5 Names You´ll Recognize If You Live In Chile

I am writing a book about Chilean history (add emoji of choice here).

Now, now – was that an inward groan I hear? You don´t actually have to be concerned because Chile has the most passionate, romantic and make-it-a-movie-now history I have ever heard.  Some of the principal characters are actually names that you will recognize if you live here or travel a bit.  So here is a brief overview that is not boring at all!

Spanish ships (Museo Historico Nacional)

Pedro de Valdivia (1500-1553)

Is a name you will surely recognize if you take the metro or venture south to the quaint university city of Valdivia.  Valdivia was from a good family in Spain who fought in various European battles as a soldier before heading to the New World where he became friends with Francisco Pizarro in Peru. In 1540 began his way south to Chile, a land barely traversed, with a handful of indigenous servants, Spanish soldiers and his mistress, Ines de Suarez.  In 1541, he officially founded the city of Santiago from atop Cerro Huelen (which is known as Santa Lucia today) but he was always looking to the south, wanting to take this area so that the Spanish had control of the Strait of Magallanes, as well as the possibility of finding gold. In 1547 Valdivia was detained and sent to Lima (Peru) to face various charges, one of those being his illicit romance with widow, Ines; Valdivia was a married Catholic man with a wife and children back home in Spain. He was pardoned but told to marry off Ines, and he did so to one of his captains, Rodrigo de Quiroga. After this he was named as Governor of Chile and returned to the country, continuing to fight the various indigenous tribes of the south. In 1553 he was captured in Tucapel and his death has been widely speculated upon. Some myths say he was tortured for many days before having his heart eaten, others say he was forced to drink molten gold, and many of them state that Valdivia was killed by his former manservant, a Mapuche boy Valdivia had kidnapped years earlier, Lautaro.

Portrait located in the Museo Historico Nacional
The Death of Valdivia (Museo Historico Nacional)

Ines de Suarez (1507-1580)

Ines de Suarez has been the subject of several books and her romance with Valdivia has been the focus of several local miniseries´.  She was born in Spain, not far from Valdivia, and some theorists believe that the pair had previously known in each other before meeting in Peru. She was born to a humble family and married a Spanish soldier, Juan de Malaga, who was sent to Peru. Tired of waiting for him and having gone a while without news, Suarez begged some priests to be allowed to go to the New World to search for him (women were not allowed to travel there alone). They agreed, and she arrived first in the Carribean before changing ships to eventually arrive in Lima in 1537. Here she learnt that Juan was dead, and was given a place to live and some indigenous servants while making a living as a seamstress. She met Valdivia and they began their relationship, and when Valdivia was sent to Chile she begged to accompany him. Valdivia had to ask permission from Francisco Pizarro, who officially took her on as domestic help. Pizarro famously wrote her a letter commending her bravery to join the expedition, which she did so as the only woman. Suarez has been recognized as finding water in the desert when the soldiers were dying of thirst, as well as uncovering plots to kill Valdivia by his own soldiers. Once in Santiago, she founded the first Church, a shrine to Montserrat upon Cerro Huechuraba (today´s Cerro Blanco) and led the Spanish to victory during the uprising of local Picunche + Inca residents, headed by the toki, Michimalonco, as Valdivia was fighting in the South. During this battle, Suarez argued to decapitate the seven caciques the Spanish held prisoner, which some were reluctant to do thinking it would be better to use them to bargain with. In the end they went with Suarez´s plan, and she famously cut the heads off herself. This demoralized Michimalonco and the battle was eventually won by the Spanish.  After being married off to Quiroga, Suarez is said to have lived a quiet life on the encomienda Valdivia gave her, respected by all for her religious piety, and she died at the age of 80, the oldest of all the original conquistadors.  Quiroga was elected mayor 3 times and eventually became Governor of Chile, placing the pair in the upper class society that eventually became established in the city.

Ines de Suarez, depicted decapitating the caciques in Santiago (Museo Historico Nacional)
The area of La Chimba (Recoleta), where religion was first introduced in Chile. This painting from Museo Historico Nacional depicts the Mapocho river at Puente Cal y Canto.
Aerial view of La Chimba today

Lautaro (1553-1557)

This is a name that many – Chilean and Mapuche – hold dear. Some may be surprised to note that this wasn´t actually his name, but the one given to him by the Spanish upon finding Leftraru hard to pronounce.  Leftraru was born in the area of Tirua, close to the Nahuelbuta mountains, and was the son of a lonko.  When he was around 11, he was captured by the Spanish – some say by Valdivia himself, who was attracted to his appearance and bravery, the idea being that one day he would return to his people and convince them to lay down their weapons. Leftraru became Valdivia´s personal servant, and it is believed that Valdivia treated him very well, teaching him all about the ways of the Spanish as well as their tactics in war.  After fighting beside Valdivia during the Battles of Andalien and Penco, Lautaro became convinced it was time to escape the Spanish and in 1550 he did so. After undertaking training, he reappeared in the history as a toki, during the Battle of Tucapel in 1553 and destroyed the settlement of Concepcion. It is here that he is said to have captured and killed Valdivia. Leftraru is credited as teaching the uniting Mapuche people about the ways and weaknesses of the Spanish, and began to lead them towards Santiago.  However, Leftraru began to make enemies among the Mapuche, and was betrayed on the hills beside the Matequito river, who was surprised in the night and killed in the doorway of his ruka.  The poet Alonso de Ercilla, who came to Chile after this occurred, wrote about the existence of his wife Guacolda, a beautiful woman who fought at his side and who died of a broken heart after he died.

Mural beside the Mapuche Museum, Curarrehue


Like Leftraru, Caupolican suffered a name change from the Spanish: Kalfulikan was his actual name.  Kalfulikan has gone down in history due to playing an important role in the poem, La Araucana, and is one of the most famous historical figures from the Arauco War.   He became Toki in 1557 after the death of Leftraru, a role he had for one year before famously being impaled in a gory and well-publicized death meant to scare the Mapuches into finishing their resistance. In order to become chief of all the united tribes, Kalfulikan had to demonstrate his strength to the caciques, which included Colo Colo.  To do this, he famously held a thick tree trunk on his shoulders for two days and one night. According to the writer Fernando Alegria, he he had one son who was blind in one eye that his wife Fresia famously threw at his feet when he was captured,  refusing to raise the child of a man who could allow himself to be captured. Ercilla writes that Kalfulikan fought to the very end, and actually jumped upon the spike himself.

Death of Caupolican with Fresia (Museo Historico Nacional)


Colo Colo

Where I live, I hear this word every week, as it has become immortalized forever as the name of a popular local soccer team.  During the Arauco War, Colo Colo was a Mapuche Toki leading his people between 1560 until 1563.  Before being appointed, Colo Colo was a much respected warrior who is believed to have nominated Caupolican to try out for the role of Toki and presided over the council that chose him. Today he is considered to be a symbol of bravery.  The year of his time as toki as well as his death, is disputed.

Street mural, Curepto


Where To Find Out More

Visit: Museo Historico Nacional, located in the Plaza de Armas, and the original location of the first Spanish camp (believed to have once been an Incan village). There isn´t too much in the way of 16th century relics but the museum is well stocked, there are audio guides, you can visit the bell tower on certain days and there are often exhibitions.

Read: Ines of My Soul by bestselling Chilean author, Isabel Allende, or go back to the original documents recorded by Alonso de Ericilla during his two years in Chile and recorded daily during his time in 3 battles.  His epic poem, La Araucana, was composed for the King and is considered to be one of the greatest works in Spanish of all time.

What The Words Mean:

Cacique – Mapuche leaders who held a position of authority and leadership in their community; sent during war to negotiate with the Spanish

Conquistador – Spanish conquerers

Encomienda – land given by the Spanish crown with a specified number of natives working on it, whom were chosen by local indigenous leaders. Encomenderos, or the owner of the Encomienda, were meant to protect them, teach them Spanish and the Christian faith.

Lonco – community chief

Ruka – Mapuche house

Toki – Mapundungun word meaning the elected leader of the tribes during times of war. There are three types of toki: Toki, Inan Toki and finally Ñidol Toki, the commander in chief of all the united tribes.

Mapuche ceremonial mask, Curarrehue
Mapuche statue, Museo Historico Nacional

Did you like this post? Check out some of my other blogs:

20 Things You Didn´t Know About Chile

Chile in Photos

An Introduction to Musica Latina

Paranormal Chile Top 7

10 Common Misconceptions About Chile

The People of Tierra del Fuego


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