Galvarino Knife-hands

There are a few historical figures who are so very tough that movies about them can’t be made. They’d be considered to over-the-top even for Hollywood, see. But, we have one such figure to present to you today. Galvarino, the Mapuche warrior.

Let’s set the scene first. It is mid-sixteenth century, and the Spaniards are colonizing South America. The Mapuche natives refuse to be put into chains and made slaves to gather gold, which does not please the Spaniards. A war lasting 250 years is underway, and reality is more grimdark than Game of Thrones. A new governor arrives to the area, by the name of Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, and starts building an encampent there. Mendoza isn’t a benevolent sort of man. His prideful, haughty, and explosive character has earned him enemies in his own ranks, and his ruthlessness would certainly not be lesser towards his enemies. So he built a fort to taunt the indigenous people into attacking it. Which they did. The attack was repelled, and prisoners were taken, one of which was Galvarino.

Depiction of galvarino after being maimed

The punishment for the captures prisoners was bloody: the removal of hands and nose. According to legend, Galvarino did not flinch when his left arm was severed, calmly offering his right and demanding that his life be ended. His demand was not met. He and the other mutilated natives were sent back to their people, to serve as dire warnings of what would happen to those that dare oppose the Spaniards.

If you are thinking that this was a bad idea, you are correct. And yet, you must forgive the foolish Spaniards – you see, they didn’t have action movies at that time to exemplify just how bad of an idea that was. Galvarino came back to his people, and gave an impassioned speech on the injustice and cruelty of the Spaniards. He argued that they must be purged for the transgressions made against the Mapuche and the land itself. His maimed arms served as proof of his accusations, and it was not difficult to get his point across. For his bravery, Galvarino was named as one of the commanders of the Mapuche. But a man with no hands is no good in a fight. Unless… He straps some goddamn knives to his stumps! Which is exactly what Galvarino did. Less than a month after his capture, he was leading an ambush against his wrongdoers.

Mendoza in all his douchiness

Sadly, the ambush, known as the Battle of Millarapue, was sprung too soon, and was a substantial loss of life for the Mapuche. After the battle, Galavarino was among those captured, and would get no more chances to exact revenge. Along with the other prisoners from the battle, he was hanged.

His name, however, lived on. His story became legend, and his legend became fuel for the Mapuche fighting the Spaniards.

(As an addendum: while this article was written from the point of view of the oppressed, it is far from wholesome. The saying that violence begets violence is as true for this conflict as any other, and with the atrocities commited against the Mapuche, it is not difficult to imagine that they started to see the Spaniards as non-human, even those who had nothing to do with the conflict. While these stories are fascinating, let’s try and avoid glorifying violence and conflict, though it might be inevitable at times.)



SOURCES (all taken on 22nd or 23rd July 2020):,_5th_Marquis_of_Ca%C3%B1ete

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