Pilar M. Herr
’s new book Contested Nation: The Mapuche, Bandits, and State Formation in Nineteenth-Century Chile
(University of New Mexico Press, 2019) places the independent Mapuche people and pro-Spanish Pincheira bandits at the heart of Chile’s nineteenth century. During the 1820s, while criollo elites struggled openly between themselves to form a stable, constitutional central government and define the meaning of citizenship, they agreed that the southern third of Chile formed an integral part of their newly-imagined nation.
This claim, Herr argues, erased the Mapuche people, who had defended their lands (known to the Spanish as Araucanía) for centuries from the Spanish conquest and subsequent colonial regime. To demonstrate how Mapuche leaders and bandits challenged Chile’s political and territorial claims, and threatened the viability of the young republic, Contested Nation looks at the smoldering war to the death (Guerra a muerte
) between Chile and remaining pro-Spanish royalists that spilled over into Araucanía and across the Andes. This focus reveals how Mapuche and Chilean leaders drew on pre-Columbian negotiation rituals, known as parlamentos
, alliance-making, and force to resolve the conflict. Herr’s study concludes that Chile’s exclusion of the Mapuche from its evolving definition of “citizen,” and it’s interest in dispossessing the Mapuche of their land to root out bandits and armed opponents, fundamentally altered the meaning of parlamentos
and the viability of Mapuche autonomy.
Jesse Zarley is an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s College on Long Island, where he teaches Latin American, Caribbean, and Global History. His research interests include the Mapuche, borderlands, ethnohistory, race, and transnationalism during Latin America’s Age of Revolution, particularly in Chile and Río de la Plata. He is the author of a recent article on Mapuche leaders and Chile’s independence wars. You can follow him on Twitter.