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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1
Título: 1998


Of the many foreigners who visited Chile in the nineteenth century, an obscure Polish scientist named Ignacio Domeyko decided to remain and made a lasting impact on the intellectual life of his adopted country.1 Domeyko arrived in Chile in 1838 on invitation of the government to found a school of mining in the northern town of Coquimbo. After establishing his school he went on to teach mineralogy, physics, and chemistry at the University of Chile. Later as rector, Domeyko transformed the University into the preeminent institution of higher learning in Latin America. Throughout his life Domeyko continued his scholarly interests and published works on mineralogy, mining, meteorology, and botany. Ultimately, his scientific and pedagogical contributions earned him a prominent place among Chile’s intellectual elite. An indigenous plant, a mineral, and a coastal branch of the Andean cordillera bear his name as testimonials to his scientific presence.2

In 1844 Domeyko received another commission to conduct a geological survey of the southern regions of the republic. His three-month trip, which he began in January the following year, entailed what was considered a dangerous expedition into the homeland of the indomitable Araucanian Indians. There, Domeyko observed the impact the expanding Western World had on this once-isolated indigenous group—the irresistable force of Chilean encroachment of Indian land and the corrupting influence of unsupervised trade and commerce.3 Upon his return to Santiago, Domeyko decided to support the cause of the Araucanians and promoted policies that would humanely and peacefully incorporate them into Chilean society. A few months later he published a series of articles titled Araucanía i sus habitantes and ignited a passionate debate over the so-called “Araucanian Question.” Arousing the criticism of hard-liners who had proposed military conquest, Domeyko succeeded in goading a reluctant Chilean government into reassessing its Indian policy. Subsequent government studies confirmed Domeyko’s position which argued that military conquest was not only infeasible but immoral. Over the following years, the Chilean government rejected the radical plans of the militarists and opted for a policy of “accommodation and integration,” emblematic of Spanish policies during the Colonial Period, a move Domeyko had outlined in his works on the “Araucanian Question”.4

The purpose of this essay is to examine Domeyko’s writings on the Araucanian Indians in Chile. These works are his probing travel diary, Mis Viajes, which includes his observations of his tour of Araucanía, and his influential Araucanía i sus habitantes, which appeared in the official government newspaper, ironically titled El Araucano, and published in book form.5 Both works provide valuable insights into the cultural life of the Mapuche Indians during a pivotal juncture in their history. During that time the Araucanians faced considerable stress due to Chilean settlement of their lands. Domeyko noted these changes and their impact on Indian society and frontier relations in general. Domeyko’s works also illustrate the prevalent issues of the day and provide an important window into the life of an influential intellectual and moral voice of the nineteenth century, who championed the interests of one of the last unassimilated Indian groups in Latin America.