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Indigeneity, Land and Property

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This Chapter focuses on the question of land ownership. After exploring Chilean-Peruvian intellectual and artistic exchanges (via Mexico) about the urgency of agrarian reform in defence of indigenous communities in the 1920s and 1930s, this chapter shows how successive governments in both countries proceeded to reduce indigenous land tenure over the course of the first half of the twentieth century. It then explores the transnational aspects of the violent cyclical history of dispossession, indigenous rebellion (against dispossession), and state repression (of rebellion) from the 1910s through 1930s. Finally, it shows how indigenous intellectuals in both countries made it clear that their problems with landowners and the state were not just about the economic worth of land.


  • Land
  • Property
  • Reform
  • Mexico
  • Rebellion
  • Repression
  • Culture
  • Territory

The problem of the Indian is rooted in.

the land tenure system of our economy.

—José Carlos Mariátegui, 1928

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  1. 1.

    ‘El problema de las razas en América Latina’, in El movimiento revolucionario latinoamericano, p. 287.

  2. 2.

    Melissa Moore, José Carlos Mariátegui’s Unfinished Revolution: Politics, Poetics, and Change in 1920s Peru (Lanham, Maryland: Bucknell University Press, 2013), fn. 42 on p. 48.

  3. 3.

    Simón Bolívar passed a decree abolishing indigenous communities as legal entities in Peru in 1824. This failed in two regards. First, the law was not effectively implemented due to indigenous resistance, and indigenous communities continued to exist in practice. Second, the aim was to create a class of small property owners, but this is not what happened; instead, land was increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The process intensified in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the development of the coast led to more demand for agricultural produce from the highlands. It’s also important to note that the dynamics of land ownership varied across the country, between the highlands and the coast, for example, and between these and the Amazonian lowlands. Even in the highlands the situation of indigenous communities varied from region to region. Nonetheless, it is still true to say that from the early nineteenth century onwards, the Peruvian state sought to reduce indigenous land tenure and power. See Héctor Omar Noejovich, ‘La desvinculación y la desamortización de la propiedad en América: una visión del caso peruano a través de su legislación (siglo XIX)’, Investigaciones Y Ensayos 60 (2014), pp. 293–312; Ponciano del Pino, En nombre del gobierno. El Perú y Uchuraccay: un siglo de política campesina (Lima: La Siniestra Ensayos, 2017); and Mark Thurner, From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions of Postcolonial Nationmaking in Andean Peru (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997).

  4. 4.

    ‘El problema de las razas en América Latina’, in El movimiento revolucionario latinoamericano, p. 287.

  5. 5.

    Jimena Pichinao Huenchuleo, ‘Los parlamentos hispano-Mapuche como scenario de negociación simbólico-político durante la colonia’, in Hector Nahuelpan Moreno et al., Historia, colonialismo y resistencia desde el país Mapuche (Temuco: Ediciones Comunidad de Historia Mapuche, 2017), pp. 25–44. It is worth emphasising that this history of government treaties was only relevant to the Mapuche in Araucanía, not in central Chile or Chiloé.

  6. 6.

    Pablo Mariman, ‘La República y los Mapuche: 1819–1828’, in ibid., pp. 65–90; Joanna Crow, ‘Troubled Negotiations: The Mapuche and the Chilean State (1818–1839)’, Bulletin of Latin American Research 36: 3 (July 2017), pp. 285–298.

  7. 7.

    Nahuelpan, ‘Formación colonial del Estado y desposesión en Ngulumapu’, in Nahuelpan et al., Historia, colonialismo y resistencia, pp. 123–156.

  8. 8.

    For an interesting analysis of Chilean rural economic development during this period see Claudio Robles, ‘Frontier Capitalism: Agrarian Expansion in Southern Chile, c. 1890–1930’, Bulletin of Latin American Research 39: 4 (2019), pp. 238–254; ‘Agrarian Capitalism and Rural Labour: The Hacienda System in Central Chile, 1870–1920’, Journal of Latin American Studies 41 (2009), pp. 493–526.

  9. 9.

    Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood, pp. 234–236.

  10. 10.

    I haven’t been able to find precise biographical data for Colima, Huayquiñir, or Melillán, despite their frequent interventions in public debates in Chile via congresses and print periodicals. Manquilef and Coñuepan are more conspicuous in the official records because of their status as congressmen.

  11. 11.

    For example, Francisco Chuqiwanka Ayulo, ‘La propiedad indígena’ (1908), and Felix Cosio, La propiedad colectiva del ayllu (1915). Revista Universitaria published the latter over four separate issues in 1919 and 1920, starting with Volume VIII, No. 27, in March 1919 (pp. 27–40).

  12. 12.

    Ricardo Donoso and Fanor Velasco, Historia de la Constitución de la Propiedad Austral (Santiago: Imprenta Cervantes, 1928).

  13. 13.

    Alan Knight, ‘The Peculiarities of Mexican History: Mexico Compared to Latin America, 1821–1992’, Journal of Latin American Studies 24: 1 (1992), p. 130.

  14. 14.

    Mistral, ‘El presidente Obregón y la situación de México’, in Jaime Quezada (ed.), Bendita mi lengua sea: Diario íntimo de Gabriela Mistral, 1905–1956 (Santiago: Planeta, 2002), p. 93.

  15. 15.

    Cited in Richard Salisbury, ‘The Middle American Exile of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre’, The Americas 40: 1 (1983), p.4.

  16. 16.

    ‘Agrarismo en Chile’, written from Avignon, France, in August 1928, published in El Mercurio 23 September 1928, p. 4.

  17. 17.

    All the citations in this paragraph are from “Agrarismo en Chile”.

  18. 18.

    ‘Tierra libre para todo mexicano es el lema del gobierno de Cárdenas’, and ‘Cualquier mexicano tiene derecho a pedir para si la tierra ociosa’, Ercilla (January 1940), p. 10.

  19. 19.

    Lewis Taylor, ‘Literature as History: Ciro Alegría’s View of Rural Society in the Northern Peruvian Andes’, Ibero-amerikanisches Archiv 10: 3 (1984), p. 351.

  20. 20.

    This letter is accessible through the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile at

  21. 21.

    Hildebrando Castro Pozo, Nuestra comunidad indígena (Lima: Editorial El Lucero, 1924), p. iv.

  22. 22.

    Moisés Sáenz, Sobre el indio peruano y su incorporación al medio nacional (Mexico City: SEP, 1933)

  23. 23.

    Siqueiros created a portrait lithograph of Sáenz in 1931.

  24. 24.

    Desmond Rochfort, ‘The Sickle, the Serpent, and the Soil: History, Revolution, Nationhood, and Modernity in the Murals of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros’, in Alexander Dawson and Mary Kay Vaughan (eds.), The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940 (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), pp. 43–57.

  25. 25.

    Siqueiros’s mural (the main mural) was entitled “Muerte al invasor”. Guerrero created a smaller series of murals, entitled “De México a Chile”.

  26. 26.

    The mural also featured President Cárdenas, and deceased leader of the Chilean workers’ movement, Luis Emilio Recabarren.

  27. 27.

    Pedro Emilio Zamorano Perez and Claudio Cortes Lopez, ‘Muralismo en Chile’, Universum 2: 22 (2007).

  28. 28.

    Wyndham Bewes, ‘The New Constitution of Peru (January 18, 1920)’, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 2: 3 (1920), pp. 266–269.

  29. 29.

    The full constitutional document is available at

  30. 30.

    Mallon, in José Moya, Oxford Handbook, p. 294. See also Paulo Drinot, Introduction to La Nueva Patria: Economía, sociedad y cultura en el Perú, 1919–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), pp. 1–34.

  31. 31.


  32. 32.

    Sáenz, Sobre el indio peruano.

  33. 33.

    Thomas Davies, ‘Indian Integration in Peru, 1820–1948: An Overview’, The Americas 30: 2 (1973), pp. 184–208.

  34. 34.

    Davies, ‘The Indigenismo of the Peruvian Aprista Party’, p. 651.

  35. 35.

    In ibid., p. 629.

  36. 36.

    Reported in El Perú, 3 July 1931.

  37. 37.

    Davies, ‘The Indigenismo of the Peruvian Aprista Party’, p. 630.

  38. 38.

    La Cronica of Lima, 23 August 1933, cited in ibid.

  39. 39.

    Ibid. 639.

  40. 40.

    Portal, ¿Quiénes traicionaron al pueblo?

  41. 41.

    The letter (available at does not have a date but was written from Rapallo, Italy, and we know Mistral was there in early 1951.

  42. 42.

    Michael Albertus, ‘Explaining Patterns of Redistribution under Autocracy: The Case of Peru’s Revolution from Above’, Latin American Research Review 50: 2 (2015), p. 112. See also Pablo Macera, Agricultura en el Perú, s. XX (Lima: Universidad Nacional de San Marcos, 1977).

  43. 43.

    Indeed, Alessandri’s government did little more than buy a few estates from public institutions. See Brian Loveman, Struggle in the Countryside: Politics and Rural Labor in Chile, 1919–1973 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), pp. 235–239. Frei-Montalva’s government (1964–1970) introduced a more substantive reform, allowing for the expropriation (with compensation) of estates over 80 basic irrigated hectares. Allende’s UP government (1970–73) then made this a reality, without compensation.

  44. 44.

    ‘El comicio indígena de ayer. Cerca de 30,000 indios sin radicar. Piden se suspenden los remates de tierras’, El Diario Austral, 16 October 1916.

  45. 45.

    Thurner, From Two Republics to One Divided, p. 112–113.

  46. 46.

    Alvaro Jara, Legislación Indigenista de Chile (Mexico City: III, 1956), p. 13.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., p. 21.

  48. 48.

    Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood, p. 4.

  49. 49.

    See Menard and Pavez, ‘Documentos de la Federación’ (p. 76) on the Araucanian Congress of 1926.

  50. 50.

    On Belaunde, see de la Cadena, ‘Silent Racism and Intellectual Superiority in Peru’.

  51. 51.

    Manquilef, Las Tierras de Arauco! (Temuco: Imprenta Modernista, 1915), p. 8.

  52. 52.

    Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood, p. 4.

  53. 53.

    Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones ordinarias (sesión 105a), 7 February 1929, p. 5782.

  54. 54.

    In Samaniego and Ruiz Rodríguez, Mentalidades y políticas wingka, p. 161.

  55. 55.

    Menard and Pavez, ‘Documentos de la Federación Araucana’, p. 52.

  56. 56.

    Ibid., p. 60.

  57. 57.

    ‘Los indígenas pueden obtener mayor extensión haciéndose colonos nacionales’, El Diario Austral, 11 May 1928.

  58. 58.

    The full text for this law is available through Chile’s Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional. See

  59. 59.

    Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones ordinarias (sesión 105a), 7 February 1929.

  60. 60.

    Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones ordinarias (sesión 102a), 5 February 1929, p. 5666.

  61. 61.

    During the previously cited session of 7 February 1929, congressman Ríos exclaimed “Where is the honourable gentleman talking about? Nobody dies of hunger in Chile!”. Manquilef—backed up by Melivilu— reasserted “As I said, right here in Chile!”. For Ríos, land usurpations were the exception to the rule, for Melivilu and Manquilef, they were the norm.

  62. 62.

    Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones extraordinarias (sesión 86a), 2 February 1927. Cited in Samaniego et al., p. 155.

  63. 63.

    Cited in Barr-Melej, ‘Cowboys and Constructions’, p. 54.

  64. 64.

    Alberto Melillán, ‘Colonización a base de nuestra raza indígena’, Frente Araucano 1: 1 (July 1939), p. 3. Reproduced in Claudio Alvarado and Enrique Antileo (eds.), Diarios Mapuche 1935–1966: Escrituras y pensamientos bajo el colonialismo chilenos del siglo XX (Temuco: Ediciones Comunidad de Historia Mapuche, 2019), pp. 98–99.

  65. 65.

    The “Actas” of the commission were published in El Diario Austral, 14 October 1941, p. 8.

  66. 66.

    Crow, The Mapuche in Modern Chile, p. 90.

  67. 67.

    Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood, p. 3.

  68. 68.

    Carlos Huayquiñir and Alberto Melillán, Heraldo Araucano 2 (Nov-Dec. 1941), p. 4. Reproduced in Alvarado and Antileo (eds.), Diarios Mapuche, pp. 150–151.

  69. 69.

    ‘Chile: Indian Exemption from Property Taxes’, Boletín Indigenista 2: 2 (1942), p. 12. According to Rolf Foerster and Sonia Montecino, Mapuche organisations had been demanding exemption since the 1920s. See Organizaciones, líderes y contiendas mapuches, 1900–1970 (Santiago: CEM, 1988), pp. 36–39.

  70. 70.

    Thomas Wright, Landowners and Reform in Chile: The Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura, 1919–1940 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982; Jean Carrière, Landowners and Politics in Chile: A Study of the ‘Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura’, 1932–1970 (Amsterdam: CEDLA, 1981).

  71. 71.

    On Cuzco see Willie Hiatt, ‘Indians in the Lobby: Newspapers and the Limits of Andean Cosmopolitanism, 1896–1930’, The Americas 68: 3 (2012), pp. 377–403.

  72. 72.

    El Comercio of Cuzco, 15 September 1915, p. 2. Cited in ibid., p. 394.

  73. 73.

    Miller, Reinventing Modernity, p. 149.

  74. 74.

    Pedro Zulen to Mr. Travers, letter dated 1st March 1911. Archivo Pedro Zulen. Biblioteca Nacional del Perú.

  75. 75.

    César Colima, ‘Carta al Diario Austral’, Diario Austral, 6 February 1932.

  76. 76.

    Venancio Coñuepán and Cesar Colima, ‘El problema indígena de Chile’, 1940. I would like to thank Jorge Iván Vergara for sharing this document with me.

  77. 77.

    ‘Restitución de tierras’, Acta final del primer Congreso Indigenista Interamericano, p. 7.

  78. 78.

    Klubock Miller, La Frontera, p. 91. On Ranquil, see also Florencia Mallon, ‘Victims into Emblems: Images of the Ránquil Massacre in Chilean National Narratives, 1934–2004’, Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, 8:1 (Spring 2011), pp. 29–55.

  79. 79.

    Tamayo Herrera, José, Historia del indigenismo cuzqueño, siglos xvi-xx (Cuzco: Instituto Nacional de Cultura, 1980)

  80. 80.

    ‘El problema de las razas...’, in El movimiento revolucionario latinoamericano, p. 285.

  81. 81.

    El Tiempo, Lima, Año II, No. 288, 25 April 1917, p. 1.

  82. 82.

    ‘El problema de las razas’, in El movimiento revolucionario latinoamericano, p. 285.

  83. 83.

    Carlos Arroyo Reyes, Nuestros años diez, p. 116.

  84. 84.

    ‘Regalo de Leguía’, Machete, March 1924, p. 2.

  85. 85.


  86. 86.

    The novel was published by Editorial Orbe in Santiago and won the Premio Atenea (Universidad de Concepción) in 1942.

  87. 87.

    Fernando Santiván, ‘Reseña de Libro. Ranquil: Novela de la tierra’, 1945. Available through the Archivo del Escritor at

  88. 88.

    Cited by de la Cadena in Indigenous Mestizos, p. 89.

  89. 89.

    Ibid, p. 111.

  90. 90.

    El Heraldo, 7 April 1920, cited in Flores Galindo, Buscando un Inca, p. 173.

  91. 91.

    ‘Declaración del Ministro de Guerra, del 8 de febrero de 1927’, La Nación, 9 February 1927.

  92. 92.

    Klubock, La Frontera, p. 108.

  93. 93.

    Menard and Pavez, ‘Documentos de la Federación Araucana’, p. 52.

  94. 94.


  95. 95.

    ‘El problema de las razas’, in El movimiento revolucionario latinoamericano, p. 289.

  96. 96.

    Letter dated 4th June 1936. This is accessible at 

  97. 97.

    On the lucrative coastwise exchange of Peruvian sugar for Chilean wheat in the early 1800s, for example, see Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, The Caudillo of the Andes: Andrés de Santa Cruz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 82. On cross-border corruption and money lending in the late 1800s see Alfonso Quiroz, Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008), p. 168. On connections between merchant houses in the early twentieth century see Rory Miller, ‘The British commercial houses in Peru and Chile between the two world wars: success and failure’, Estudios de Economía 42: 2 (2015), pp. 93–119. On negotiations over the incipient cocaine trade, see Paul Gootenberg, ‘Secret Ingredientes: The Politics of Coca in U.S.-Peruvian Relations, 1915–1965’, Journal of Latin American Studies 36 (2004), p. 254.

  98. 98.

    Florencia Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987) and ‘Comas and the War of the Pacific’, in Orin Starn et al. (eds.), The Peru Reader: History, Politics, Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), pp. 181–198.

  99. 99.

    Lorenzo Koliman, a Mapuche who fought for Chile in the war against Peru, told of how Chilean army officials requested that he speak with the “Peruvian Indians” that they came across during their campaigns, and how he could not understand a word they said. Implicit here is that Chilean authorities saw indigenous people as one uniform whole, or at least believed they all spoke the same language—they were all “other”. Elites in both countries were ignorant of indigenous realities and related to each other more closely than to indigenous people. See Tomás Guevara and Manuel Manquilef, Historias de familias, siglo XIX (Santiago and Temuco: CoLibris and Liwen, 2002) p. 45.

  100. 100.

    ‘Restitución de tierras’, Acta final del primer Congreso Indigenista Interamericano, p. 7.

  101. 101.

    See La Época, 6 February 1914, and El Diario Austral, 26 January 1917.

  102. 102.

    On Jose Bunster in Chile, see See Pedro Cayuqueo, Historia secreta mapuche (Santiago: Catalonia, 2017), pp. 322–327; Miguel Escalona and Jonathan Barton, ‘A “landscapes of power” framework for historical political ecology: The production of cultural hegemony in Araucanía- Wallmapu’, Area (of the RGS), 52: 2 (2020), pp. 445–454.

  103. 103.

    ‘El comicio indígena de ayer…’, op. cit.

  104. 104.

    ‘Un aspecto psicológico de la Raza Araucana’, Anthropos, vol. 33, 1938, p. 951.

  105. 105.

    Heraldo Araucano, No. 2, 1941, p. 8.

  106. 106.

    Cámara de Diputados, Sesiones extraordinarias, 25 November 1947. I write about this in The Mapuche in Modern Chile, p. 104.

  107. 107.

    Speech of 13 December 1924 republished in El Comercio, 14 December 1924.

  108. 108.

    Marisol de la Cadena, ‘Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond ‘Politics”, Cultural Anthropology 25:2 (2010), p. 354.

  109. 109.

    For example, Yawar fiesta (Lima: Compañía de Impresiones y Publicidad, 1941).

  110. 110.

    See ‘Agrarismo en Chile’ (1928) and ‘La música araucana’ (1932).

  111. 111.

    de la Cadena, ‘Indigenous Cosmopolitics’, p. 349.

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Crow, J. (2022). Indigeneity, Land and Property. In: Itinerant Ideas. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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