Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional | Annotated Tale

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Araucania the Indomitable

AMONG the many traditions of Spanish adventures in the West Indies and Americas, none are more interesting than those concerning Araucania. Araucania is a province of Chili, which was inhabited by the bravest and noblest tribe of aborigines. Their courage and patriotism preserved them from ever succumbing to the invaders. When the rule of Spain was at length effected, it was through the conversion of the natives and their voluntary acceptance of a Christian government--never by their subjugation; so much so, that for years it was commonly known by the name of "El Estado indomito" (the unconquered province).

               Various stories are told of heroism on both sides which deserve a place beside the noblest and most celebrated deeds of any history. Don Alonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga was a page in attendance on Philip II. at the Court of our Queen Mary, when news came of a fresh outbreak of the indomitable Araucanians. Though a mere lad, he pleaded for permission to join the expedition which was immediately formed to quell the insurrection. He presents a marked instance of the best type of Spanish character--brave and patriotic, and at the same time chivalrous and generous. The intervals of leisure he could snatch from the business of the campaign were spent in recording in a heroic poem (which he wrote on any scraps of paper he could procure, and when these failed on dried skins of animals) the incidents of the war which struck his poetic fancy. Far from attributing all the merit to those of his own side with the spirit of a partisan, he has left a series of most touching pictures of the nobleness and bravery of his antagonists. His poem begins, after the manner of the Iliad, with a list of all the valiant chiefs, detailing their qualities and the numbers they commanded. Then it goes on to give a stirring description of their meeting to excite each other to rise in the defence of their country. There was no hanging back or cowardly fear, every one was anxious to be foremost to the fray. When they had well eaten, and warmed their courage with deep potations from their tinajas [1] of wine, up rose Tucápel the audacious, and declared he was ready to head the expedition. The universe knew he was the bravest of them all; and if any one disputed the boast, he was ready there and then to make it good. Not suffering him to conclude his speech, Elicura broke in full of boldness, "To me it is given to lead the affair; and if any one dispute the claim, he must taste the point of my lance."

               "To my arm! to my arm," cried Ongolmo, "it behoves to brandish the iron club."

               "Folly!" shouted Lincoya, mad with rage. "It is mine to be lord of the world, as certainly as my hand holds the oaken staff."

               "None surely," interposed Argol, "is so vain as to put his prowess on a par with mine."

               But Cayocupil, shaking his heavy spear, cleared a free space around him, and roared, "Who will dispute my right to be first? Let him come on, come on! I can match you, one or all."

               "I accept the challenge!" responded Lemolemo, darting towards him, "it is no effort to me to prove what is already mine of right."

               But Puren [2], who was drinking at a distance, here dashed furiously through the crowd, and proudly asked who dared harbour so insane a thought; declaring that where Puren stood no one else could bear command.  When the storm was at its highest, all shouting and shaking their spears, the venerable Colócolo, the most ancient of all the caciques, came forward, and silence was made before him.

               "Caciques, defenders of the State!" he said, "no desire of command animates me; already by my great age I half belong to the other world; my love of you all alone impels me to give you the counsel of the white-haired. But spend not against one another the courage which is needed against our common foe; fight not as to which of you is most valiant, for you are all equal in prowess as in birth and possessions, and any one of you is worthy to govern the world. But as to which shall lead in this present expedition, be advised by me: there must be one, and let the choice be decided by a trial of endurance. Whichever of you shall longest support a baulk of timber of exceeding weight without wearying, he shall take the lead."

               He spoke, and not one voice was raised against the voice of the ancient. So the baulk of timber was brought--a vast trunk of ebony which a man could scarcely clasp round with his arms. Paycabi came forward to make the essay, and planted it on his broad shoulders; six hours he bore it with a steady strain, but he could not complete the seventh. Cayocupil with an agile step walked up to the beam, and bore it five hours; Gualemo, a well-grown youth, tried it after him, but could not endure it so long; Argol took it next, but gave way at the sixth hour, and Ongolmo only kept it half an hour more. Puren after him bore it half a day; Lebopia, four hours and a half. Elicura stood up under it manfully longer than any, but at the ninth hour he gave in. Tucápel supported it fourteen hours, and went round to all the caciques boasting of the feat; which, when Lincoya perceived, he tore the cloak from his terrible shoulders, and raising the ponderous bulk without the least apparent strain, planted it on his back curved ready to receive it. Then he ran hither and thither to show how slight was the effort to him. He took it up at the rising sun, and he bore it till the sun had returned to his rest, and through the dread night Diana kept watch with him; and the sun rose again upon his labours, yet he laid it not down till mid-day. And all the people were astonished to find there was one so powerful among them, and they began already to attribute to him the honours of the generalship.

               Then Caupólican came up to take his turn quietly and alone--from his birth one of his eyes had been deprived of light; but what was wanting in his power of vision was made up to him in his surpassing strength.

               He was a noble fellow, comely and strong, dignified in his bearing and made for command, upright and unflinching, and a strict maintainer of that which is right. His form was muscular, lithe and agile, deep-chested and erect. With the ready confidence of assured superiority, he lifted the wood as if it had been a straw, and poised it gracefully on his shoulders. And all the people praised the movement with a shout of admiration; then Lincoya quailed, for he began to fear the victory would be taken from him. But how much more, when the hours passed by and the hero gave no sign of weariness: he paced up and down, conquering fatigue by resistance, and increasing his power by the habit of endurance. Thus through two days and two nights he never flinched, and then, as if because he had done enough--not because he was exhausted, he lifted down the weight and flung it from him to a mighty distance, showing his strength still unimpaired.

               Then all the people shouted and said Caupólican was their leader, and the fear of him was so great, that even those at a distance obeyed his word as if he had been present. Caupólican first exerted his command in setting order among his ranks, and assigning a place to each cacique and his followers. Then he made out a sagacious plan of attack on the Spaniards, and stirred up the brave Araucanians to the contest by assuring them of a speedy victory. Some advised this, and some that, but Caupólican, with his serene word of command, reduced all to willing obedience.

               The Spaniards had set up three forts to strengthen their hold on the territory, and against the most formidable of these the first attack was directed. The rising being quite unsuspected, the natives approached the fort easily; but when the Spaniards saw the horde approaching, they quickly raised the cry to arms, and sallied out to meet them with supercilious impetuosity. They soon found, however, they had no mean foes to deal with; though weary and footsore with their hasty march, the Araucanians no sooner came in presence of the foe, than they fought with all the pride and confidence of assured victory. Resistance met resistance, for hours neither side wavered, till at last the Spaniards were glad to secure their retreat in good order into the fort.

               Now there was in the Spanish army a brave youth, who, seeing his countrymen give way before the barbarians, was moved to indignation; and when the gate of the fort had closed on the last of them, he stood alone [3] on the drawbridge, and cried to the insurgents, "Come on! come on, the most valiant of you! One at a time, I will match thirty of you--nay I refuse not to a thousand."

               More than a hundred Araucanians ran hotly to the encounter; but undismayed, that Spanish youth stood boldly on the bridge, and yet he called to them to come on. Firm and erect he met them, and with a well-placed stroke of his trusty sword laid one and again another and another on the ground. His comrades, watching the unequal contest, sallied through a postern of the fort, and made a diversion for his relief. Many such devoted deeds were done on both sides that day; but it was vain the Spaniards fought like lions, for on and on the Araucanians poured, and for every Spaniard they were twenty. Then, when it was useless to resist longer against their overpowering numbers, they agreed during the night-time to abandon the fort; and trusting to the swiftness of their steeds, they rode away to a place of greater safety. So Caupólican and his caciques with great rejoicing took possession of the place, and laid the fort even with the ground.



[1] Large jars. 

[2] Puren distinguished himself so much by his courage in these wars, that Alvárez de Toledo, a captain in the Spanish army in Araucania, composed a poem on him, entitled, “Puren indomito.” 

[3] It is possible Don Ercilla here celebrates some feat of his own.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Araucania the Indomitable
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Book Title: Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1870
Country of Origin: Spain
Classification: unclassified

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