26. Suite Patagonia
Written & performed by Bruno Sanfilippo
From the CD Suite Patagonia (ad21music, Spain 2000)



Suite Patagonia is….

Dedicated to the incredible histories that harboured the lands of the Patagonia. The Cacique Sayhueque, the Patagonian Giant’s myth, the admiration of the colonists before an unknown fauna, the contact between the native ones and Magellan’s men, curious histories that touch with the magic and the fantasy, full with myths fed by old conquerors, scammers and adventurers. The colourful autochthonous instrumentation with aboriginal songs, sounds of the southern fauna, the European vision of a time, of a place, of numberless histories and legends’.

Bruno Sanfillipo, Argentina 2000. http://www.bruno-sanfilippo.com/PRESS1.htm


The Mapuche of Argentina

Chances are it’s too late now, but if you were fortunate enough to be in Hungary in 2007, you could have attended Dinosaurs of Patagonia, at the Hungarian Natural History Museum. The exhibition, writes Andreea Anca, is both exciting and unusual:

Dinosaurs bones, including skulls, ribs, vertebrae, hips and legs, arrived from Argentina earlier this year, and were put together with great care by specialists from the South American country in order to reconstruct the skeletons of the 14 most ancient dinosaurs known so far.

Argentina’s Patagonia region is known as the ‘promised land’ for palaeontologists, and 10% of the world’s dinosaur remains have been found there. This is a unique opportunity for children and parents to meet what remains of Rebbi (Rebbachisaurus tessonei) – one of the largest vegetarian dinosaurs – which was 17 meters long and is believed to have weighed up to 10 tonnes.

One of the world’s largest known predators, Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, must have been a frightening sight due to his huge claws. At this exhibition, visitors will be able to see the biggest claw recovered from such a Megaraptor, and in very good condition. The exhibition also features the modest, but valuable, dinosaur remains found in Hungary.

The history of these mysterious creatures will be introduced through interactive games, educational programs and scientific presentations.’

It’s too late now, but if you were in Argentina in late 1939 and were of a mind to visit a few museums you could have done worse than pay a visit to the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata. There, in the museum’s Anthropological Galleries, you could have seen the skeleton, brain, scalp and death mask of a man by the name of Inakayal, leader of the Tecka, one Patagonia’s indigenous peoples. Afterwards you could have gone to Argentina’s Museum of Natural Sciences, one of whose main exhibits was the skull of the son of another leader of Patagonia’s indigenous people, Rankulche lonko Panguitruz Nuru, son of Paine Nuru.

The exhibitions had been on display since the late 19th century – Inakayal’s remains had been on show since 1888. Panguitruz’s skull was first shown in 1887 – and at least part of their function was to commemorate the successful removal of Patagonia’s indigenous peoples from their lands in a mission best summarised by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874, in a communiqué regarding Argentina’s largest aboriginal group, the Mapuche:

Above all, we would like to remove the savages from all American social questions, as for them we feel, without being able to remedy it, an unconquerable loathing, and for us Colocolo, Lautaro and Caupolican, despite the civilised and noble robes in which Ercilla clothed them, are no more than disgusting Indians, whom we would have had hanged […]’

The Argentine government granted President Sarmiento his wish with a military campaign called The Conquest of the Desert, whose job it was to remove, by reason, force, or death, thousands of indigenous Patagonian Indians from the fertile lands they had cultivated as far back, in the case of the Mapuche, as 1000BCE. We should point out that Mapuche sovereignty was recognised by the Spanish back in the 15th century – does that not mean that the land beneath their feet isn’t just theirs by reason of long standing occupation or ancestral connection, but that it is theirs, legally?

The Tehuelch had been there longer. Their first encounter with the Spanish proved fatal: respiratory illnesses contracted from their new guests all but decimated their population. Those who survived the Europeans diseases were massacred: all other survivors were driven from their land into makeshift reservations.

The reason for Argentina’s Conquest of the Desert campaign was to claim Patagonia’s 2.5 plus million acres of land from the encroaching Chilean government, and to clear the land for Welsh migrants who had begun arriving in 1865, and to make room for further immigration: Argentina had already struck a deal with the Welsh migrants, granting them 1000 square miles for the establishment of a Welsh state under the protection of the Argentine military. The Welsh presence would serve to keep the Chileans out of Patagonia even as it ensured a new generation of foreign landowners whose interests and sympathies lay squarely with Argentine government.

The campaign had its beginnings in attempts in the 1830s by previous generals to stop Chilean expansion into Patagonia, subdue the Indians, and claim the land. The majority of these attempts were met with failure. The most successful exponent of the Conquest of the Desert was General Julio Argentino Roca. This, from Wikipedia, describes the General’s role in the campaign:

At the end of 1878 [Roca] started the first wave to ‘clean’ the area between the Alsina trench and the Río Negro River by continuous and systematic attacks to the aboriginals’ settlements. With 6,000 soldiers armed with new breech-loading Remington rifles supplied by the United States, in 1879 he began the second wave reaching Choele Choel in two months, where the local aboriginals surrendered without giving battle. From other points, southbound companies made their way down to the Rio Negro River and the Neuquén River, a northern tributary of the Rio Negro River. Together, both rivers marked the natural frontier from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. This attack led to a large migration of Mapuches into the zone around Curarrehue and Pucón, Chile.

Many settlements were built on the basin of these two rivers, as well as a number on the Colorado River. By sea, some settlements were erected on the southern basin of the Chubut River mainly by Welsh colonists.

And here, by way of Wikipedia, is the General’s view on the campaign: ‘Our self-respect as a virile people obliges us to put down as soon as possible, by reason or by force, this handful of savages who destroy our wealth and prevent us from definitely occupying, in the name of law, progress and our own security, the richest and most fertile lands of the Republic.

General Roca was Argentina’s eighth president. As such he continued to oversee the removal of the last of the Mapuche and Tehuelche peoples from the landscape and their dispersal into small reservations. The last wave of resistance – some three thousand rebels, one of whose leaders was Inakayal – was defeated in 1884. Over a thousand Mapuche were killed, their lands were confiscated, and Inakayal was imprisoned. According to Leslie Ray at mapuche-nation.org, Inakayal died in 1888 in the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata. In a text titled The Leleque Museum: even Mapuche history appropriated by Benetton, Ray writes:

‘Instead of being buried, his bones, brain, scalp and death mask joined the museum collection.’

In 1899 the Cushamen Reservation was created to house the remnants of the Mapuche and Tehuelche peoples. Other rebels suffered stranger fates. Here’s Leslie Ray again:

Rankulche lonko Panguitruz Nuru, son of the great Painé Nuru, was imprisoned as a child and handed over to Juan Manuel de Rosas, who made him his godson and baptised him Mariano Rosas. After years of captivity, he escaped to the base of his community at Leuvocó, where he led his people until his death. A few years later, when the forces of the Third Desert Expeditionary Division invaded Rankulche territory. Panguitruz’ tomb was desecrated, and by order of the leader of the expedition, his skull was taken and sent to Estanislao Zeballos, who donated it to Moreno’s Museum of Natural Sciences, where it was displayed for 123 years.’

The Conquest of the Desert gave a grain of truth to the campaign’s name; by the late 19th century, Patagonia was sufficiently empty of indigenous Indians to attract successive waves of migrants, one of whom was Lady Florence Dixie who documented her adventures in Patagonia in her book Across Patagonia (London, 1880). For Lady Dixie the lure of Patagonia came down to one word – space:

Nowhere else are you so completely alone. Nowhere else is there an area of 100,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate, you are safe from the persecutions of fevers, friends, savage tribes, obnoxious animals, telegrams, letters, and every other nuisance you are elsewhere liable to be exposed to. To these attractions was added the thought, always alluring to an active mind, that there too I should be able to penetrate into vast wilds, virgin as yet to the foot of man. Scenes of infinite beauty and grandeur might be lying hidden in the solitude of the mountains which bound the barren plains of the Pampas, into whose mysterious recesses no one as yet had ever ventured. And I was to be the first to behold them! An egotistical pleasure, it is true; but the idea had a great charm for me, as it has had for many others. Thus, under the combined influence of the above considerations, it was decided that Patagonia was to be the chosen field of my new experiences.’

And in a section titled The Promised Land, Lady Dixie gives a rapturous account of the Patagonian landscape:

For some distance we could catch glimpses among the hills of bright green valleys, with whose excellent pastures our nimble friends the wild horses were doubtless well acquainted; and farther on rose a forest of white peaks, one towering above the other, till the tallest faded, hazy and indistinct, into the skies.’

We can’t say with any certainty whether Reverend Michael D Jones, the founder of Patagonia’s first Welsh settlement saw it as such. But the Promised Land is a term we find in retrospective accounts of his pioneering work. Here is Graham Davies More, from Patagonia: A welcome on the Pampas, for bbc.co.uk (http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/wales/w_nw/article_1.shtml):

Michael D Jones, of Bala in north Wales, was the Moses who led, or rather sent, for he never actually emigrated himself – his people to this Promised Land. An early Welsh nationalist, he energetically promoted the vision of a free, Welsh-speaking, nonconformist Wales in Patagonia.’

It’s too late now, but if you were in Aberystwyth in 2004, you could have attended a multi media exhibition at the National Library of Wales titled Promised Land? which was all about the creation of the Welsh Diaspora in north America, Australia, and Argentina, and in which Patagonia was, we understand, well represented. Doubtless you would have learned that Argentina’s policy of welcoming migrants to the lands formerly dominated by Patagonia’s aboriginal peoples was so successful that by the early 1920s there were over 23,000 settlers living in Chubut, where the Welsh first settled in 1865. The Welsh were followed by migrants from Spain, Italy, and Chile, all of whom were drawn by the warm welcome and generous assistance given to the Welsh by the Argentine government.

We can’t help but wonder what role [if any] the Welsh, the first beneficiaries of the aboriginal dispossession of Patagonia, played in the Conquest of the Desert, and how [or whether] the Welsh reconciled the expulsion of Patagonia’s Indians with the expansion of the Welsh presence in Patagonia. Perhaps this was covered in Promised Land?

On the subject of reconciliation, we return to Patagonia and to Inakayal and Rankulche lonko Panguitruz Nuru. In 1994, forty years after his remains were removed from public display at the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata Inakayal’s remains were returned to Tecka. An archaeologist from the museum formally apologised to Inakayal’s descendants on behalf of the institution. In 2000 Rankulche lonko Panguitruz Nuru’s skull was returned to his people.

Mind you, by 2000 the Mapuche and their displaced companions were as far away from legal possession of their land as they had ever been. A new influx of landowners from Europe and Hollywood had started purchasing land with the blessing and support of President Carlos Memem. The biggest buyer was the British owned company Compania Tierras Sud Argentina aka the CTSA, founded in 1889 when the Argentine government granted land occupied by Mapuche communities to ten British citizens.

The Mapuche ended up being labourers on their own homelands, tenants and employees of the CTSA. In 1991 Edizione Holding Spa, owners of Benetton, bought the CTSA out and by 1997 Benetton owned 2.2 million acres of land in Patagonia, making the company Argentina’s biggest land owner. Benetton use the land to graze their 280,000 sheep. The wool produced by the sheep is used to make Benetton’s clothing, which is guarantee enough that the world will never be short of Benetton knitwear. We bring you this information courtesy of a July 6, 2004 article written for The Independent by Peter Popham (A united world? Benetton and native Indians of Patagonia clash over land) about the attempts in 2001 by surviving members of the Mapuche community to occupy Santa Rosa, a seventeen acre plot of land which had once belonged to them, but which was also in close proximity to Benetton’s property.

The effort landed the Mapuche in court, charged with usurping Benetton’s land. The charges were subsequently dropped and the court decided the land belonged to Benetton. The company managed to keep its property and its credibility as a socially concerned global brand. In his article, Popham writes: ‘Carlo Benetton was reported as saying on taking possession of his new domain: ‘Patagonia gives me an amazing sense of freedom.

Popham also mentions that in 2002 Benetton opened the Leleque Museum, which Leslie Ray also writes about in his/her text. For Ray, the Leleque Museum is a descendant of the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata and Argentina’s Museum of Natural Sciences, and a contemporary of Argentina’s Viedma Museum; all of these institutions represent the interests and ambitions of successive colonialists and land owning classes.

Still, if you’re in the area, you might like to check the Museum out. It may be too late – Ray was writing in 2004 and the Viedma was a run down operation with a staff of one even then – but you may still be able to view an exhibit at the Viedma called Burial of Tehuelche of Idevi, which, Ray tells us, is a mummified body of a Tehuelche in a foetal position.

Thinking about this Tehuelche, who s/he was, when s/he lived and died, who his or her friends and family might have been, we thought maybe s/he was from one of those hospitable communities written about in accounts of Welsh settlement who helped the Welsh survive during their first hard months in Patagonia. Perhaps, for his or her troubles, s/he was one of those unfortunates who contracted the fatal cold or flu bug that began killing the Tehuelche’s ancestors five hundred years ago, and continues to do so to this day. Maybe the mummified Tehuelche was one of thousands of Indians who rebelled against the Welsh and their land owning allies, or maybe s/he was from a community that did the equally wise thing and kept such safe distance as was possible from the British in particular and Europeans in general.

While we are as uncertain of the exact nature of the Viedma Museum’s remit as we are of the identity of the mummified Tehuelche, and so can only speculate as to why this foetus-like figure was still on view four years ago, we have it from Benetton that the aim of their museum is to narrate ‘the experience of indigenous peoples and immigrants in Patagonia, the changes undergone by the societies living in the territory and the relationship between different ethnic groups. Their conflicts, beliefs, and religious rites are some of the issues approached in this long history.

Under the patronage of Benetton in Patagonia, the Leleque museum […] is the first and only such structure dedicated to the history of Patagonia. More than 15,000 exhibits, including archaeological remains, testimony, documents and photographs narrate 13,000 years of history and culture of a mythical land.’

In contrast to Benetton’s fascination with the mythic nature of Patagonia, the Mapuche were becoming increasingly politicised and legally aware. In an article by Lisa Garrigues titled Mapuche challenge Benetton once again, the website Comunidad Santa Rosa [santarosarecuperada.com] describes how the Mapuche battled attempts at land grabs by oil, tourist, and logging companies in Chile and Argentina, formed alliances with other marginalised European groups like the Catalans and the Basques, and brought a $445 million lawsuit against the Spanish oil company Repsol for environmental contamination and health damage after they were no longer able to drink their own water.

Undaunted by their defeat by Benetton in 2004, and unfazed by an offer from Benetton of 2.500 hectares of unproductive land, the Mapuche persevered. In 2007 they reclaimed Santa Rosa. Comunidad Santa Rosa reported that in February 2007 Benetton reversed its original decision to evict the group.

In 2008 the Mapuche had turned the question of land rights into a question of human rights. Here’s a transcript outlining Amnesty International’s first foray into this area:

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan today led a visit to Temuco to visit Mapuche communities and organizations working to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Talking about her visit, Irene Khan said: We came to Temuco to listen to the people, to look at how their dignity is threatened by the exclusion, discrimination and abuse of human rights.

Amnesty International has long worked on the cases of indigenous peoples who were prosecuted under the anti terrorism legislation, and their prison conditions. This remains a concern for us but now we are also looking at the circumstances behind the social conflict and violence from which they are suffering and their struggle over the right to land, water and other natural resources. Many of these are new areas for Amnesty International so we are here to talk to those most affected to explore the best ways forward to raise public conscience on these issues and change.


Press release, by Bruno Sanfillipo, Argentina 2000.

Patagonia: A welcome on the Pampas, by Grahame Davies More, for bbc.co.uk

Dinosaurs of Patagonia, by Andreea Anca
www.budapestsun.com – Wednesday, March 21, 2007


‘Language of the Land – The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile’ A new book by Leslie Ray http://uk.geocities.com/leslie.ray@btinternet.com/

Leleque museum: even Mapuche history appropriated by Benetton, by Leslie Ray, June 4, 2004

A united world? Benetton and native Indians of Patagonia clash over land, by Peter Popham, The Independent, July 6, 2004

A bridge between Culture and Society

05/03/07: Mapuche challenge Benetton once again, by Lisa Garrigues
http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096414598, http://www.santarosarecuperada.com.ar/bitacora/index.php?itemid=80

Amnesty International, Amnesty International’s Secretary General visits Mapuche communities in Chile, 4 November 2008. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4917f271c.html



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