Galvarino was a great Mapuche warrior who attached blades to his severed arms in the Battle of Millarapue, showing infinite courage, he fought against the powerful troops of Spain.
This iconic story took place in history during the Arauco War, which was a long-running confrontment between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people. The confrontment lasted from 1536 to 1810 and mostly fought in the Araucanía Region of Chile.
In the early period of the war, Caupolican, a great war leader of the Mapuche people, had led the his people to fight against the Spanish Conquistadors who invaded the whole territory ― now in Chile ― during the 16th century.
At that time, there was another famed Mapuche warrior named Galvarino who took a significant role during the early part of the Arauco War. His brave story initiated from the Battle of Lagunillas where he fought against the Spanish governor García Hurtado de Mendoza and was taken as the prisoner along with 150 others Mapuche soldiers on November 8, 1557.
For insurrection, some of these prisoners were disgraced to amputation of their right hand and nose as the punishment, while because of being more aggressive, Galvarino and some of the other Mapuche soldiers had both hands cut off. Then they were released as a lesson and warning for the rest of the Mapuche community.
After returning to the Mapuche, Galvarino appeared before their war leader Caupolicán and the council of war, showed them his mutilated hands and cried out for justice. He sought a greater rising of the Mapuche against the Spanish invaders like Lautaro who, in December 1553, led the Mapuche warriors into a series of victories against the mighty Spanish force in a previous war known as the Battle of Tucapel. It December 1553 where the Spanish conquistador and the first royal governor of Chile, Pedro de Valdivia was killed.
For Galvarino’s bravery and gallantry, he was named by the council to command a squadron. Without waiting for his wounds to be healed, he was again in the war from the very next day with knives fastened on both stubs of his mutilated arms and he fought next to Caupolicán in the following campaign with until the Battle of Millarapue that was going to take place within just a few days on November 30, 1557, where his squadron would fight against the troops of Governor Mendoza. Surprisingly, with the wounded hands, Galvarino was able to strike down Eric Demand who was the number two in Mendoza’s command.
However, the Spanish troops broke Galvarino’s division after over some hours of combat and won the battle killing 3000 Mapuche warriors, and captured more than 800 including Galvarino. Mendoza ordered him to be executed on that day by being thrown to the aggressive dogs. Whereas Alonso de Ercilla has explained in his book of ‘La Araucana’ that the real death of Galvarino was by hanging.
It is very clear to us that Galvarino was defeated because of his physical misery and the enemy’s better war strategies and advanced weapons systems but in reality, Mendoza was defeated by the courage of Galvarino, perhaps Mendoza realized it too.