, entirely exceed any thing recorded of the other American races.
The terrific destruction caused by artillery failed to con fuse or appall them. In the words of Molina: “As soon as the first line is cut down, the second occupies its place, and then the third, until they finally succeed in breaking the front ranks of the enemy. In the midst of their fury, they nevertheless preserve the strictest order, and perform all the evolutions directed by their officers. The most terrible of them are the club-bearers, who, like so many Herculeses, destroy with their iron-pointed maces all they meet in their way.”
After a battle, the prisoners taken were held as slaves until ransomed or exchanged: in some rare instances a single captive would be sacrificed. This was done, (with out torture,) after the performance of a singular preliminary ceremonial. The victim was brought forward ” upon a horse deprived of his ears and tail as a mark of ignominy.” The proper officers then handed him a pointed stake, and a number of small sticks. He was compelled to dig a hole in the earth with the stake; and to throw the sticks severally into it; naming, at each cast, one of the most renowned chiefs of his own country, ” while, at the same time, the surrounding soldiers loaded these abhorred names with the bitterest execrations.” After he had been forced to cover the hole “as if to bury therein the reputation and valor of their enemies,” some one of the principal chiefs destroyed the captive by the blow of a war-club. His heart, it is said, was then taken out, and a little blood sucked from it by the officers standing around; after which, the body was dismembered, the bones were used for flutes, and the skull, (if not cracked,) served for a drinking vessel.
All this sounds excessively barbarous, but Molina tells us that only one or two instances of the kind occurred during a period of nearly two hundred years.
Religious Belief and Superstitions
The religious belief of the Araucanians appears to have borne a strong resemblance to that of many North American tribes. The idea of a supreme being; of good and evil spirits, especially one great demon named Guecubu; of a future state of rewards and punishments, and the immortality of the soul, were universal. A vast number of superstitious signs and omens, some of them singularly analogous to those of ancient European nations, were drawn from earthquakes, storms, the flight of birds, and other natural phenomena.
Each person believed himself under the special care of a guardian angel, or familiar spirit, to whose aid and influence success in any pursuit was generally inferred. The Catholic missionaries were received with respect and kindness, but owing to a natural phlegm or indifference to such abstractions, they met with but little success in their efforts at promulgating their doctrines.
The tradition of a deluge, so universally spread through out the world, was current among these Indians, and in many other respects analogies, whether casual or not, could be traced between their belief and observances and those of the old world. The ceremonies and fanciful conceptions connected with the sepulture of the dead, if correctly re ported, are not unlike many of those recorded of the ancients.
Besides the compound of sorcerer and physician, whose services were required by the sick, as in every other part of America when the country was first discovered, the Araucanians had medical professors who made no pretensions to supernatural powers. These are said to have possessed considerable skill in the diagnosis of diseases, and in the administration of simple remedies. Others devoted their attention to the treatment of broken limbs and ulcers, which they accomplished with no small success.
Patriotism and Public Spirit of the Natives
Among the peculiarities of national character observable in the race the most prominent has ever been an indomitable spirit of patriotism, and a pride in their own country and usages, leading to a supreme contempt for all other nations. They regard their own race as one vast brother hood, every member of which is bound to assist and befriend his neighbor. Molina says: “The benevolence and kindness with which these people treat each other is really surprising. From the mutual affection, which subsists between them, proceeds their solicitude reciprocally to assist each other in their necessities. Not a beggar or an indigent person is to be found throughout the whole Araucanian territory; even the most infirm and incapable of subsisting themselves are decently clothed.
“This benevolence is not, however, confined wholly to their own countrymen; they conduct with the greatest hospitality towards all strangers, of whatever nation, and a traveler may live in any part of their country without the least expense.”
The above account is probably rather highly colored; in deed, this author has been accused of no little exaggeration in his comments upon Araucanian civilization. Nothing is more common than for a writer to be carried away by his subject; the biographer almost universally deifies his hero, and the historian of a particular nation is but too apt to fall into a similar error.
In their houses and persons, the Araucanians have been described as standing in agreeable contrast with most of the aboriginal Americans, by a most remarkable cleanliness. In this respect they might well rival, if not surpass, the most polished society of Europe.