The Legend of Galvarino: The Mapuche Warrior Who Had Knives for Hands


In the annals of history, there are warriors who have defied all odds, overcoming devastating injuries to continue fighting. Then there’s Galvarino, a Mapuche warrior who not only survived a brutal amputation but used it to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. This article delves into the Arauco War, Galvarino’s incredible story, and the lasting impact of his legend, all of which you can experience firsthand on Tour De Amigos’ cycling tour through the same territory in the Bio-Bio region and along the river where these events took place.

The Arauco War and the Battle of Lagunillas

In the early years of the Arauco War, which spanned nearly 300 years, the Spanish conquistadors clashed with the Mapuche Indians in south-central Chile. In the Battle of Lagunillas, Spanish forces captured 150 Mapuche prisoners, including a young chieftain named Galvarino. Governor Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza ordered the amputation of the right hand and nose of each warrior, and both hands of leaders like Galvarino, as a gruesome message to the Mapuche: Submit, or else.

Galvarino’s Defiance and Return to Battle

Despite the horrific mutilation, Galvarino refused to surrender. He bravely offered his right hand after the amputation of his left and asked his torturers for a killing blow, which they denied. Instead of conveying the Spanish message to the Mapuche general Caupolicán, Galvarino urged his people to continue fighting. To inspire his fellow warriors, he fastened knives to both of his wrists, transforming himself into a terrifying figure on the battlefield.

The Battle of Millarapue On November 30, 1557, Galvarino took part in the Battle of Millarapue, leading the charge with his knife-adorned wrists. Although the Mapuche initially achieved some success, the Spanish ultimately overpowered them with cannon fire and cavalry, capturing several hundred Mapuche, including Galvarino.

Galvarino’s Final Moments and Legacy

After the battle, there would be no reprieve for Galvarino. Sentenced to hang, he reportedly refused to join the Spanish, expressing his desire to die rather than live like them. Some accounts claim he was thrown to the dogs, others say he was hanged, and still others believe he took his own life to deny the Spanish the satisfaction of executing him.

Galvarino’s story became a rallying cry for the Mapuche throughout the Arauco War, symbolizing courage and tenacity in the face of colonization. Today, the legend of Galvarino continues to inspire, reminding us of the resilience and determination of the human spirit in the face of adversity. With Tour De Amigos, you have the unique opportunity to explore the same territory where Galvarino’s story unfolded, providing an unforgettable experience of history, culture, and natural beauty in the heart of Chile.

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3 - 16 March 2024

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