The Once and Virtual King
Most of the
indigenous Mapuche Indians live in poverty herding sheep, goats,
and cattle on their ancestral lands in the
Now the 19th-century monarch is emerging from obscurity as the focus of online study, discussion, and debate. Plugged-in historians are fascinated by the tale, while a hardy band of latter-day monarchists extol his brief, if quirky, reign.
By the mid-19th century,
the fierce Mapuche were the only indigenous South Americans left
unconquered by the Spanish conquistadors. Orelie-Antoine
de Tounens was a Frenchman, a lawyer from
A year later, Orelie-Antoine was kidnapped by Chilean forces, declared
insane, and deported to
In the annals of royalty, Orelie-Antoine is something of an enigma. Was he a madman or a noble freedom fighter? A usurper or a legitimate monarch?
Scholars and civilians have been debating these questions in online newsgroups (alt.talk.royalty, soc.culture.chile and soc.culture.argentina) for a few years now. In 1995, Dan Morrison, a writer and PhD candidate in philosophy, founded the North American Araucanian Royalist Society (NAARS) to create a forum for scholarly discussion of Orelie-Antoine.
Morrison credits the Internet with popularizing his pet project. "In the cyber universe, there is the illusion that Araucania is equal to other royalist causes," he says. "That works on our behalf and helps make this story more well-known in the English-speaking world.
"In cyberspace, geographical separation doesn't count, so an organization that focuses on an arcane interest can flourish," says Morrison. The downside is that on the Internet, it's hard to distinguish between what is real and unreal. Many people think Araucania is an Internet fantasy."
More than 10,000 people around the world have visited the site to learn more about this odd monarch, according to Morrison. At least 280 of them, from 17 countries, have seen fit to become dues-paying members of the society. They're overwhelmingly professional males, academics, and either French- or Spanish-speaking. Most share an interest in history and geography; a few are diehard monarchists, who zero in on Orelie-Antoine's royal connection.
"The Web site provides an introduction to Araucania," Morrison says. "So, the inquiries I receive are generally more advanced. Occasionally I get crackpot questions, like 'How can I become a citizen of Araucania?'"
The story of the
eccentric French adventurer who traveled to
"In some circles,
the King of Araucania and
Curious, Morrison searched for more information and eventually tracked down a living heir to the throne, Prince Philippe d'Araucania.
Morrison has twice
Morrison has no illusions
that the monarchy will ever be restored. His purpose is merely to increase
awareness of the Mapuche (more than 1 million Mapuche live on land that is now part of either
Every year, NAARS holds a
memorial dinner to honor King Orelie-Antoine. This
year's event, held last weekend in
"I honestly have to
say that the story of Orelie-Antoine is very
moving," comments Stephen Stephanau, a real
estate attorney, who describes himself as one of the most active members of the
Morrison acknowledges the
irony that the Mapuche remain, for the most part,
oblivious to his efforts. "There are very few Mapuche
on the Web," Morrison admits. "They're largely an illiterate people living