The Belgian engineer Gustave Verniory (1865-1949) arrived in Chile at the end of the 19th Century to build a railway in the remote region of Araucanía, in the mid-south of the country. The region, occupied by indigeneous Mapuche tribes, had not become part of Chile until the 1880s.
Verniory came to know a group of Mapuche people, and he began to photograph them, in their everyday attire. He also captured images of the railway’s construction and other viaducts and bridges that had been built as the Chilean government drove modernization of Chile’s remoter regions. His photos document an interesting time in the history of the province when industrialization was rapidly changing the lives of the Mapuche.
The government had occupied Araucania in the 1880s to end the resistance of Mapuche tribes. Subsequently European and Chileans settled in the area, with the population of Araucania growing considerably in the early 20th Century. A region of mountains and lakes and fertile agricultural land, it came to be known as the “granary of Chile.”
Around one third of Araucanía’s population is still ethnically Mapuche, and it remains one of Chile’s poorest regions. It is at the centre of ongoing Mapuche disputes with the government based on land claims.
Gustave Verniory: photographs of the construction of a railway in Mapuche territory is on at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago, until 27th September 2015.
Photo: Gustave Verniory. Le premier phonographe en Araucanie. Courtesy Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.