‘Lost kingdom’ of Patagonia stands up for Mapuche

On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."

De Tounens died childless, but chose a friend as his successor, establishing a precedent for the royal succession. In December, Antoine IV, a French social worker, became the eighth king of Araucania and Patagonia to die in Europe. The Royal House continues to advocate internationally for the rights and sovereignty of the Mapuche today. A map painted on the wall of Tourtoirac Abbey in southern France still shows the borders of the lost kingdom.

"Chile's official historiography caricatures de Tounens as a madman, but he was anything but," said Pedro Cayuqueo, author of Historia Secreta Mapuche, a current bestseller in Chile. "His example feeds the current debate with new and powerful arguments in favor of Mapuche sovereignty." (North American Araucanian Royalist Society via CraigsList Philadelphia, March 27; The Guardian, March 21)

This month, the first two Mapuche women to serve in Chile's Congress took their seats, with the inauguration of Emilia Nuyado and Aracely Leuquén. They received rapturous applause from their fellow legislators as they cast their first votes in the lower house. President Sebastián Piñera referred to the ongoing Mapuche conflict in his own inauguration speech, saying he would make solving the centuries-old dispute a priority. (BBC News, March 12)

But immediately upon taking office, Piñera signed legislation expanding the scope of the draconian Anti-Terrorist Law that has already been used against Mapuche struggling for recovery of usurped lands. The changes allow the government to use drones, undercover agents, GPS tracking, and phone tapping of those suspected of "terrorism." Militarization of Araucania and arrests of Mapuche leaders have continued. (TeleSur, March 27)

Pope Francis has used his visit to Araucania during his South America tour in January to call for a settlement of the Mapuche conflict, while insisting that "destructive violence"  between the indigenous Mapuche people and the state was not the answer. (BBC News, Jan. 17)

Photo: North American Araucanian Royalist Society via CraigsList Philadelphia