Araucanians (əroukän´ēən), South American people, occupying most of S central Chile at the time of the Spanish conquest (1540). The Araucanians were an agricultural people living in small settlements. They are classified into three major cultural subdivisions, the Huilliche, the Picunche, and the Mapuche, the last being the largest group. The known history of the Araucanians begins with the Inca invasion (c.1448–c.1482) under Tupac Yupanqui, but Inca influence was never strong. Against the Spanish under Pedro de Valdivia the Araucanians offered resistance, notably under Lautaro and Caupolicán, and their stout fight was immortalized in the epic by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga. They were successful in protecting S Chile and by 1598 had destroyed almost all Spanish settlements S of the Bío-Bío River. Their struggle continued intermittently in the 17th and 18th cent. in the uprisings of 1723, 1740, and 1766. White immigration southward brought on the war of 1880–81, which ended with Araucanian submission. Earlier, especially at the beginning of the 18th cent., Araucanians fleeing white encroachment had gone across the Andes into Argentina. Capturing wild horses, they became wanderers on the plains and absorbed the Puelche. Gen. Julio A. Roca subjugated them in his campaigns (1879–83). The Araucanians, who number around 1 million in Chile, are divided between assimilated urban dwellers and those who retain many of their traditional ways. Some of them began in the late 1990s to campaign for the return of forest lands in N central Chile that were once theirs; there have been instances of violence on both sides. The Chilean government has undertaken to secure some lands for the Mapuche, but the situation remains unresolved.
See L. C. Faron, Hawks of the Sun (1964) and The Mapuche Indians of Chile (1968); M. I. Hilger, Huenun Ñamku (1966); E. H. Korth, Spanish Policy in Colonial Chile (1968).