, South American people, occupying most of S central Chile at the time of the Spanish conquest (1540). The Araucanians were an agricultural people living in small settlements. They are classified into three major cultural subdivisions, the Huilliche, the Picunche, and the Mapuche, the last being the largest group. The known history of the Araucanians begins with the Inca invasion (c.1448–c.1482) under Tupac Yupanqui, but Inca influence was never strong. Against the Spanish under Pedro de Valdivia
the Araucanians offered resistance, notably under Lautaro
, and their stout fight was immortalized in the epic by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga
. They were successful in protecting S Chile and by 1598 had destroyed almost all Spanish settlements S of the Biobío River. Their struggle continued intermittently in the 17th–19thth cent. in a series of uprisings, sometimes ended by treaties that recognized native control. In the early 1860s a Frenchman sought to establish a Mapuche kingdom but was ousted by Chilean forces. White immigration southward brought on the war of 1880–81, which ended with Araucanian submission. As much as 90% of the Araucanian population died during the Chilean conquest of their lands. Earlier, especially at the beginning of the 18th cent., Araucanians fleeing white encroachment had gone across the Andes into Argentina. Capturing wild horses, they became wanderers on the plains and absorbed the Puelche
. Gen. Julio A. Roca
subjugated them in his campaigns (1879–83). The Araucanians, who number around 1.5 million in Chile and 200,000 in Argentina, are divided between assimilated urban dwellers and those who retain many of their traditional ways. Some of them began in the late 1990s to campaign for the return of forest lands in N central Chile that were once theirs; there have been instances of violence on both sides. The Chilean government has undertaken to secure some lands for the Mapuche and improve living standards, but the rural Mapuche of S central Chile remain largely poor and tensions have continued.
See L. C. Faron, Hawks of the Sun (1964) and The Mapuche Indians of Chile (1968); M. I. Hilger, Huenun Ñamku (1966); E. H. Korth, Spanish Policy in Colonial Chile (1968).