Fernando de Pierris, JD
From The Steel Crown No. 6 - Copyright 1997 NAARS
Francois Lepot's 1995 work, El Rey de Araucania y Patagonia, presents a frustrating challenge to its reviewer. The book is chock full of errors, illogical arguments, off-the-cuff pontifications, inconsistencies and internal contradictions. Correcting all these mistakes would require another book, twice as long as Lepot's
And while the substance of the book is a messy, half-baked concoctions of ill-considered and hasty claims, the spirit of this book is ungentlemanly, unsavory, and unsettling. Lepot seems driven by blind national chauvinism and unfettered contempt for the autochthonic people of the Americas.
It might be possible to endure Lepot's bad scholarship and bad humor if he at least offered the reader good style and beautiful language. But it seems the only consistency in this book is its consistent badness. Lepot, an Argentine journalist writing for the Buenos Aires Clarin, serves up an artless story, wielding his pen with the delicacy and accuracy of a chain saw on steroids.
So how does one review a book written with a vitriolic pen? The best we can do is offer a few illustrations - passing snap shots -- of the methods and madness of the author. I beg the readers' pardon for the fragmented nature of what follows. But putting order and symmetry into the work of Lepot is entirely beyond my ability.
In his account of Orelie-Antoine's first journey to Chile, we learn from Lepot that the future king took the recently completed train line of the Panama Railroad Company to cross the isthmus of Panama from the Caribbean port of Colon to the Pacific port of Panama.
Lepot then reminds us that the railroad project "cost the lives of thousands of workers, the majority Chinese, and not exactly volunteers."
This passing comment is typical of Lepot. Why would Lepot imply that the Panama Railroad was built with slave labor? It is a dubious claim at best, but even if it were true, it has no apparent bearing on the Kingdom of Araucania & Patagonia. Is Lepot suggesting that Orelie-Antoine was morally tainted by riding on a railroad built by slaves?
The Panama Railroad was built by a consortium of companies from the United States. The putative use of slave labor is, therefore, an insult against Lepot's looming neighbor to the north. With one exception, Lepot refers to citizens of the United States with the pejorative "Yankee." What place Lepot's distaste for the citizens of the United States has in a book about the Mapuche's kingdom is not clear.
Lepot claims to write "in honor of the truth and the respect for the sovereignty and dignity of Chile and Argentina and especially of the Indians" - a curious claim for a book written with no other purpose than to negate the rights of the Mapuche and the kingdom they founded in 1860.
Lepot claims to be a friend of the Indians, yet his description of the celebration surrounding the election of Orelie-Antoine as King of Araucania is unabashedly racist. He writes: "Orelie got himself crowned by the Tehuelches, Puelches and other Indian gentleman, fiery alcoholics, eaters of raw meat. . . after four days of drunkenness, sacrificing horses, ritual dancing, etc."
Aside from his insulting description of the Indians, this commentary is clearly intended to suggest that Orelie-Antoine hoodwinked the poor, benighted Indians. Jose Bengoa's account, on the other hand, of the election of Orelie-Antoine, based on first-hand reports, reveals very sober and serious deliberations by the Indian leaders.
It is clear that the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia represents for Lepot an affront to the dignity of Chile and Argentina, and a threat to their sovereignty and claim to the territory they took from the Mapuche.
The visit of Prince Philippe to Chile and Argentina in 1989 was an indignity that Lepot could scarcely endure. Lepot asks: "Can we admit, legally or morally, that in the name of the Araucanian nation someone can sign his name as 'Prince Philippe of Araucania and Patagonia?' Have we forgotten that the Assembly of 1813 abolished all titles of nobility, a measure that was ratified by Article XVI of the Constitution of 1853, five years before the arrival of Orelie-Antoine in America?"
What Lepot fails to see, however, is that the Assembly of 1813 has nothing to do with Prince Philippe's title. The decisions of the Assembly have force within Argentina, but neither Araucania nor Patagonia were within the jurisdiction of Argentina in 1813 or 1853. The southern limit of Argentina in 1853 was the Rio Negro and Argentina's sovereignty does not extend to the rest of the world.
Lepot asks what would happen if an Argentine citizen arrived in France with a passport indicating the bearer to be the King of France. The question isn't exactly right -- a proper parallel would be an Argentinean who arrives in Spain with a passport indicating he is the King of the Basques. The reaction of the Spanish government to such a visitor likely would be in proportion to the current level of Basque discontent with Spanish rule and Spanish embarrassment with Franco's treatment of the Basque.
Lepot's first salvo against Prince Philippe was fired in 1989 before and during the Prince's visit to Chile and Argentina through the publication of libelous articles in the Sunday supplement to Clarin. The Prince considered legal action, but decided that it wasn't worth the trouble. Lepot, using soccer terminology, declared himself "invicto" -- undefeated.
Prince Philippe's visit to Argentina and Chile was sponsored by the Comite Exterior Mapuche (CEM), a Mapuche rights organization in Bristol, England. The group is now known as the Mapuche International Link. Lepot finds this sponsorship suspect and makes a far-fetched and paranoid attempt to tie the matter to the Falkland Islands dispute. Somehow the hand of Margaret Thatcher was behind the CEM sponsorship of Prince Philippe's visit. Or, at least, in Lepot's mind.
Lepot repeats the common, but inaccurate, argument that because the Mapuche language did not originally have a word for "king," they couldn't have intended to elect Orelie-Antoine to be their king and to organize Mapuche territories as a kingdom.
This theory is odd, given the fact that the Mapuche dealt with representatives of the king of Spain for more than three centuries before Orelie-Antoine arrived. To say that the Mapuche didn't know what a king was because the word for king was not native to the Mapuche language is roughly like saying that the Swiss don't know what democracy is because "democracy" is a Greek word.
After having stripped the Mapuche of the ability to understand what a king is, Lepot goes on to contradict himself in his description of the trial of Orelie-Antoine. He writes: "Months later, at the trial of Orelie-Antoine, a mestizo who was his interpreter, testified that the Indians would shout 'long live the king!' each time they met." Perhaps Lepot imagines that the "fiery alcoholics" were just babbling words they didn't understand.
Lepot puts his foot into his mouth when he tries to undercut the description of the festivities surrounding the election of Orelie-Antoine as King of the Mapuche. There are a number of accounts of this celebration from a number of sources. Prince Philippe reviews some of the standard accounts in his Histoire du Royaume d'Araucanie.
Hoping to denigrate Prince Philippe's book, Lepot writes: "The description of the celebration by this 'historian' and the other panegyrics are obviously inventions, for they do not go into fundamental details of Mapuche celebrations, such as the horse game of chueca."
Lepot seems to not know that chueca, a traditional Mapuche game similar to field hockey, is played on foot, not horseback. Perhaps Lepot was confusing chueca with polo.
Lepot's version of the events surrounding the arrest, trial, imprisonment and exile of King Orelie-Antoine are mostly a gloss on Braun Menendez's scholarly account of those events. But when Braun Menendez's well-regarded account does not suit Lepot's purpose, he simply makes up his own version of the facts. Lepot, for example, describes Juan Bautista Rosales, the man who turned Orelie-Antoine over to Chilean authorities, as Orelie-Antoine's servant, while all other accounts have Rosales as a common spy in the hire of Colonel Saavedra.
At Orelie-Antoine's trial, it was revealed that Rosales was a Second Corporal of the Civil Squadron at Nacimiento. Lepot chooses to overlook this well-known matter of public record for transparent reasons: if Rosales is just a humble servant, loyal to Chile, then his betrayal of Orelie-Antoine looks like a heroic, patriotic act. If Rosales is a military spy, then the arrest of Orelie-Antoine is just another chapter in the history of Chilean conquest.
Lepot leads the reader to believe that Orelie-Antoine was committed to an insane asylum in Santiago because he was truly mad. This is a disingenuous attempt to ignore the facts, recognized by other authors such as Braun Menendez, that the commitment of Orelie-Antoine to the asylum was little more than a judicial face-saving measure for the government of Chile which recognized it had no case against the King of Araucania and Patagonia.
At the trial, one set of doctors testified that Orelie-Antoine was in full command of his faculties. So the court brought in another set of doctors who were more congenial to the court's mood. The King was declared non compus mentis and ordered to the asylum in Santiago with the proviso "that members of his family or consular representative could take him out at any time." In the end, Orelie-Antoine never set foot in the asylum.
Lepot's unorthodox scholarship is evident in his bibliography. He lists 82 authors and more than 100 works, yet missing from his reading list are many important scholars, such as Victor Domingo Silva, Ricardo Keun and Jose Bengoa.
While ignoring important authors, Lepot spends time with some curious sources. He cites, for example, Carlos Schlaen's 1991 work, Orellie. La viva imagen del rey de la Patagonia, which is a collection of cartoons!
And Lepot does not seem to understand the nature of some of the works he cites. He writes, for example: "30,000 colonials and 200,000 Araucanians died in the conflict. These figures are given by the well-known Chilean historian Eduardo Labarca in his recent book, Butamalon."
I am acquainted with Mr. Labarca, a reader of The Steel Crown, who is a Chilean novelist living in Austria. I sent him an e-mail message, telling him what Lepot had written and asking for the source of his figures. Within one hour he replied:
Thank you for informing me of an issue of which I was not aware. El Butamalon is a novel and not a book about history or statistics. Consequently, our friend Lepot should find himself some credible sources. The characters in my novel argue, get upset, lie, invent things and say anything they want and I cannot control them. I do not remember any one of them mentioning the number you said (200,000 dead Mapuche) and should this be the case, don't ask me. It's not for nothing that my book end with the standard disclaimer that the characters and events in the book are pure fiction.
Labarca, who does not claim to be an historian, has written a work of fiction, making no historical pretensions, reaching for deeper human truths. Lepot, on the other hand, has written a shoddy work of fiction, that he masquerades as history.
In their works on the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia, several well-regarded authors, such as Silva, Braun Menendez, de la Branniere, Galatoire and Magne mention Pietro Tappa, Orelie-Antoine's Swiss secretary during the King's third expedition. Lepot denies Tappa existed and insists that these authors have invented him.
Lepot's denial is so bizarre that it is difficult to analyze. Tappa's role in the drama of Orelie-Antoine is well-known. In the next issue of The Steel Crown, I will reproduce and translate legal documents dated 1875 from Angol and Los Angeles in Chile that prove Tappa was a flesh and blood character and that he traveled with Orelie-Antoine. We have his own signature to prove it!
Lepot's book is so full of blunders that when he isn't dunning his readers with unsubstantiated opinions or overlooking well-known matters of public record, he seems to be writing while asleep. One such blunder is when Lepot refers to Prince Philippe as "Philippe Boiry de Castro y Tosi." Prince Philippe's was born Philippe Paul Alexandre Henry Boiry. Lepot confuses the Prince with Dr. Norberto de Castro y Tosi, the Costa Rican scholar - and UNESCO delegate for that country -- who wrote extensively about the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia.
Lepot accuses Prince Philippe of selling noble titles and having what he calls the fetish of the particule. Anyone with a surname preceded with the particule "de" is suspect in his view for he sees this as an attempt to pass as a member of the nobility. He lashes out at the French government of 1988, headed by Michel Rocard, "which had 16 particules in his group, and the government of Edouard Balladur had 30, some of them questionable." Not even the venerable French Prime Minister, Valerie Giscard d'Staing is spared Lepot's criticism.
It is not clear what this discussion has to do with the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia or with the right of the Mapuche people, as a sovereign nation, to organize themselves in any political fashion they choose. It is clear, however, that this discussion reveals the psychological root of Mr. Lepot's complaints against the Royal House of Araucania: simple plebian resentment combined with chauvinistic nationalism.
While Lepot accuses Prince Philippe of selling titles, the Prince can at least take consolation from that fact he is in good company. Elizabeth II, Queen of England is similarly accused. He writes: "Sir Clive Sinclair bought his lordship for £35,000, George Audley paid £150,00 for the same. Asil Nadir, the Cypriot millionaire was defrauded because he paid £500,000 for a title he never received."
Lepot offers this peculiar argument for Chile's right to Araucania: "Chile had founded the city of Punta Arenas in 1847, 2,000 kilometers south of the Bio-Bio, 21 years before the arrival of de Tounens." He then claims that because Chile controlled the lands north of the Bio-Bio and had established Punta Arenas, which lies far south of the Bio-Bio, it was entitled to claim the lands in between.
The equivalent argument in North America would be that because the USA controls the State of Alaska and also controls the State of Washington, that it therefore should own British Columbia, which lies between the two. But in addition to the flawed logic, Lepot also misstates the nature of the settlement at Punta Arenas. Today, Chile's southernmost city is dominated by its naval base. But when it was established, it was a penal colony. Punta Arenas was chosen precisely because it was as far away as possible from civilized Chileans who lived north of the Bio-Bio.
But even while he argues for the right of Chile to hold Araucania, he admits that "the indigenous people had - and have - legitimate claims to the land they lost in the name of civilization." According to Lepot, "this is another story awaiting justice," and that justice can only be delivered by the ones having committed the crime - Chile and Argentina - not by the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia.
Another irrelevancy and contradiction that Lepot offers is his claim that "had Araucania and Patagonia been colonized by a European power, their fate would have been much worse, as history shows all over the world." Thus he does admit that these territories were colonized by Chile and Argen-tina. And I have to wonder what Lepot considers himself, if not a European. Additionally, one Frenchman, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, is not a "European power," but rather a sympathetic visionary who was welcomed and protected by the Mapuche. Orelie-Antoine's style of "colonizing" was precisely opposite of that exercised by all others who came to the Americas.
If Lepot's scholarship, based as it is on novels, books of cartoons and his private fantasies, is enough to make any reader skeptical of Lepot's historical analysis, his choice of Mapuche confidants and informers should make the reader wary of his analysis of the current relation between the Mapuche and the Royal House of Araucania.
During Prince Philippe's 1989 visit to Chile and Argentina, Lonko Kilapan spoke out against the Prince and against the Royal House of Araucania. Lepot latches on to Lonko Kilapan and holds him up as the true representative of Mapuche opinion regarding Prince Philippe, demonstrating that the Mapuche reject the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia.
Kilapan was at the time a leader of the Chilean Indigenous Confederation (CICH) and a descendant of the famous Cacique Kilapan, who was Orelie-Antoine's greatest ally. Lepot only says that Cacique Kilapan supported Orelie-Antoine, "according to legend," implying that perhaps such support did not exist.
It is not surprising that Lepot places such an emphasis on the opinions of Lonko Kilapan, for this man is nearly as fine an author as Lepot.
One of Kilapan's works is O'Higgins was an Araucanian - 17 Ways to Prove It. This curious book tries to prove that Chile's liberator and first president was not, as everyone else seems to think, the son of an Irish immigrant, but rather a Mapuche Indian. One of the proofs offered are that O'Higgins like Mapuche dancing, therefore he was Mapuche.
In another interesting work, The Greek Origin of the Araucanians, Kilapan presents the astounding thesis that the Mapuche are descendants of Greek sailors and that they maintained telepathic communications with the European homeland for hundreds of years after being stranded.
In 1982, Lonko Kilapan wrote to Prince Philippe, sending him copies of O'Higgins was an Araucanian - 17 Ways to Prove It and The Greek Origin of the Araucanians to the Prince. In his letter he wrote:
Monsieur Philippe A. Boiry,
Excuse my French, which I learned from old, wise and venerable people. I did not study in Chilean schools. I learned French from my family, who learned it from my great-grandfather, Toqui Kilapan, who learned it from Orelie-Antoine.
Through the two books I am sending you, I want you to know that I am the President of the Chilean Indigenous Federation, the Secretary of the Academy of the Araucanian Language and an historian of my race. As a result of my first book, I was admitted to the Chilean Scientific Society, for the second I received the O'Higgins Prize for Literature.
I must publish 14 more books on the history of my race, including one about Orelie-Antoine, the King of Araucania.
Orelie was a friend of the Araucanians, wise man, and a great visionary with a profound knowledge of the geography, history and politics of Chile and South America. Orelie learned Spanish and Mapudungun.
In spite of not attending Chilean school, I became a member of the Writer's Association of Chile, the Chilean Historic Institute and the Society of Friends of the Chilean Cultural Patrimony.
I met the French Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy at an art exposition. I am sending this letter with him.
Patagonia was a large territory with savage tribes and small groups that lived by hunting. Orelie made an alliance with them and was proclaimed King of Patagonia. On the north, the limit of Patagonia was the Diamante River until it reaches the Quinto River, and the road from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. To the west, the border was the Yekmonchi, or Araucanian State.
Therefore Orelie sent an official communiqué to the President of Chile and the Toqui Kilapan informing them that Araucania was now an independent state.
In those days, Toqui Kilapan and Orelie were friends. He wanted an alliance treaty where the Araucanians would give their territories to France. The Pikunches between the Maule and Bio-Bio Rivers, the Huiliches between the Tolten River and the Island of Chiloe, and the Puelches to the east on what is now Argentine territory (see page 22 of my book O'Higgins was an Araucanian). France would defend the Araucanian territory between the Bio-Bio River and the Tolten River.
The Araucanians have a history of more than 10,000 years and a great civilization which we have kept secret. It was not by chance that we defeated the Incan army, the Spanish army and the Chilean army, with which we signed a treaty.
The Araucanians have a perfect grammar, numbers which include zero, arrows and a mastery of parapsychology.
Have you read Ercilla's La Araucana or Cautiverio Feliz by Pineda y Bascunan?
Our language is like Greek and Latin. We have seven vowels, just like French.
I believe we must establish an Araucanian Museum in Paris, and also a library. In Chile, the Araucanian Museum should have a French room and a room for Orelie-Antoine.
I invite you to visit me. Do not talk about these things yet, don't tell El Mercurio or Mr. Lafourcade, the greatest enemies of Araucania. There will be publicity in due time.
Your friend, L. Kilapan.
In a subsequent letter, he thanks Prince Philippe for his interest in the Mapuche and says that "it is your duty to do as the Prince of Araucania." He asks the Prince for pencils, books and money for Audilio Quiment, a teacher who does not get paid to work. He asks the Prince to keep everything secret and to correspond with him through an intermediary in Buenos Aires and to address the letters to Haydee Perez Gonzales. After a series of requests and mentions of the problems of the Mapuche, he closes the letter by saying that "the time will come when the Confederation of Indigenous" people will come to meet with you personally. He signs the letter, "your brother."
It is this Lonko Kilapan who cried "Prince Philippe go home!" Whatever Kilapan's motivations in denouncing Prince Philippe, it seems clear from his letters and books that Kilapan's opinions cannot be taken seriously.
In addition to the fact that Lepot chose a dubious character to represent the sentiment of all Mapuche, he pointedly and dishonestly overlooks the fact that dozens and dozens of Mapuche, Chilean and Argentinean leaders welcomed Prince Philippe with courtesy, respect and interest during his 1989 visit. Lonko Kilapan is the exception, rather than the rule.
The Royal House of Araucania has a problematic origin and history - even as an ardent supporter of the kingdom and the claims of Prince Philippe d'Araucanie, it is easy for me to admit this fact. Orelie-Antoine's control of his kingdom was tenuous, at best. The succession to the throne has been atypical and plagued by a lack of natural heirs. The kingdom, which has always had its detractors and enemies, may exist de jure, but has had a slim existence de facto.
But in spite of these chinks in the Royal House of Araucania's armor, it clearly survives Lepot's onslaught. And it survives for the simple reason that Lepot's work is a laughable, unscholarly, undisciplined and infantile tirade.
I have to imagine that this book is an embarrassment to those who oppose the claims of the Royal House of Araucania. It would be the kiss of death to be well-regarded by Lepot.
It might be possible to make a case against the claims of the Royal House of Araucania, but if Lepot's work is any indication of the level of culture and scholarship we can expect from Prince Philippe's detractors, then we can expect His Royal Highness to remain "invicto" for a long time.
One final comment is in order: Francois Lepot is a pseudonym. This small fact is very telling. The man hiding behind the mask is Enrique Oliva. One has to wonder about an author who presents a work as a serious scholarly undertaking and then signs a pseudonym. Perhaps Mr. Oliva has enough sense to be embarrassed by his own work.
Fernando de Pierris, JD, was born in Nueva Imperial, Chile in 1939. While growing up in the heart of Araucania, he attended the Temuco English School and the Instituto San Jose. He received his BA degree from Hampton University and his JD degree from North Carolina Central University. He is a retired U. S. Army colonel and a lawyer. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Renata.