“El joven Lautaro”, an already classic painting by P.Subercaseaux depicts the Mapuche warlord Lautaro (who confronted the Conquistadores in the mid-16th century) along with his army and people. Note the horses and the European weapons and helmets on the right, captured from the Spaniards (credit: Wikimedia commons).


By Periklis Deligiannis


The Spanish Conquistadores and mostly the European microbes and diseases that they brought to the New World (smallpox, measles, ‘influenza’ and others) – which often were decimating the native tribes even before the physical appearance of the Spaniards themselves – managed between 1492 and 1600 to conquer huge areas of the North, Central and South America starting with the Caribbean world. Due to the spread of the European diseases, the thrashing superiority of the arms, armour and tactics of the Spaniards, their superior socio-political and financial system and other factors, just 11,000 Conquistadores more or less were proved to be enough for the subjugation of many millions of Amerindians in those years.

However, there were some native tribes which seconded by their geographic location in the periphery of the Spanish expansion and by their nomadic or semi-nomadic living, were never subdued by the Spaniards resisting for 300 years more or less, till the end of the 19th century, before they succumb to the new states which came from the fall of the Spanish empire in America (Spanish-American wars of Independence, 1810-1826). The main cases of these native tribes were the Apaches and some Pueblo tribes in the Northern provinces of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Espana (modern Mexico), the Chiriguanos in Upper Peru and the Mapuche in the province of Chile and the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.


Key to the map:  1: Apaches and some Neo-Pueblo,  2: Chiriguanos,  3: Mapuche


In Nueva Espana (New Spain), after the conquest of the Aztec/Mexica empire by Cortes and his Conquistadores (1519-1521), and the suppression of the uprising of the Chichimeca ‘barbarians’ in the north of the former Aztec territory, mostly of those of the Zacatecas region (the so-called ‘Mixton war’, 1541-42), the Northern Chichimeca living in the north up to the Rio Grande River went on resisting but they were also subdued till 1600. However, the centre of resistance to the Conquistadores moved further to the North, beyond the Rio Grande, to some Indian tribes that were partly related to the Chichimeca. The Pueblo tribes and the ancestors of the Apaches (linguistically Na-Dene and Tanoan-Aztec Amerindians) who lived in those areas experienced their first clashes with the Conquistadores between 1540 and 1542 when Francisco Vazquez Coronado’s expedition was searching in vain for the seven cities of Cibola, but mainly in 1595 against the expedition of J. de Onate.  Although most of the Pueblo tribes were subdued till 1700 – after the suppression of their final dangerous uprising in 1692 – some of them as well as the Apaches remained independent although their lands nominally belonged to the territory of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Espana.

The Apaches and some Neo-Pueblo tribes which in all they evolved to become skilful riders, remained independent not just till 1821 when Mexico gained its independence from Spain but also afterwards that is during the Mexican era (1821-1848). A few decades later, their lands passed under the sovereignty of the United States when the latter won the Mexican-American war (1846-48) but the last Apache tribes were not ‘pacified’ by the US army before the end of the 19th century. Actually, the lands of the Comanche, the Kiowa, the Arapaho and other warlike tribes belonged as well nominally to the Spanish/Mexican territories but they did not confront the Spaniards/Mexicans significantly, because the Apaches’ lands had been a kind of buffer-zone for them. The Spaniards also founded special light cavalry units (soldados de Cuera light lancers) in order to confront the Apache and other Indian raiders.

The Chiriguanos were a Guarani tribe originating in modern Paraguay and North Argentina, which migrated in the eastern cordilleras of the Andes in Upper Peru in the early 16th century, before the coming of the Spaniards in the region. They were trying to invade the Inca Empire territory in this area causing many troubles to the Incas who had to mobilize considerable armies and their renowned commander Yasca, and build a number of fortresses in order to check their advance. The Chiriguanos went on causing the same problems with their raids to the Spanish successors of the Incas. Finally, between 1585 and 1600 a gradual Spanish policy of populating the surrounding area steadily drove the Chiriguanos back into their hide-out in the cordillera, from whence they resisted the descendants of the Conquistadores until 1826 when the Upper Peru became the independent nation of Bolivia. It was only then that the Chiriguanos were gradually merged with the other Bolivian (and less with Northern Argentinean) populations till the end of the 19th century.

The Mapuche, mostly known as the Araucanians, were a potent tribe of Chile which was not subdued by the Incas. First contact with the Spaniards occurred in 1536 when a group of Mapuche warriors was defeated by the Conquistadores of the expedition of Diego de Almagro. After that, the Mapuche were subdued by a number of Spanish expeditions, mainly by Pedro de Valdivia but their subjugation was proved to be superficial. Between 1553 and 1598 and after a number of bloody Mapuche rebellions, they managed to drive away the Spaniards and establish a clear frontier with the Spanish territory in the Bio Bio River. Their everlasting war against the Conquistadores devolved to sporadic pillaging carried out by Spaniards as well as Mapuche till the liberation of Southern Chile by the Chilean revolutionists in 1821-1822. The Mapuche remained again independent, but the Chilean army started the occupation of their country in 1861 and completed it in 1883 when the Mapuche independence finally ended.

Actually the Mapuche expanded as well to the east side of the Southern Andes in modern Argentina, starting probably in the 17th century and mostly during the 18th century. The native tribes of Patagonia, such as the Puelche and the Tehuelche were merged with the Mapuche migrants/colonists, and adopted their Mapudungun language as their main language (both of their tribal names are in Mapudungun). These Patagonian Mapuche tribes were also in a condition of constant controversies and encounters with the Spanish settlers of the Rio de la Plata Viceroyalty, until they were subdued by the Argentinean army during the so-called ‘Conquest of the Desert’ military campaign (1870-1884). It was only then that Patagonia became a part of the Argentinean state.


Periklis Deligiannis