Lautaro; (circa 1534, Peteroa – 1557) is a legendary figure, considered one of the most important Mapuche leaders and warriors during the Arauco War against the Spanish conquerors. His name comes from ‘Lef’, which in Mapuzugun means ‘fast’, and ‘Txaru’, which means ‘hawk’. He was an excellent strategist and had a key role in the war by applying his knowledge of the Spanish culture in favor of the Mapuche resistance.
Lautaro was born around 1534, probably near Tirúa, in the Nahuelbuta Mountain Range. He was the son of an important logko named Kuriñamku (‘Kuri’ = black, ‘Ñamku’ = Small eagle). At the age of 11, he was taken prisoner and turned into a ‘yanacona’ (a servant aborigin). After several years as a prisoner, he became a personal page boy for Pedro de Valdivia himself. As the Spaniards could not pronounce his name correctly, they named him Felipe Lautaro.
Among his many tasks as a servant, Lautaro was in charge of Pedro de Valdivia’s horses and he accompanied the conqueror in battles and military exercises. This experience gave him great knowledge of the Spanish culture, and he learnt not to fear the horses, he also learnt how to ride a horse until he became a good rider, and he watched the battle exercises of the Spaniards, learning from Valdivia their military tactics and strategies.
In 1550, Lautaro witnessed the cruel punishments inflicted to the native population after the battles of Andalién and Penco as an example to avoid future rebellions. This fact had a great impact on him, and he decided to escape and join his people.
In 1553, after abandoning the Spaniards, Lautaro appeared as the main leader in the Battle of Tucapel – he was appointed Toki (Main Chief in times of war). With thousands of his peers, he destroyed the Tucapel fortress. Besides, this also resulted in Pedro de Valdivia’s death. This was a big success for the Mapuche warriors. After the victory in Tucapel, Lautaro became highly respected and he assembled a great army with the help of other mapuche communities.
In February 1554, Lautaro showed his leadership and talents again at the Battle of Mariweñu, where they crushed the Spanish soldiers under the command of Francisco de Villagra. This allowed them to continue to Concepción, which was looted and burned to ashes the same year.