One of the cool things about running this site is that every once in a while I get the opportunity to write about a guy who may not have had any real significant impact on the course of history, but who, generally speaking, is completely fucking out-of-his-mind psychotic. Sure, these hardcore war-factories may not have always been successful in their endeavors – they may not have rescued their people from imminent destruction at the hands of a foreign invader, fought off an overwhelming force by tearing a few thousand guys limb from limb with their teeth, or personally wrested a blood-stained crown from the severed head of a mighty emperor. Hell, these pinnacles of awesomeness may not even have won the battles they were fighting – but damn it, these red-meat-crazy murderous nutjobs pulled out all the stops, went completely balls-to-the-wall, and did some ridiculous bullshit in the name of being insanely badass. They're the stories that typically don't make the history books, yet people would still do well to remember them… if for no other reason than simply because they're totally fucking awesome.
Galvarino is one of those men.
There's no other logical explanation for how a real-life historical figure could inspire a piece of artwork that looks like this:
Galvarino's story start back in the mid-1500s, when the good people of Spain were full-swing in the lucrative business of making North, Central, and South America its bitches. Plenty of ink has been devoted over the years to the Spanish colonization of the New World, but the undisputed fact is that the Spaniards rolled across the Atlantic in their ships, subjugated the balls off of everything they could find, mined a few billion donkey-loads of gold, and conquered a swath of land roughly ten times the size of their own country with nothing more than a hell of a lot of determination, a few firearms, and a healthy resistance to a wide array of crazy European microbial diseases. These guys weren't screwing around – even the mightiest native Empires crumbled before the might of the Spanish Empire (and empire which, by the way, was so mega-extreme that it's motto was, "PLUS ULTRA!"), and anyone who screwed with them quickly found themselves getting summarily disemboweled at sword point without much in the way of subtlety. The Spanish were like The Borg of the 16th century world: Resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated.
After chainsawing their way through the Aztec and Inca Empires, the Spanish eventually turned their attention towards the subjugation of the Mapuche Indian tribes residing in the southern part of present-day Chile. The Mapuche, much like their less-fortunate predecessors, weren't particularly interested in getting their asses conquered by a bunch of foreigners, and they put up a tenacious defense against the European invaders that would have made Captain Picard proud. Under the command of a badass dude named Lautaro (a man I plan on writing about here in the future), the Indian warriors utilized cutting-edge guerilla tactics and intense face-stabbing acumen to fight off the overwhelmingly superior firepower of the Spanish forces, and seriously pissed of the Spanish commanders so hard the European generals decided to take some unique and borderline-sadistic steps towards crushing the spirits of these obstinate rebels.
To that end, after one particularly brutal battle near the province of Lagunilla, the Spanish found themselves in possession of quite a few prisoners of war. One of these dudes was a particularly tough Mapuche tribal war leader named Galvarino. Deciding that drastic measures needed to be taken to further embitchinate the populace, the Spanish governor decreed that Galvarino was to have his right hand chopped off with an axe as punishment for raising arms (nyuk nyuk) against the Spanish.
It was... unpleasant.
Apparently these guys didn't realize who they were fucking with. Galvarino wasn't just some chump who was going to run off crying just because some giant gorilla hacked his limbs off with a fucking axe – he was a seriously hardcore bastard. Without uttering a word of protest, the super-pissed Mapuche prisoner knelt before the chopping block and placed his sword arm on the slab. One slice of the axe popped it off like a crappy Halloween prop. Galvarino didn't flinch. The emotionless automaton of a badass just had his fucking arm removed with a hatchet, yet he was sitting there motionless, not saying a word, his expression solidly locked into "uber-ripshit pissed" mode. Jesus, even Darth Vader held his arm in pain after getting it prematurely detached in battle.
That's not even the beginning. Seconds after losing his hand, Galvarino quietly removed the bloody stump-nub from the chopping block, and unhesitatingly placed his other hand out to be removed. The Spanish executioner sliced through that one as well, because what the hell else was he supposed to do. Once again Galvarino failed to register emotion. Finally, the Mapuche chief put his head on the block, ready to die.
But the Spanish weren't going to let Galvarino off the hook so easily. Instead, they released him to return to his people without any hands, ordering him to show the Mapuche what was going to happen to them if they didn't give up their silly independence and start paying exorbitant amounts of gold to the Spanish Crown.
Their biggest mistake was letting him live.
The Spanish tried to make an example of Galvarino, but all he did was show his people an example of what it means to be totally fucking over-the-top badass. As soon as he got back to his village, Galvarino showed everyone his stumps, screamed a bunch of angry profanity, and demanded a full-scale revolution against the Spanish for pulling such a dick move on him. Everybody saw this bullshittery and got understandably upset about the whole thing, deciding right then and there that they were going to strengthen their resolve and deliver an unrelenting barrage of ball-kicks to any European crotches they could get their feet on. Galvarino was immediately elected to be his tribe's war leader, and to command his people in the inevitable death-feud against the Spanish. Not wanting to be hampered by a little thing like "not having any hands", this guy did one of the most balls-out ridiculous things I've ever heard of – he tied blades to his stumps and went into battle with swords for hands.
Are you kidding me? No matter how tough, or how great a warrior you are, not being able to physically hold a weapon is kind of a career-ending injury in the military combat department. Yet on November 30, 1557, when 1,500 Spaniards were ambushed by 3,000 Mapuche warriors outside Millarapue, the native forces were being led into battle by a dude with goddamned steak knives duct-taped to his wrists and a bloodthirsty sneer on his face. I think we can all appreciate the fact that this is some seriously next-level badass shit.
In the interest of academic integrity, I should probably take a second here to mention that the only source I was able to find to corroborate the sword-hands claim was a Spanish-language text that was translated for Galvarino's Wikipedia page, and, generally speaking, I am loathe to use Wikipedia as a primary source for anything that doesn't involve ludicrously-in-depth descriptions of video game-related minutiae. I'm somewhat hampered, however, by the fact that I don't read Spanish, and there's not a whole lot of info about this guy printed in English. (If any readers out there can corroborate this with a legit source, I would be grateful to see it). However, having said that, I fucking love this story so much that I'm compelled by every fiber of my being to believe that this blade-armed madman was out there rushing through the battlefield in 1557 slicing off fools' like a hardcore Baraka fatality, tearing the Spanish new face-holes with nothing more than his endless rage and his Wolverine-style hand blades.
(Note: Special thanks to Andres for sending along this link to a the official website for the city of Coronel, Chile, which confirms the knife-hands story.)
Unfortunately, as I alluded to in the beginning, the battle didn't go well for Galvarino and his brave warriors. Two-to-one odds and brain-crushing badassitude are only going to go so far when you've got a wooden spear and a loin cloth and you're facing off against professional soldiers with steel armor, crossbows, and rifles. Galvarino's troops were defeated after an intense, two-hour fight, he was re-captured by the Spanish, and 30 of his bravest warriors were hanged from trees.
Some of the Spanish took pity on the hand-less Mapuche leader Galvarino, but when they offered him leniency, this stone-cold warrior told them straight-up that even without his sword hands he had no intention of doing anything except tearing the Spanish apart with his teeth. What happened to him next his the subject of quite a bit of debate – some say he was hanged, others say he was fed to dogs, and still others say he managed to throw himself on a sword in an effort to deny the Spanish the satisfaction of causing his death – but either way, he definitely died. Even in death, however, Galvarino managed to further inspire his people to do some seriously badass shit, if for no other reason than just to try to come close to the insane example he had set for them. When the Mapuche in the surrounding area heard news of this fearless warrior, his determination to fight no matter what, and his fucking awesome sword-hands attack on the Spanish, they got their shit super-pumped up about kicking ass. He was like a one-man Alamo – even to this day he's remembered as a national hero who gave up everything to defend his freedom. There's even an asteroid and a couple of Chilean warships named after him. The even more amazing thing is that the Mapuche actually ended up being one of the few indigenous American peoples not to be conquered by the Conquistadors – their fight was so tenacious and brutal (perhaps helped by the memory of guys like Galvarino), that they retained their independence, only officially becoming part of Chile in the late-1800s, and never being subjected to the domination of Spain. I guess stories like that have a tendency to get people fired up.
Bizzarro, Salvatore. Historical Dictionary of Chile. Scarecrow, 2005.
Castillo-Feliu, Guellermo I. Culture and Customs of Chile. Greenwood, 2000.
Guinot, Laura. Conspiracy in Mendoza. Trafford, 2009.
Sismondi, Jean-Charles-Leonard. Historical View of the Literature of the South of Europe. H.G. Bohn, 1853.
Villalobos, Sergio R. A Short History of Chile. Editorial Univeritaria, 1996.