Orélie-Antoine de Tounens

Orélie-Antoine de Tounens
King of Araucania and Patagonia
Black and white photograph of de Tounens
Reign 1860-1878
Predecessor Position created
Successor Achille I
Born (1825-05-12)May 12, 1825
Chourgnac, France
Died September 17, 1878(1878-09-17) (aged 53)
Tourtoirac, France
Occupation Lawyer

Orélie-Antoine de Tounens (May 12, 1825 September 17, 1878) was a French lawyer, and adventurer, who assumed the title of King of Araucanía and Patagonia. It is disputed whether Tounens was a self-proclaimed king or was elected in a national assembly (called Futa Kollog) by more than 3,000 indigenous Mapuche delegates; and the highest Mapuche authorities of the time, including the most important Loncos (Mapuche chiefs) and Toki (Mapuche war chiefs).

Early life

Orélie-Antoine de Tounens was born May 12, 1825 in Chourgnac, Dordogne. He moved to Coquimbo in Chile in 1858 and spent two years in Valparaíso and Santiago, studying Spanish and forming social connections. Later he moved to Valdivia where he met two French merchants, Lachaise and Desfontaines. He explained his plans to them about founding a French colony in the Araucanía. 1860 he moved to Araucanía among the Mapuche who, at the time, were de jure and de facto an independent nation.

Creation of new state

Territory claimed by the joint kingdom in green.
Flag of the kingdom of Araucanía and Patagonia.
De tounens with the Mapuche warriors

Based on his experience as a lawyer, de Tounens claimed that the area did not belong to recently independent Chile or Argentina, so he wanted to create an independent state south of the Biobío River. On November 17, 1860 he signed a declaration of Araucanían independence in the farm of French settler F. Desfontaine, who became his "foreign minister", and at an assembly of the chieftains of the various tribes of the territory known as "Araucanía" was voted a constitutional monarch by the tribal leaders. He created a national hymn, a flag, wrote a constitution, appointed ministers of agriculture, education, and defense (among other offices), and had coins minted for his kingdom.

Later, a tribal leader from Patagonia approached him with the desire to become part of the kingdom. Patagonia was therefore united to his kingdom as well. He sent copies of the constitution to Chilean newspapers and El Mercurio published a portion of it on December 29, 1860. De Tounens returned to Valparaíso to wait for the representatives of the Chilean government. They ignored him. He also attempted to involve the French government in his idea, but the French consul, after making some inquiries, came to the conclusion that de Tounens was insane.

De Tounens returned to Araucanía where many Mapuche tribes were again preparing to fight the incursions of the Chilean Army during the occupation of Araucanía. In 1862 de Tounens proceeded to visit other tribes as well. However, his servant, Juan Bautista Rosales, contacted Chilean authorities who had de Tounens arrested. They put him on trial and were going to send him into an asylum when the French consulate intervened and he was deported to France.

Peso Rey de Araucanía y la Patagonia, museo Historico y Numismatico, Buenos Aires
Peso Rey de Araucanía y la Patagonia, museo Historico y Numismatico, Buenos Aires

Later life

Orélie-Antoine I, King of Araucania and Patagonia.
The tomb of de Tounens

De Tounens remained defiant and published his memoirs in 1863. In 1869, he returned to Araucanía, via Buenos Aires. The Mapuche were surprised to see him because Chileans had told them that they had executed him. De Tounens proceeded to reorganize his realm and again attracted attention of the Chilean authorities. Colonel Cornelio Saavedra Rodríguez promised a reward for his head but the Mapuche decided to defend their unusual ally.

De Tounens ran out of money in 1871 and had to return to France, where he published a second set of his memoirs. He also founded an Araucanian newspaper La Corona de Acero ("The Steel Crown"). In 1872, he proclaimed that he was seeking a bride so that he might sire an heir; indeed, the next year, he wrote to tell his brother that he intended to marry a "mademoiselle de Percy", but there is no evidence that he ever did.

In 1874, de Tounens tried again to return to his kingdom, this time with some arms and ammunition he was able to gather with the feeble support of a few entrepreneurs in Europe. Because he was persona non grata in Chile, he traveled with a false passport. However, he was recognized as soon as he landed in Bahía Blanca (on the Argentine coast) in July, 1874, and was summarily deported to France.

De Tounens tried to return again in 1876. However, local settlers robbed him on his way to Patagonia and handed him over to Chilean authorities. He also fell ill and had to go through an operation to survive. His health did not allow him to continue his journey and he had to return to France.

Orélie-Antoine de Tounens died on September 17, 1878, in Tourtoirac, France.


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Preceded by
New Creation
King of Araucania and Patagonia
Succeeded by
Achille I
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