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

Proposal and Counterproposal

Immediately after his return from the frontier region, Domeyko published his observations in the official government newspaper, El Araucano. Titled Araucanía i sus habitantes, Domeyko intended his work
to show the state in which the Araucanians now find themselves, to describe their ideas and semi-savage ways, their vices and virtues, the injustices and abuses that are committed against them by Chile’s frontier population and officials, the shortage of missionaries to civilize them.22
More than simply describe the lives of the Mapuche people Domeyko proposed to the government “the most effective manner by which to preserve this noble race of American Indians as well as include them into the Chilean nation.” He outlined a program of protection and gradual assimilation, featuring supervised colonization of Chilean and European settlers and the reintroduction of religious missionaries. Domeyko believed that this multi-pronged effort would facilitate the incorporation of Araucanía into the mainstream of modern republican life in Chile as well as protect them from further abuse.23

In his work Domeyko attacked the government’s passive attitude towards the frontier problem. More than any other issue, the problem of unsupervised settlement of the Bio-Bio had convinced Domeyko of the need for stronger state intervention. During his scientific tour of the region, Domeyko had observed the demographic and economic consequences of Chilean encroachment of Indian land. Not only were the natives being dispossessed of their ancient holdings, Chilean settlement had forced them to flee deeper into Indian territory and away from the civilizing influence of the missions. Once the Indians fled the region, Chilean settlers took over and began stock-raising, which Domeyko thought was a wasteful and unproductive endeavor. He also believed that stock-raisers were among the most aggressive usurpers of Indian land. As their herds grew, so did settler hunger for more land. This was hacienda-building at its earliest stage. 24

Like any well-informed observer, Domeyko understood that land was the key issue and proposed that the Chilean government become the sole purchaser and distributor of Indian lands. By regulating the size and number of settler plots, the government could placate local Indians, keeping them near the frontier and close to “models of civility and production.”25 At the same time, Chilean settlers would be scattered in small, regular plots throughout the frontier region. Rather than engage in stock-raising, settlers would convert their small plots into productive and self-sufficient farms. The establishment of government oversight would also create in the region some degree of land regularization, thereby decreasing the incidence of fraudulent claims and conflicts with the Indians.26

Domeyko urged the government to take control of the region by halting unsupervised settlement and by augmenting the missionary presence along the Bio-Bio. The mission system lay at the heart of Domeyko’s plans. A devout Catholic and an admirer of the Jesuit Order, Domeyko envisioned new and larger missions on the northern frontier to complement the more successful operations in La Imperial. Not only should new missions be built and more missionaries recruited, Domeyko also proposed the transplantation of missionaries from Italy and Spain and from various orders, such as the Capuchins and Jesuits. Aside from converting the Indians to Christianity and imparting in them the ways of Christian industry, mission fathers, Domeyko argued, would provide a degree of political and judicial authority to a disorganized and violent world.27

Domeyko also believed that the introduction of religious missionaries should be complemented by “hard-working, honorable, and Christian lay people.”28 This meant well-trained and salaried frontier officials and, especially, yeoman farmers who would serve as positive models for the nomadic and land-loving Araucanians. Horrified by the crude ways of frontier settlers, Domeyko doubted the abilities of Chile’s frontier population to instill in the Araucanians proper virtues and habits. Yet, Domeyko rejected the idea of European colonization, an idea which had been gaining popularity since the 1830s. He believed that European and especially German colonists would be efficacious in the Lake Region of Osorno and Llanquihue, home to the less-warlike Huilliche Indians, but foreign settlement of Araucanía would only incite Mapuche hostility and uprising.29 Rather than colonize Araucanía with foreigners, the government should promote Chilean settlement, but only after it had provided schools, churches, and honest officials—the necessary infrastructure to elevate the cultural and moral level of the frontier population.

Araucanía i sus habitantes appeared in official newspaper El Araucano in September 1845 and provoked immediate controversy. The editor of the newspaper, Andrés Bello, attacked Domeyko’s proposals as “naive and utopian.” Like many political leaders of the day, Bello doubted the efficacy of the mission approach and argued that Chile lacked the resources for such a program and that time was running out. The Araucanians had been a thorn in the side of the Chilean nation for over three hundred years and the government should initiate a swift and lasting solution to the problem. The Venezuelan emigré argued that force was the only way to handle the problem. He explained:
War has always been at the vanguard of civilization and has prepared the field. When civilization had been begun by commerce it will require nothing more than war as a prelude...All the seeds of civilization in Europe had been nourished with blood. In the same system of Mister Domeyko, war would be, sooner or later, an inevitable necessity.30
Espousing the typical aristocratic response to the situation, Bello proposed the racial and cultural transformation of the frontier region once the Araucanians had subjugated. Like Domeyko, Bello detested the uncultured ways of the fronterizo, but doubted prospects for their moral regeneration. A proponent of European colonization, Bello proposed the importation of German and British farmers to develop the newly liberated territories. 31 Clearly, the debate was on and action was not far in coming.

By 1847 illegal settlement across the Bio-Bio reached alarming proportions. The Intendant of Concepción, General José Maria de la Cruz, a respected veteran and Indian fighter, warned that the flow of settlers across the river had caused numerous conflicts with local caciques and, worse still, had aroused the anger of Magnil Bueno, the most powerful and defiant Mapuche chief, who threatened to expel all Chileans residing south of the Bio-Bio. Intendant Cruz urged the government to increase his own powers to halt Chilean settlement and to impose order in the region. General Cruz requested more frontier troops and demanded the creation of a land registry to record existing claims and discourage illegal deals. Finally, General Cruz asked the government to empower him with laws that would restrict and, if necessary, halt settlement south of the Bio-Bio River.32

General Cruz’s urgings and the debate opened by Domeyko moved the Chilean congress to commission a definitive study to be carried out by Antonio Varas, a former cabinet minister and an intellectual rival of Domeyko. Like his Polish counterpart, Varas traveled to the Araucanian frontier in 1848 and personally examined the state of frontier affairs. A few months later, Varas presented to the Chilean congress a program of sweeping reforms which largely reaffirmed what Domeyko had proposed two years earlier. Proposing a statist policy, Varas’s argued that Chile needed to create a regimen of “special administration” that would place Indian affairs—particularly the incorporation of the Indians—under the direct control of the office of the president. Varas also recommended the promulgation of laws to protect Indian land and other legislation to facilitate their speedy civilization through a reinvigorated mission system, supervised settlement in lands already ceded by the Indians, and regulated trade and commerce.33

The election of Manuel Montt as president in 1851 marked an important milestone in the long history of the Araucanian people. A close friend of Varas and a man of cautious and conservative tendencies, Montt realized Vara’s protective policies. In July 1852 Montt created the Province of Arauco, a new political jurisdiction comprising the frontier lands legally settled by Chileans north of the Bio-Bio as well as those lands south of the great river. Under the decree the Araucanians would be subject, “because of their special circumstances,” to direct intervention of the president who could enact laws to “protect them, promote the speedy civilization, and regularize contracts and commercial relations with them.”34 The following year, Montt issued another decree that placed the administration of Indian land in the hands of the national government.35Over the next eight years Montt prohibited unrestricted settlement south of the Bio-Bio, revamped Chile’s antiquated frontier administration, and built and renovated new missions along the Bio-Bio.

But such changes proved insufficient. Settlers continued to enter Indian territory, thereby destabilizing the region. In 1859 anti-government opponents rose against the Montt government and the Araucanians joined the cause, sealing their fate as a once independent people. Within months both rebel and Indian had been defeated. By 1862, the Chilean government had enough and ordered the advancement of the frontier to Angol, thirty miles south of the Bio-Bio. The action had monumental implications. The Chilean government had now repudiated the ancient system of peaceful co-existence which had been in effect since the seventeenth century. Now, formally freed of its obligation to respect Araucanian territorial and political autonomy, the Chilean government began the final campaign of conquest of Arauco. The occupation of Angol marked the first of several military advances southward, culminating in the conquest of the last Mapuche stronghold at Villarica in 1888.

Domeyko said little in his diary about the great military campaign that preoccupied the nation during the next three decades. The advance of western civilization was inexorable. Still, he considered his own efforts to protect the Mapuche people and to integrate them into Chilean society as necessary and justified.36 Most importantly, Domeyko had succeeded in impelling the Chilean government to reexamine its Indian policies. To that task Domeyko brought his intelligence and scientific training as well as his Christian belief in the universal goodness and rationality of man. Domeyko also felt that what he had proposed in his Araucanía i sus habitantes could be applied to the Amerindian reality. After all, he had personally observed the Indians and their ways. He had also observed the tragic decline of their world, which was being played out across the continent, from the Argentine pampas to the rich valleys of the Nahuelbuta range on the Pacific coast. After leading a distinguished life as a scientist, scholar, and influential voice in Chile’s intellectual evolution, Domeyko died in Santiago in 1889, at the age of eighty seven. His death came one year after the last unassimilated Mapuches surrendered to Chilean forces at Villarica.