The Original People of Cerro Blanco (Pueblos Originarios)

If you have been following my Instagram feed, then you will know that lately I´ve been spending a bit of time at Cerro Blanco (Recoleta).  During my four years in Chile, I have been past this hill countless times and never thought of anything of it.

Now I feel quite silly.

E enjoying the nature on Cerro Blanco

This unassuming hill, which separates Avenida Recoleta and Avenida La Paz and which is dwarfed by the colossal Cerro San Cristobal in front, is literally a treasure trove of history and culture.  In the early 2000´s, it was a place used heavily by delinquents until the Municipalidad of Recoleta declared it a Cultural Heritage site.  Today it has been transformed into a cultural space for the original people of the land, the pueblos originarios, who use it for ceremonies and activities as well as an aldea.


Why is Cerro Blanco so interesting?

This was the first Catholic site in Chile, where in 1545 Ines de Suarez made the first shrine to Montserrat and later constructed the Iglesia de Viñita. 

View from the hill. The site of Ines de Suarez´s original hermitage was destroyed centuries ago, but is believed to have been halfway up the hill facing Independencia.

The hill was already sacred, however. Known as Cerro Huechuraba, it was named after the region´s toqui and was an important site for the local Picunche people.  In fact, the remarkable Piedras Tacitas, holes cut into the rocks facing Avenida La Union, can still be seen today and are remarkable proof of how little we know about the past – no-one knows how or why they were made, but they are considered to be the largest concentration in all of the America´s. They were first discovered in the 1970´s, and what is interesting about the Cerro Blanco site is that the holes were made into what is known as living rock, rather than loose rock.  In 1992 the Piedras Tacitas were declared a National Historic Monument.



Cerro Huechuraba became known as Cerro Blanco after becoming famous for the white rock used to make various constructions including the original bridge crossing the Mapocho River at Cal y Canto in 1887.  The entrance to the original mine is still visible.

Former entrance to the original mine

Cerro Blanco Today

The space is shared by multiple indigenous groups led by CONACIN (Coordinadora Nacional Indianista), which promotes multicultural coexistence, and Jose Segovia, who is regarded as the overall guardian of the hill. However, the situation today is not that simple. In 2001, the land was loaned to CONACIN and the group worked with the Ministry of Housing on a combined plan to develop the hill, which Segovia has said was abandoned by Serviu.  The various groups continued on their own, setting up sites for Aymara, Mapuche and various others, and for sixteen years they were left alone. Last August, Serviu responded to complaints that originated from inside CONACIN and have no rescinded the agreement, leading to a difficult political situation. The mayor of Recoleta has set up meetings with CONACIN and various other indigenous groups such as CONADI (Corporacion Nacional de Desarrollo Indigena), but this has not been successful; CONACIN have stated that they distrust the intentions of the municipality who are thought to want to develop the area.


Kano Llaitul, who is Mapuche, explains that ¨We want to transform it into a Pillanhuenpul, a sacred hill [for our ceremonies]. As well as that we want to recover our language, Mapundungun … many words have been lost, many Mapuche ceremonies have changed their structure. Now the need to express ourselves in our language has resurfaced.  For example, our people could talk to the birds and the trees, the rivers and the sky. The whole environment has a language and that is Mapundungun.¨


The Arbol Canelo.  Not only does this sacred tree have various healing properties, it is also used to make the ceremonial drum, the kultrun. This tree represents ones connection between the worlds: this world and the magic world beneath us, and its branches reaching up symbolizes the Mapuche four pointed cross which represents peace.
The Aymara flag

CONACIN carries out various activities on the hill that are open to join, including various classes for children, and there is also a machi on site that anyone can visit.  The area has also been planted with various species of native flora and fauna, and at the summit there is a park dedicated to organ donors.



To Find Out More

Visit CONACIN´s official Facebook page here to find out more about their work and the state of the ongoing dispute.  Visit their Instagram page here.

Love learning about the Aymara! Blog coming soon

What The Words Mean

Aldea – village

Machi – Mapuche healer

Toqui – Mapuche chief



How To Get Here

Metro: Cerro Blanco (line 2)

Autumn Giveaway!! (1)

The Santiago List 2017

Santiago – a city that is appearing in magazines and soaring up city polls everywhere. A stable place broken only by strikes, car horns, taxi/Uber strife and the odd delinquent. The restaurant scene is thriving, bursting forth as one of the top food destinations in South America with a growing ethnic scene that can rival overseas capital cities. Here is the list of places to see this year:



Cafe: Wonderland Cafe  (Barrio Lastarria)

Quirky and shabby chic would probably be the best words to describe Wonderland. Located in the best barrio for cafes, this addition deserves a mention just for its Drink Me: dessert and drink in one (chocolate is best). It also serves up a pretty decent brunch, that includes baked beans, sourdough bread and bacon.


Cakes:  Pasteleria Lalaleelu (Ñuñoa)

Yet again, Lalaleelu takes the number one spot for cakes in the city. This tiny, family run establishment thrives, firstly because of its amazing customer service and secondly (its a tie) because of its quality tortas and pasteles that blend fine dining, french pastry techniques and casual. Order the Diablo or the Jeezy Limon.


Casual: Tiramisu (Las Condes)

A few years ago, Tiramisu was the place to go. It´s star has faded a bit since then, but it still remains a good option for those needing something fast, casual, tasty and filling in a nice setting. The pizzas, pastas and breads are all good, as are the desserts, and the service is extremely professional. It is a great option for families and is not expensive.


Ethnic Restaurant: Rico Saigon (Recoleta)

The restaurant doesn´t have the wow factor that its neighbour, Vietnam Discovery, does, but the food wins by leaps and bounds in the taste stakes. This is genuine, home cooked Vietnamese food – in fact you could easily think you are sitting in Mai´s dining room (you are).

Fine Dining Restaurant: 99 Restaurant (Providencia)

This restaurant is winning in every way. It´s been named one of the 25 best restaurants in Latin America and is frequently lauded by the dining out community, though it has yet to become common knowledge. Excellent value, service and food – make your booking before it really reaches its stride.

Food Delivery: La Paloma Saludables (Santiago)

Organic fruit, vegetables, Weleda products, vegan options, and things such as almond flour and coconut oil – all delivered to your door. Friendly service and they have a refrigerated van.

Photo: Agricola Tinajacura

Free Range: Agricola Tinajacura (La Reina)

The physical store is in La Reina, but Tinajacura deliver to all of Santiago. This family run business sells free range eggs and meat from happy chickens, and antibiotic-free lamb.


Home Cooked: South Indian Flavours (Las Condes)

Ingredients brought from India combined with lengthy fermentation techniques and prepared from scratch using the best fresh vegetables and meat from Tinajacura, this is the best option for Indian food, south Indian style, for you to enjoy in your own home.




Romantic: Zully (Barrio Concha y Toro)

Visually, Zully is a restaurant that cannot be beaten, nestled in a sector with the power to transport you back in time. Its steps are laden with rose petals, there are expansive flower arrangements on each table and the themed rooms are dimly lit, quiet and private – perfect for eye gazing. The food is impressive – visibly stunning – and the restaurant frequently has deals.


Touristic: Peumayen (Bellavista)

Peumayen is a beautiful restaurant. The service is amazing, waiters are bilingual and professional and the food … the food is so good. It might not be for everyone given that it combines various indigenous foods and amalgamates them into a fine dining experience (that means ingredients like horse, testicles etc).


Vegan: Vegan Bunker (Ñuñoa)

This place is my go-to for a quick bite to eat that is healthy and cheap – bonus points for being vegan. They always have a filling set menu but the real highlight is the cake display – so good!


Vegetarian: El Huerto (Providencia)/ Quinoa (Vitacura)

This was a difficult toss up. On the one hand, El Huerto has huge portions that are delicious and spread across various cuisines, but it also has average service and a below average seating arrangement. Quinoa, on the other hand, has a relaxed and calm setting with good service and excellent food but the menu is smaller and portions are definitely so.  Varanasi (Vitacura) is another excellent option for vegetarians but it is not strictly veg-only – the menu contains meat, chicken and fish, as well as gluten free and vegan meals.




Bahai Temple (Peñalolen)

Joining temples in India, Australia, Uganda, Germany, Panama, Samoa and North America (among others), this center of religious worship welcomes all creeds and provides a relaxing, tranquil setting to commune with oneself or a higher power. The temple is awe-inspiring, perfect for photographers, but it is also incredibly romantic.


Costanera Center Observation Deck (Las Condes)

A jarring addition to the Santiago skyline, this behemoth skyscraper reaches upward with phallic splendor, providing the most impressive views of the city and leaving the mighty Cerro San Cristobal hill far below. It isn´t cheap to ride up but it takes just two minutes and the vista is worth it, particularly during sunset.


General Cemetery (Recoleta)

This is the oldest cemetery in Chile and one of the biggest in South America, this is a colossal place to lose yourself amongst the tombs of history.  The skeletons contained would fit into 117 football fields and date back 11 generations. Come here to walk or bike, and lost yourself in silence.



Salinas Salt Flats and Reserve

Just outside of Cahuil, near to Bucalemu and Pichelemu, are the salt flats of Salinas. This beautiful setting makes for a pleasant walk, particularly for the bird watchers among you, and can be enjoyed by families. Best combined with the beaches.


La Campana National Park

You can hike, bike, horseride or casually walk to your hearts content in this biosphere reserve, once traversed by Charles Darwin.  This remarkable park is home to a dazzling array of flora and fauna, including the Giant Hummingbird and the majestic Chilean Palm, which is sadly endangered.

Photo: Trish Shaw

Embalse el Yeso (Cajon del Maipo)

The Maipo Canyon is like a detox for the soul – particularly after the city.  One of the best ways to escape it all is to detour to the Embalse el Yeso, a huge reservoir that supplies water to Santiago.  The drive is scenic and you would be hard pressed to find a better spot to experience the mountains.


Casas del Bosque (Casablanca Valley)

This winery has been named the best Chilean Wine Producer at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London for the last two years, and it´s restaurant, Tanino, has been named as one of the best twenty winery restaurants. Aside from the wine (click the link for more information), the winery makes for a lovely day out, perhaps for hiking or bike riding.



The hills are perfect for walkers, art lovers, amateur photographers or those seeking a bit of culture, while the flat city and the port are for those looking to immerse themselves in history. For centuries, Valpo was the most happening place in Chile, port of entry and departure, and throughout the course of time has been plagued by pirates, been a center for the South American slave trade and attracted innumerable artists – all of which have left their mark upon this incredible UNESCO heritage spot.


Where are your favorite spots? Share them in the comments so I can check them out!

Cover Photo: Trish Shaw

A Story of Machismo & Chilean Men

The creative juices haven’t been flowing lately for me.  I actually spent all of last week in bed with a horrific cold that had me shivering and shaking like a praying mantis, which also saw me exclaim that I was dying and that Luis was quite simply the world’s worst boyfriend for expecting me to get up and cook for his family when I was at my worst.


This last, coupled with the fact that Luis went to have some “words” with our neighbour Jose this morning, has got me thinking about what it means to date a Chilean man. On Friday night I babysat until 2am and when I came home found I had misplaced my keys. While waiting for Luis to let me in, Jose appeared in all his drunken glory and slurred his way through the usual greeting spiel that constitutes Chilean small talk. Luis witnessed this and thought Jose had been way too friendly, something which I then made worse by saying “he was so drunk at one point I thought he was going to kiss me!” He didn’t try to and I said this only because he was very touchey and his reactions were slow from being drunk, but Luis took this literally and went to speak with him today. He told me so casually, like he had just gone to buy marrequeta and asked how the weather was.

“So I asked Jose what happened on Friday night,” he began and I felt my insides turn cold.


“I asked him what he was doing on Friday night with you. He didn’t know what to say, just ‘no no no!'”

“Luis what on Earth are you talking about? Nothing happened!”

“Helen you told me he tried to kiss you.”

“No I didn’t I said he was so drunk that he seemed like he was about to!”

“Well I didn’t say anything about that. I just said that I saw him from the window and that he was inappropriate with you.”

Now if you date a Chilean you probably have heard something similar.  There is a chauvenistic thread running through many of the men which sees some labelled as machista. You probably don’t want to say this in response:

“Luis, we are not married and even if we were I am still not your property. I can do whatever I like and if I need your help I will ask for it.  Don’t go causing drama over nothing!”

Luis is actually the least machista man I have met here but jealousy rears its ugly head every now and then. My sister-in-law Berny and I often joke at parties that the only way to get attention from our men is to suddenly begin a conversation with another man, because they will instantly appear. Funnily enough, when we went to Jose’s the other month he offered me a beer. I hate alcohol and drink very rarely, and Luis saved me from social disgrace by saying I wasn’t allowed. Usually I never get offered alcohol at parties but its not considered that polite to decline something when offered (my father-in-law thinks I’m SO odd for always saying no to Chile’s famous wine!).  Jose nearly spat his out when he heard Luis and called him too machista.  However, despite all the advances in the social sphere, Chile still suffers in the field of women’s rights. Femicide is a big issue here and abortion is still illegal, and many girls who have been raped never speak out. This is a nation that, until a few years ago, was a man’s world.  Just take a read of Los Prisoneros “Corazones Rojos” a song so damning against the men that it was years ahead of its time:

Eres ciudadana de segunda clase, sin privilegios y sin honor
Porque yo doy la plata estás forzada
a rendirme honores y seguir mi humor
Búscate un trabajo, estudia algo, la mitad del sueldo y doble labor
Si te quejas allá está la puerta, no estás autorizada para dar opinión”

This song, like all Los Prisoneros songs, is excellent and if you really want to know Chile you should take a listen of their music.

Four years ago, when Luis and I were newly living together, we shared with an acquaintance of Luis’ called Carlos. Carlos was a single man who was stringing along an ex-girlfriend named Viviana. Every time he called she came running, usually to cook him lunch. One time he wasn’t happy with the food that he threw the plate against the wall and it smashed into a thousand pieces. I don’t have any idea what happened with their relationship, but I do know that he owed our neighbours money for drugs and he had to leave so fast from here that he left all his furniture behind.


Emilio has been playing out the front the last few days with the children from next door. One of them, Antony, is a few months younger than him and his mother is the daughter of Luisa, the street’s main matriarch.  She is friendly enough and quite pretty (except for some of her tattoos) but she is the owner of the most awful voice I have ever heard. She is the woman responsible for the awful screeching we’ve heard out front over the last month during the night. They used to live further down the road but were kicked out of their room for causing trouble. Her partner is very flaite and is not that nice – Luis does not like him.  Together that pair cause the majority of the drama where we live and what is unfortunate is that their son Antony is learning from their behaviour all the time. He’s a little peleador and does not play well with other children – as we have been frequently warned – and the other day he took Emilio’s favorite toy he was playing with and then proceeded to hit him over the head with it. The mum did try to get him to share and she did bring Emilio some toys to play with, but while she expressed remorse Jose and his friends laughed and seemed to think that this display of aggression was acceptable. I asked Luis later if Antony’s behaviour would be considered a good characteristic in chorizo culture, and he thought so.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jose’s daughter is the most sweetest, adorable little girl who is as gentle and placid as a fly, so the contrast between the sexes is very pronounced.

I don’t think Luis has caused any lasting damage with Jose – in fact I’m sure that his proactive attitude lends him respect. You have to be assertive here or you won’t last.  Emilio was out the front playing again this afternoon, and what I love is how everyone – even the most unsavoury looking people – will look out for the children and keep them safe. A random guy even stopped to pull out all the stinging nettles around where they were playing!


Recoleta Styles

A short post today to enlighten you on the styling etiquette that normally applies if your young and from my neighborhood:


  1. Long, long hair – as long as possible – that ideally should be straight and bear the remnants of blonde hair dye.
  2. Perfume that will leave a lingering whiff in your wake
  3. Crop top and bare midriff – your weight is of no importance!
  4. Leggings (ideally with knickers shining through)
  5. Another option is patterned leggings
  6. Tennis shoes (because their practical and aesthetically pleasing)
  7. The only form of address should be “o’e”
  8. the world genuinely wants to hear what you want to say … so speak up!


  1. Tennis shoes
  2. sports labels!
  3.  trousers with three side stripes (real Adidas or not – no importa)
  4. baseball cap
  5.  phone
  6. When you walk you should think of lizard so that you slither. This is where the baggy adidas pants will come in handy – you will notice that you can swish about.
  7. Hanging in packs is the way to go, particularly on street corners
  8. The only way to travel is by bus – because no-one expects you to pay!

NOTE: no disprespect was intended by the production of this post 🙂


The Mummy Rules: A Guide to Raising a Child in Santiago

Just moved to Chile? Or maybe you have a child with a Chilean? It can be difficult navigating the cultural millieu of any country, let alone as a new parent. Allow me to assist you by providing this most-excellent list of the Top Ten things you should quickly learn and accept in order to survive in the Chilean Mummy Jungle.

NOTE: This post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek and in no way is attempting to be derogatory about any Chilean customs. These are merely my own experiences. My partner could easily write his own list about my crazy NZ habits, most likely starting with “Helen, you don’t even wear SHOES in New Zealand!”

  1. No matter how hot it is outside, your child is always cold and on the verge of catching a deadly illness. A trip out of the house should always include snow gear.
  2. Any cough or droplet of beautiful snot is a sign of terrible contamination and requires urgent medical attention. You should thus make sure that your first-aid kit is large enough to store a small elephant.
  3. (continued from point 2) 37.5c is already fever. Intervene immediately.
  4. Breastfeeding past age 1? Toughen up your layers Mummy, your going to take a knocking!
  5. Winter is, and always will be, a hellhole of multiplying germs, particularly if you live in Santiago and your child goes to Day Care. You must get out of the city Mama, or suffer the consequences!
  6. Jardin is a requirement as soon as is financially possible. If your child can walk but does not yet attend, your playgroup mummies will think you so very, very odd.
  7. The staple food of you infants diet (according to professionals) should be sugar in the form of processed foods, or the chocolate that strangers kindly offer your child when you are not looking.
  8. The general requirement for girls is long hair, pierced ears and perfume. Boys must never appear “mamite” or “mamon” by showing timidity or an attachment to the mother.
  9. Your child should avoid crying as much as possible.
  10. Allow total strangers to touch, kiss and hug your child. And then remind you that they are cold.


Poblacion La Pincoya

‘Life in Debt’ is an ethnography set in Santiago, Chile by the anthropologist Clara Han. Han uses Political Economy theory to trace the influential trails that were lain down during the years of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) and then furthered by increasing global economic interest in Chile. In my first essay I analysed how these economic and political decisions have become embedded in society over the passing years, along with a brief critique of the limitations of Political Economy theory. The following essay is an elaboration of this criticism, where I will apply two contemporary theoretical approaches to Han’s ethnography in the hope of divulging a larger picture of understanding of the how and why behind today’s socio-cultural constructs. My first approach is ‘multiculturalism’ because the influences at work are not limited to politics and economics – instead there is an array of factors that have arisen due to the shrinking physical and metaphorical borders of nations. The second is ‘feminist anthropology’ due to the fact that Han’s data is thick with gender roles and distinctions that impact upon the societal structure.


It is worth describing in more detail what life is like in La Pincoya, the section of Huechuraba where Han bases her participant-observations. To do this, I draw upon my own experiences in the field. I live in a suburb called Recoleta, which is joined to Huechuraba on its north-east side. I visit Huechuraba regularly because it is the home of my partner Luis’ family, some of whom live in La Pincoya and others who live on its periphery. Huechuraba and Recoleta share many of the same characteristics, and some of these may be evident in other suburbs of Santiago or even cities of the world (Bourgois, 1995: 29). Unlike Recoleta which is uniformly the same, La Pincoya is like an island in the middle of two distinctly wealthier areas: the business sector which is comprised of tall towers, apartment blocks and offices of international businesses, and Pedro Fontova Norte, a leafy residential section with gated and well-kept streets. Both La Pincoya and Recoleta contain ramshackle and badly-constructed houses, roads in ill condition and regular issues with flooding, water quality and electricity. Drugs are prevalent and many streets house dealers who sell cocaine and pasta base, the latter of which is a big problem but is relatively unheard of by those who come from wealthier backgrounds (I have met many people who were oblivious to its existence). Han points out that life in these areas is communal, with interconnectedness across a wider field of relationships, and this is correct (2012: 33). Neighbours can often be seen sitting together on their door steps and talking, or enjoying street parties during national holidays and football matches. The small stores which pepper the streets every few blocks (and sometimes group together in friendly competition) become places of regular social activity for residents (and as a result the service is slow). La Pincoya and Recoleta are generally considered to be poor and dangerous by other people, most notably because of the flaite[1] street culture that is typical of low-income neighbourhoods. This construct was unheard of a generation ago and its roots can be traced back to the economic conditions that Pinochet advanced. Much of Han’s research concerns it, however she does not expand on it much despite it being hugely relevant to a conversation about La Pincoya. The flaite world has many participants and it directly relates to multiculturalism, so it is here that I will begin my new analysis of Han’s data.


The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai stated that anthropology faces a “changing social, territorial and cultural reproduction of group identity. As groups migrate, regroup in new locations, reconstruct their histories and reconfigure (…) ethnography [thus] takes on a slippery, nonlocalized quality” (1996 in Morris, 2015: 1). Actors now found themselves in a world that changed rapidly and, through globalisation, was filled with interaction and exchange (Inda & Rosaldo, 2002 in Morris, 2015: 1). Therefore, anthropology had to evolve to understand culture as something that was constructed and reproduced through unintended actions, both stabilizing and negotiable (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 17-18). Appadurai began by changing anthropological terminology to suit the new requirements. Ethnography became an ‘ethnoscape’ because its link to the word ‘landscape’ evokes connotations of ambiguity (Morris, 2015: 1). The influence of both high and low technologies was recognized as the ‘technoscape’ while ‘finanscape’ followed the hard-to-trace trail of economic capital (Morris, 2015: 1). The effect of these ‘scapes’ is known as ‘deterritorialization’ whereby detachment from location also detached the actor from identity (Morris, 2015: 1). The theorist Ghassan Hage writes that his guiding philosophy as a multiculturalist theorist is “how do humans struggle to make their lives viable (…) understanding people from their point of view” without resorting to any politics (1998 in Morris, 2015: 2).

Hage uses the term ‘passive belonging’ to categorize the way people construct their identities through such things as nation and culture (Morris, 2015: 4). Passive belonging refers to the feeling of belonging to a nation, rather than the idea that the nation is one’s own (Morris, 2015: 4). The word ‘passive’ is interesting here, as it belies the idea of quiet acceptance, or that a person’s voice is not loud enough to be heard by control systems. Its opposite is ‘governmental belonging’ whereby the actor feels entitlement and ownership over the nations (Morris, 2015: 4). Applied to La Pincoya, there are two types of belonging that are visible. Many people belong passively by accepting their position at the lower end of society, and an example of this can be found in Han’s introduction. It is the night of September 11 (the anniversary of the coup d’etat), and residents are waiting for the yearly confrontation with police (2012: 1). Bonfires are ready to be lighted and the streets are lined with people waiting for the arrival of the police so that protests can begin (Han, 2012: 2). However, that year (2005) the police did not come. The general feeling of disappointment permeated the air, as if the protest could not go ahead with the police audience. This is an example of passivity, because the protest did not have meaning unless it was given meaning by the state. The protest was a “performance”, “fear was mixed with a sense of the formulaic”, waiting for the “choreography dance of bullets, tear gas” (Han, 2012: 1-2).

       The Flaites, however, belong in an aggressive way that is akin to governmental belonging. These are people with little regard for rules, who embrace anarchy as their right after years of inflicted wrongs. We get a glimpse of this when during the same September 11 commemoration, “a few youths began to laugh and fire pistols in the air” (Han, 2012: 2). As a result of these two conflicting belonging types, the feeling of deterritorialization is exaggerated, which then forces people to find some way of identifying themselves. Belonging to a low social class or a type of social construct such as the flaite phenomenon, becomes “a mobilizing concept (…) to define their distinctiveness within an increasingly global and globalized world” (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18).

The passive nature of La Pincoya’s residents can be linked to the political, such as the devastating memories left behind after the dictatorship, and the economic, such as the push and pull of capitalism. People are held entrenched within class systems that are a direct result of both, as Han correctly observed, but globalisation, and therefore multiculturalism, had their part to play too. For example, much of Chile’s slang is borrowed from English (“did you catch that?” became “cachai?”) and there are certain elements of flaite culture that can be traced to European culture. For example, the standard dress includes sports labels, running shoes and tracksuits in a similar vein to Britain’s ‘chavs’, whom they also share similar social characteristics with. Further, the term flaite has been linked to the English ‘fly’, which in Spanish is volar, a word that refers to the ‘high’ of drugs, also a common denominator of of flaites and England’s chavs (Han, 2012: 243).

In Hage’s terms, borrowing from other cultures can be viewed as the process of enrichment (in Morris, 2015: 3). To illustrate, Hage gives the example of White Australians who, by placing themselves at the centre of Australian belonging, can “walk around and enrich themselves” with what they want from multicultural offerings (1998 in Morris, 2015: 3). The flaites in La Pincoya operate in a similar way, although against the other classes of Santiago. They want to buy many of the same commodities, such as Kevin’s desire for a car or Senora Flora’s purchase of stereos and televisions. This enrichment through purchasing power reveals the overwhelming presence that capitalism has over the residents of La Pincoya, and this is furthered by what Hage labels as the “Crisis for Hope’ (Morris, 2015: 6). This arises from the effect of globalisation, which places the Western world as a modern, better ‘other’ for many of the residents of La Pincoya (Moore & Sanders, 2006: 18).  “Dreams of social mobility [are] one of the main modes of hoping” Hage writes, and this transfers into “cultural capital” that becomes embodied in identity (2000 in Morris, 2015: 6). Han notes that for the people of La Pincoya, commodities are linked with identities (‘domestic relations’, 2012: 33) or connected to labour capital (‘Kevin and the Car’, 2012: 35), or a driving push towards drugs (‘pasta base’, 2012: 35). Acquiring status through commodities is also evident in uniform purchasing, with things such as clothes (see flaite dress above) or house-related items. Han points out that many of La Pincoya’s residents are in debt to department stores (2012: 31) while burglaries are a fact of life and often attributed to flaite culture. Such examples highlight the fact that multiculturalism, globalisation and political economic approaches are not secular but interconnected, and this connection must be utilised to provide a more detailed ethnoscape of La Pincoya.

Feminist Anthropological Approach

One of the approaches that would be beneficial would be a closer look at domestic dynamics, particularly because Han devotes much attention to men, women and offspring in her ethnography. Previous anthropological accounts have been labelled as considerably ‘androcentric’ or restricted to the gaze of the male anthropologist upon the male actors (Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2012: 4). Han differs because much of her participation-observation occurs with the family matriarch, Senora Flora, and she includes in her gaze the relationships between Senora Flora and her spouse Rodrigo, as well as other couples within the wider family. This is an obvious foray into feminist anthropology because it takes into account how domestic relations can affect things like identity and culture, while also showing that it joins into a discussion of politics and economics in a web of connections.

Women, according to the feminist anthropologist Michelle Rosaldo, have traditionally been based in the home because a good portion of their adult lives is taken up by child rearing, thereby placing women in a domestic sphere more than in any other (1974 in Feminist Anthropology, Morris, 2015: 7). The home, therefore, appears throughout Han’s work because, as the anthropologist Janet Carsten affirms, “Kinship is made in and through houses and houses are the social relations of those who inhabit them” (in Han, 2012: 15). Han writes that the houses are referred to as ‘houses of blood’ because the relations contained within anoint them with extreme importance (2012: 16). Women in their roles as sisters, mothers, daughters and friends, sustain the house to strengthen the relationships not only within but outside the house as well – with neighbours – and the forging of these close bonds helps all the residents to “mitigate the forces of economic precariousness” (Han, 2012: 16). It was close connections such as these that allowed Han to integrate so successfully into what is generally regarded as a tight-knit, untrusting and wary community. In 1999, Han was invited into the poblacion through a meeting with a “feminist activist”, and she then followed a trail of female relationships that ultimately lead her to Senora Flora’s family: “through her daughter I met Ruby, and through Ruby I met Susana (…) they introduced me to their intimate kin, friends and immediate neighbours” (Han, 2012: 16). She was accepted readily because each member before on the trail had trusted her, and this in turn allowed her to become privy to sensitive information. Han engaged in “everyday activities such as helping to sew, looking after children, doing the laundry, learning how to wire a doorbell or rig an electricity meter” (2012: 17). She didn’t just participate with the women, therefore, but with the men also. This is interesting because it allows one to speculate that the sway held by women in the community was strong enough for Han to be accepted by the men.

Henrietta Moore wrote that “feminist anthropology has gone beyond an anthropology of women in many ways” at the very least because by nature it included a whole realm of other strata (Lewin, 2006: 20). We witness this when Han introduces us to Leticia and the possibilities contained within the female role. In Chapter Four Han explain that under the leadership of Salvador Allende (in power before Pinochet), there “advanced a ‘double celebration’ of women’s class militancy and their unique roles as mothers” (2012:132). Some critics have argued that this splits women into restraining categories, and Han writes that, while the advancement of women as mothers and militants is striking, it also highlights the limitations in place by sexuality (2012: 132). Leticia, a woman who was exiled to Argentina in 1987 for being a female militant, and who was separated from her from her children until 1995, is a good case in point (Han, 2012: 129-131). She suffers from what she terms the “neoliberal depression” due to self-inflicted feelings of guilt towards her children, and this sees her “speak in a language that the others do not understand; not even my own children understand me” (Han, 2012: 130). It is thus difficult for Leticia to reconcile her two roles as militant and mother, because she had chosen to take on both the traditionally feminine and the traditionally masculine role at the same time (Han, 2012:132). Han explains that men and women are defined by roles that work together to give life to the “sovereign in different, but conjoined ways” (2012: 133). Men are the figurative heads of the households, while women are pulled towards both state and their husbands (2012: 134). Her role also has the ability to directly affect the male because his role as head of the household is not always fixed, for example he may be prevented “from being a proper head of household by [the giving of] illegitimate children” (2012: 134). Further, while reproduction is considered as the way to be a good citizen for a woman, for a man it is likewise, “the certainty of paternity becomes a crucial aspect of political community” (Han, 2012: 134).

The intimate concerns of Leticia from a mothers perspective allows us to come full circle and tie in with the previous sections. Due to concern with the negative connotations behind La Pincoya life and flaite culture, many mothers are praying for sons who are ‘caseros’ or homebodies, rather than men of the street, or caballeros Han, 2012: 16). A great degree of responsibility is placed upon the mother for how her children – particularly her sons – succeed. Leticia cries, “look at all my children (…) Julieta did not finish high school (…) Johnathan lost everything (…) there is no case to be made [for the little ones] they had to repeat a year in high school” (Han, 2012:136). Rather than place blame upon factors such as public education which is admittedly of low calibre (and is frequently in the press as the subject for protest), or the push and pull power of things such as social pressure and media, Leticia blames herself: “the only thing that unites all the children is the mother, and I say, perhaps, it was I who the cause. I failed” (Han, 2012: 136). These feelings of blame and guilt provide good opportunities for further study into identity constructs, and particularly how it ties into the Chilean views of the education system, thus proving that it is a multi-faceted issue and certainly not limited to gender.


       The above has been my attempt at reworking Han’s data in a way that helps provide a more detailed picture of life in La Pincoya. Rather than approach her work with a radically different theoretical framework that would perhaps downplay the role of political economy, I have endeavoured to instead place further rungs on the metaphorical ladder, in the hope of bringing us closer to the top. It would be impossible to ignore the importance that the political and economical have had on the formation of the superstructure, but likewise the consideration of other impacts is necessary. Multiculturalism and globalisation have been directly involved in the construction of identity, particularly for their role in the making of a new construct, flaite street culture. Further, this also relates to the political and economic landscapes in a way that can only be described as interconnected. Feminist anthropology, on the other hand, takes us into the home rather than the street, by helping us to know the inhabitants of La Pincoya and the domestic relations within. This is not a world separated from the state, however. Instead, it impinges in “multiple ways (…) layered into people’s lives” as the case of Leticia highlights (Han, 2012:17). Therefore, these two new theoretical approaches have only served to strengthen the bonds between capitalism and those structures which influence identity, culture, tradition and memory. I close here with the affirmation that ‘Life in Debt’ is an exhaustive treasure chest of anthropological insight, it’s only limitation being the same one that confronts all anthropologists, namely, how can one seek an answer to a question when it is hopelessly intertwined with a score of others?


Word Count (inclusive of titles and references): 3239


Bourgois, Phillippe (1995). “From Jibaro to Crack Dealer: Confronting the Restructuring          of Capitalism in El Barrio”. In Jayne Schneider and Rayna Rapp (eds), Articulating Hidden Histories: Exploring the Influence of Eric R. Wolf. Berkeley: University of    California Press, pp. 125-141

Han, Clara (2012). Life in Debt: Times of Care and Violence in Neoliberal Chile.           University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Lewin, E (ed). (2006). Feminist Anthropology pp 1-38. .Malden MA: Blackwell.

Moore, Henrietta L and Todd Sanders (2006). Anthropology in Theory: Issues in           Epistemology. Maiden MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp 1-21.

Morris, Carolyn (2015). “Lecture 11: Multicultralism-Hage”. “Lecture 12: Feminist       Anthropology. In 146.213 Anthropological Enquiry. School of Humanities and        Social Sciences. Massey University, Palmerston        North: extramural.

Wolf, Eric R (1982). Introduction. Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley:   University of California Press, pp. 3-23.


[1] Flaite is not a self-identified term. It is the general term attributed by the residential majority however it often has negative connotations due to its association with drugs and crime. They refer to themselves as chorizos however this is little-used by outside actors. Due to the fact that flaite is the majority-used definition and given that the negative connotations are a necessary part of the identifiable construct, I will continue use the term.

Essay: A Chilean Birthday

It was difficult for me to decide on a ritual to observe here in Chile given that there are so many religious or secular options from which to choose. In the end I chose to closely observe my son’s first birthday party celebration. I am in the advantageous position of being in a relationship with a Chilean man, which has meant that I am lucky enough to be intimately acquainted with Chile´s foreign customs and rituals, all of which were adhered to at the birthday party. The following is my observation as a participant, focusing on numerous aspects such as colors and symbols, in addition to an analysis of their wider cultural significance. I have also included how aspects of the New Zealand culture were included and received, as well as touching on the elements of Dieciocho which were also present.

The party was held in Emiliano Zapata in the Santiago suburb of Recoleta at the beginning of Fiestas Patrias (national celebration-see below). Recoleta is a working class area that is notable for its growing immigrant population, namely from Palestine, China and Peru. It is best known for the cheap shopping district of Patronato, which includes the La Vega central market, and the national cementary. It is a gritty, dusty area with few trees or grassy areas, but does have a large population of street dogs. In wider Santiago, Recoleta is located to the north, above the colonial centre with the Plaza de Armas, while to the east are the more affluent sectors. In these areas, one passes through what is affectionately named ‘Sanhatten’ because of its skyscrapers and shopping malls. The more east of the city one travels, the wealthier the people become, and there are gated communities and mansions. There exists in Santiago a high regard for hertiage: the wealthier inhabitants pride themselves on their German or Spanish ancestry to the point where a ‘classist’ attitude has evolved. Recoleta, which was traditionally an indigenous area, is generally regarded as a poor suburb. The houses on Emiliano Zapata are a mix of bungalows and apartment blocks, with barred windows, high gates, barbed wire and guard dogs. When I first arrived in Recoleta, I noticed only the smell and the broken footpaths and potholes, but after some time here I see the efforts the locals go to, to show their originality. Many paint their houses bright colours, or paint regularly to maintain its condition. Others plant cactus or palm trees in the arid ground at the front of their doors. Each morning I look out my window and see a lady sweep the footpath near her house. Furthermore, the houses generally give very little away on the outside as to what lies inside, I have observed many a central courtyard and quite sprawling interiors. To describe the house at which the party was located, it is a two-storey building painted brown with no front door, only a black gate. There is no way to contact the inside except by calling or banging on the gate. On the ground floor is a store selling cleaning products that rents the space, and out the back there is a large yard that is also rented out as car parking spaces for people staying in the opposite flats. Upstairs is our open-plan, two bedroom home that also has a small patio. Directly ahead from here is a very large hill that is green when not obscured by smog, to the right are flats and to the left are a number of houses on the same property, shared by families living together. Our house is located several metres from an intersection that has several general stores and a newly opened Chinese takeaway.

The party was held because my son Emilio was turning one. As a mother, I wanted to have a party to celebrate Emilio being with us. I also wanted to enjoy the company of friends as it was only a year ago that I had to experience giving birth. It was also a great opportunity to invite alot of other babies over at the same time to meet Emilio. Therefore for me, the party was a way to bring everyone together and to socialize. My partner was a little hesitant about the demands upon him as a host (see below). However, his mother convinced him that the first birthday was an important time, for Emilio but also for the adults to take the time to enjoy him. This is understandable from either a Chilean or New Zealand cultural standpoint, but in our case especially so given that Emilio spent his first nine months with only me in New Zealand. Regardless, birthday parties are celebrated because the sociable nature of human beings means that additional meanings are placed upon the biological process of growth (Davies, 1994: 1). However, from a further anthropological standpoint, it is possible to consider my mother-in law’s eagerness for a celebration as a way to “reduce the fears that often come when life’s events threaten their security and sense of well-being”, due most likely to Emilio’s particularly international upbringing (Moro & Myers, 2010: 83). Typically in Chile, a birthday party includes a light evening meal called once that is often held around eight, however I was reluctant to prepare food given the differences in cooking between New Zealand and Chile. Here, women are trained from a young age to prepare traditional meals that are rarely deviated from, and as such, the standards are high. I did not learn to cook until I left home, and certainly not Chilean food, hence my aversion to cooking for a number of people. Therefore, four in the afternoon was chosen as it made a suitable compromise.

We invited an American friend of mine and her Chilean boyfriend, the (separated) parents of my partner Luis, Luis’ older brother and his wife, Luis’ younger brother, a friend and his family, another friend and his family, a friend from university and a neighbour and their little girl. In total there were twelve adults, two children, one toddler and four babies around the age of one. Two of these babies are the offspring of two of Luis’ best friends, Andre and Felipe. Luis, Andre and Felipe were born and raised on the same street in Recoleta called Victor Cuccuini, and have been close friends since a young age. Together they have shared all the big moments in life, and along with several other people, have a group nickname, ‘Toxicuccuini’. Their three children, all around the same age, have been labeled ‘los bebes cuccuinis’ and are frequently banded together. This relationship echoes the process coined by Victor Turner known as communitas, whereby by moving through similar life phases together, these three boys “brings about a sense of community and camaraderi … [with] close bonds and will usually remain close friends throughout their lives” (Stern, 2011: 89). Today, most of the members of the Toxicocuccuini group of friends still live on Victor Cuccuini.

As a secular not religious ritual, a birthday celebration is a curious thing. While there are no rigid rules to adhere to, most certainly they contain the “fundamental beliefs, values, and social foundations of a group” (Mono & Myers, 2010: 83). The process is circular: a birthday is a rite of passage, which is an ideological ritual that dictates ones place in society, of whose place is determined by both society and rite of passage (Mono & Myers, 2010: 84). In the case of this particular birthday party, there was certainly an undercurrent of battle between the cultural forces of Chile and New Zealand, both of which were trying to make their mark. Symbolically, a birthday is an important time in one’s journey through life, however the very first birthday appears to cement the future of the child as it marks a stable condition that is recognizable by ones culture (Turner, 1967: 94). In other words, the rite of passage is a transitory period whereby one has “shed their previous identification and place in society but have yet to take on the mantle of their new status” (Stern, 2011: 89). In the case of this birthday party, Emilio lost his status as a baby the moment the party began and instead entered into one of liminality (Stern, 2011: 89). Of the features identified by Victor Turner as most often present, I can confirm that there was evidence of a transitory state, absence of property as well as the strong camaraderie of a communita and the inference of a sacred-like attitude towards Emilio (Stein, 2011: 90).

To detail the order of events, the party began with the first arrival of guests around four (the American). The Chilean family members arrived at five, and I was told that “they came especially early as they know foreigners are punctual.” The friends of Luis arrived around six. Upon arrival, each person greeted with a kiss and a hug, asked how the other person was and presented a gift to myself. All the gifts were placed under the table as there was little other space to place them. Everyone took a seat around the living area and the babies were placed upon the floor, mostly watched by Felipe and Luis’ parents. The mothers mostly talked amongst themselves, and several of the men went outside onto the patio. The older children, Martin and Ignacio, played often out on the patio as well, and I remember that it was an unusually hot day. Inside, refreshments were provided over two tables. On the first table there was a very large cake modelled upon the children’s story book “Dear Zoo”. It had two levels, was yellow and had animal figures made out of the icing. On the cake was the name ‘Emilio’ and underneath on the cake board was the words, “Feliz 1st Cumple.” This cake received much attention throughout the afternoon with many of the children unable to believe that the animals were edible. Also on the table were mini cupcakes with blue icing, biscuits in the shape of Trucks with the number 1, sandwiches, a potato salad, cut up strawberries and pineapples, and muesli bars. Above the table were two birthday cards pinned to the wall, some balloons and an owl bunting with the letters of Emilio’s name. On the adjacent table were serviettes with Feliz Cumpleanos written on them, plastic spoons, plastic cups, straws and paper plates, along with bottles of Coke, water, beer and homemade Strawberry juice. I observed that the guests were reluctant to help themselves at the tables, and remained seated until all the guests had arrived. Luis then proceeded to take each plate around the room offering to each of the seated guests. He said that this was normal custom in Chile and that it is not normal to ‘help yourself.’ As a host, his job was to ensure that each guest had plenty to eat and drink, and as a result, barely sat down. Myself, as the other host, felt quite uncomfortable with this. Of the food, the cupcakes were eaten rapidly and so were strawberries dipped in chocolate.

In terms of symbols, there were two strands at work. As we have seen above, there were balloons, cards and a bunting with the infants name. There was also music played with both English and Spanish songs. However, it is important to mention that there were decorations in the house independent of the birthday. Dieciocho is a national holiday marking Chile’s independence, and is celebrated as a week of parties known as Fiestas Patrias (patriotic parties). During this time, each house is legally obligated to fly a Chilean flag outside their home, symbolizing that they are a nation together. However, this time is typically a joyful time for Chilean families, who enjoy trips to fondas (fairs), watch military performances such as aerial shows, eat asados (barbeques food) and dance the national dance, the cueca, while wearing traditional dress. Throughout the week, houses are decorated in the colours of the flag: red, blue and white. At the party, there were garlands and wreaths in these colours across several walls. There were also traditional cueca songs played that attracted cheers and clapping. Therefore, the attitude during the celebration was considerably patriotic.

The afternoon was spent talking amongst each other, however people stayed generally in specific groupings, with the men and women separate. Conversation revolved around the children and also the house (it had been newly decorated). The outside area was very popular. Around seven, it was time for the cake. Everyone came inside, and the door was closed, lights off. The cake remained on the table as it was heavy and a candle in the shape of a number one was lit on the top. Luis stood next to me and I held Emilio, while everyone else were around us. ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung in Spanish: “cumpleanos feliz/deseamos a ti/feliz cumpleanos Emilio/que los cumplas feliz/” which is literally translated as “happy birthday/we desire for you/happy birthday Emilio/have a happy birthday”. It was sung loudly and there was much clapping and cheering at the end. The cutting of the cake marked Emilio’s entry into the liminal stage, of “transition or marginality. The individual is neither one thing or another, but ‘betwixt and between’” (Bowie, 2006: 149). After a slice of cake was eaten, we began opening the presents. This act represented the postliminal, representing Emilio’s successful pass through liminality into a new state as a one year old (Bowie, 2006: 149). What I note as striking is that in the preliminal state, Emilio played happily with everybody but during the liminal he was held closely by his parents, specifically his mother. During the opening of the presents he was again held but this time by his father. At the conclusion of the present opening, Emilio crawled away himself and spent the rest of the evening with the older children of Luis’ friends. This is notable because these actions appear as partnered to the symbolism of the rite of passage. When Emilio had completed his part in the ceremony, he was independent enough to move away as an individual who had been “reintegrated into society, but in a transformed state” (Bowie, 2006: 149). The presents themselves were particularly extravagant, consisting of a swing, toys, clothing and sports items. Everyone watched the opening of the presents with heightened anticipation, there was clapping and the whole process was filmed (rather than just photos, which were taken throughout). This rapt attention is fitting given it was the last stage of Emilio’s rite of passage.

After this stage had been completed, several people left. The immediate family stayed and partook in once. This is a custom unique to Chile and has ambiguous roots. One legend says a long time ago, eleven ladies used to clandestinely get together to drink alcohol and their code word for organising was ‘once’. Today, it does not involve eleven ladies or alcohol and instead is similar to breakfast but taken in the evening. In Chile, breakfast is typically light while lunch (at two in the afternoon) is the main meal, however as more and more families are apart during the day, once has gained more importance as important family time. Usually, freshly baked bread (preservative free) called marrequetas are served warm with ham, cheese and sometimes either stuffed tomatoes or avocado. Mashed up avocado with lemon and lots of salt almost always accompanies once, along with a spicty tomato mix called pebre. However, on the night of Emilio’s birthday we ate empanadas that were made in next doors garage. Empanadas can be fried or baked in the oven depending on what kind of filling they have, and we had either prawn and cheese, cheese or meat fillings. This was the culmination of the evening, as we all sat together and reminisced about the afternoon. Emilio was getting irritable at this point and was ready for bed, which appeared to dampen the spirits of the grandfather who could not fathom the baby being tired. At the conclusion of the meal, goodbyes were made along with the obligatory goodbye cheek kiss.

In terms of the broader socio-cultural significance, the first birthday celebration in Chile is equal to the Catholic baptism ceremony and is usually performed around the same time. The celebration has meaning for the adults as it is akin to ones affirmation within a family. In this case, Emilio’s birthday was a special one as his Chilean family were not present through his early life. It was especially significant to his grandmother, Viviana, who admitted that she was so emotional about finally having a grandchild. In South America, mothers are highly regarded and particularly close with their children. It is usual to live with ones parents until marriage, and then to live nearby and visit regularly. The birthday party provided an ideal time for bonding as the parents were busy hosting and attempting to socialize without needing to constantly attend to their child. This was especially obvious after the present opening ceremony when Emilio wandered off with a sense of new independence. Furthermore, this new stage appeared to have a dramatic effect upon Emilio, who finished the night by standing alone for the first time in his life.

Humans, when encountering danger, always respond uniquely, particularly through the use of symbols which include everything from pictograms to language. (Stein, 2011: 56). The symbols used during the party represented the slight power struggle between the New Zealand and Chilean cultures that were vying for equal footing. Spanish was only spoken, the majority of the guests were Chilean, the birthday song that marked the liminal period was sung only in Spanish despite English-speakers being present, and there were considerable displays of patriotic behaviour. In my opinion, the Chilean influence was certainly strongest, perhaps encouraged by the fact that many of the decorations were presented in Chilean colours. This then evoked a patriotic attitude because they were arbitrary symbols that provoked a similar agreement and response in the people that had been conditioned to recognise them as such (Stein, 2011: 57). The playing of Spanish music and traditional songs also set the mood of the event (Stein, 2011: 70). In terms of the broader significance of singing Happy Birthday, it is interesting and poignant that music during a rite of passage has its roots in religious ritual, of which it is a key element, as it helps to give birthday celebrations importance (Stein, 2011: 70).

It has now been several days since the conclusion of the birthday party. The sense of communitas is still strong thanks to the constant presence of the internet. Photos have been ‘shared’, ‘liked’ and commented upon along with much reminiscing. Inside the home, the decorations have come down except for the patriotic colours of red, white and blue. As we approach the day of the eighteenth itself, there is a heightened feeling of expectancy in the air. Emilio seems like a different boy, trying to walk and talk only after his rite of passage. It is evident that just as behaviours are learned so too are the meaning of symbols, all of which make an appearance during a first birthday party – from the power of the cake with its symbolic cutting, to the opening of the presents and the cheering that accompanies a national song. As a ritual, the birthday is closely tied to these elements but also to more tangible components such as a family. I observed the celebration as a bonding experience for the wider family unit (including friends formed during previous communitas) that also allowed the parents to spend time away from their child. The child himself responded to this with delight and embraced a strong sense of independence after the postliminal period had concluded.



Bowie, Fiona. The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 138-         173. 2006.

Davies, Douglas. Rites of Passage. Edited by Jean Holm with John Bowker. London and           New York: Pinter, pp.1-9. 1994.

Mono, Pamela and James Myers. Magic, Witchcraft and Religion: A reader in the Anthropology of Religion. 2010. New York: Mc Grow-Hill, pp.83-86.

Stein, Rebecca L. and Philip L. The Anthropology of Religion, Magic and Witchcraft.       New Jersey: Pearson. 2011.

Turner, Victor. The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, pp. 83-       111. 1967.

The Milk Chain

Following the Milk Chain in Chile

The first thing I noticed about Chilewhen I moved here in 2012 was the absence of fresh milk, and I was not the only one. This topic is laboriously moaned about by expatriates new and old, who are confounded not only by the overwhelming presence of long-life milk (a treatment of ultra high processing known as UHT) but also by the general indifference of the Chilean populace. At some point in the last few decades, UHT milk has become irreversibly part of the stereotypical Chilean diet. When I began working on this essay and asking questions, I received countless different answers as to why the fresh milk had been withdrawn. Digging deeper, I found that there was no single reason. Instead, I have found that the relationship between corporate Chile and the national diet to be unavoidably connected. What anthropologists’ label ‘the Second Food Regime’ has resulted in a nation that has industrialized, homogenized and manufactured not only milk but all dairy products to the point whereby small producers are excluded (Friedmann & McMichael 1989: 106). I have attempted here to trace the chain of milk from its initial production on farms to its point of sale in supermarkets until it is bought by the average Chilean consumer.

To begin, let us understand what treatment processes can be used on milk. The International Dairy Federation (Harding 1995: 114) advises that all raw milk be pasteurised in order to minimize “possible health hazards arising from pathogenic microorganisms associated with milk by heat treatment (…) with minimal chemical, physical and organoleptic change to the product.”   The reason for this process is because raw milk is an ideal ground for the growth of microorganisms, some of which may be harmful such as Salmonella, Listeria and Tuburculosis (Harding 1995: 115). Pasteurised milk undergoes heating at a certain temperature to destroy pathogenic microorganisms, as well as ones that can spoil the taste, and thus its durability (Harding 1995: 115). Thermoduric bacteria is not affected by this process and needs to be removed via microfiltration, which also increases its shelf time (Harding 1995: 115). Sterilized milk is a further form of processing, most often used in hotter countries, however the “Maillard reaction’ spoils its colour and taste, as well as its vitamin content (Harding 1995: 115). UHT is considered by many to be the ideal treatment: it’s safer than raw milk, has a longer shelf life than pasteurised milk, and tastes better than sterilised milk. Processing plants use a closed system to heat the milk between 135-150C for 1-4 seconds, achieved in a continuous flow rather than by batches (Harding 1995: 116). It is preheated, sterilised, homogenised (the mixing of cream and milk together), cooled and then filled into sterile containers (Harding 1995: 116). With the pros, there are cons, however. All forms of treatment involving heat for periods of time causes a chemical reaction on some scale, and during UHT ‘heat denaturation’ occurs (Harding 1995: 116). This means that the temperature causes the protein to move away from their original chain or globular shape (Milk Facts 2014).   “Post-Pasturization Contamination’ (PPT) may also occur between processing and packaging, therefore strict monitoring, testing and sterilising is necessary (Harding 1995: 118). Gram-negative bacteria are very microscopic but can rapidly grow and develop into listeria, however there currently exists no testing that can effectively measure things of their size (Harding 1995: 118). This means that contamination and therefore illness is still possible with UHT milk.

To turn now to the situation in Chile, Marta Jimenez grew up in the 1940’s and remembers regularly consuming fresh (raw) milk purchased by street sellers direct from the animal. However, she remembers the general feeling of annoyance at the time when sellers began mixing it with water (and not always clean) in order to sell more. Meanwhile, Viviana Saavedra admits that she stopped giving her family regular milk in the 1980’s as prices soared. The consumption of milk generally decreased until boxed milk began to be sold everywhere from markets to street stores. The people little noticed this change, however, given that milk was not an important factor in their cooking or in their beverages (tea is always drunk without milk for example).

In the present, a paradox certainly exists. Street markets are still held daily where many families purchase their fruit and vegetables, and on every street in the cities one can find a general store selling everything from one slice of cheese to freshly baked bread. Often, sellers will purchase their items either direct from the manufacturer, or from other vendors to sell on – as is the case for the multitude of stall holders in ‘La Vega’, Santiago’s grand central market. However, supermarkets can be found in every suburb in every area of Chile and are a mega industry, despite the first one opening in 1995 (Wikipedia 2014). Business ChileMagazine reveals that there are more supermarkets per capita in Chile than anywhere else in the Americas, with sales reaching US$10 million a year – although interestingly, only 62% of all food sales come via supermarkets (Dowling 2008). The rise of the supermarket has resulted in a change in the general eating habits. A study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Albala et al. 2008:1) explains that the Chilean diet changed at a much faster rate than in other developing countries, due to rapid modernization and overall improved living conditions. The study furthers that the ‘nutrition transition’ resulted in a high-energy, nutrient-poor diet consisting of a marked increase in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (Albala et al. 2008: 1). In actual fact, sugar-sweetened beverages are among the top three items most bought today by Chilean families (Albala et al, 2008: 1). Overall, the stable condition of the economy has increased the potential buying power of the populace, in turn attracting the attention of large companies. Of the supermarkets, there are several groups: Cencosud (owns Jumbo, Santa Isabel), Falabella (Tottus) and the SMU Group, which owns Unimarc (Dowling 2008). Walmart Chile purchased D&S in 2009, which runs the leading Lider, Ekono and Bodega Acuenta discount stores (Walmart 2014).

Milk is sourced on farms such as Fundo Cantarrana in the south of Chile which processes some million litres of milk each year (Fundo Cantarrana 2014). It is then bought by either of the two leading distributors of dairy goods: Nestle Chile and Fonterra (New Zealand). Nestle trades directly with some 1, 200 milk producers while also supplying technical assistance and training in order to better their milk products (Nestle 2012). This includes pressure on the Chilean government to change health and safety standards, whose policies enable the fusion of agribusiness input/output, manufacturing/processing firms to enhance corporate capital (Burch & Lawrence 2005: 11). Nestle Chile itself is part of the wider Nestle Group, which in turn has a substantial profit margin: in 2011, the Nestle Group took in some US$90 billion (Nestle 2012). Some of the milk products Nestle Chile then sells on to supermarkets include infant formula, cream, manjar (sweetened milk spread), condensed milk, powdered milk, evaporated milk and ‘light’ options. Similarly, Fonterra operates in Chile through subsidiary companies notably Soprole. Soprole is Fonterra’s longest running offshore investment (twenty years) and in 2008. Fonterra increased their shareholding to 99.4 percent in order to “further develop Chile as source of fresh dairy” (Fonterra 2014). The result is that by placing themselves in between product and consumer, and enforcing specific requirements, Fonterra and Nestle share the title of being monopsonistic (Friedberg 1995: 20). Furthermore, as the market for milk grows more and more concentrated, farmers are forced to sell to a limited number of companies (Burch & Lawrence 2005: 1). This relationship thus excludes other (specifically smaller) producers who cannot compete (Friedmann & McMichael 1989: 106).

The question remains: why no fresh milk? According to some, the reason is due to the health scare of the 1970’s, when cheap milk powder was imported from Europe that was contaminated. Mistrust of milk (and a fear of the government resulting in ‘turning a blind eye’) has contributed to the rise of the UHT products. Others, such as a spokesperson for Nestle Chile, explained that it is because many people in Chile are without refrigerators. Flaherty Wines explains it thus: “The use of this process [UHT] is ubiquitous in the Chilean dairy industry because the chain of refrigeration is not reliable. The large dairies generally purchase milk from small independent producers, so the milk may not be properly refrigerated before it reaches the main dairy. Not all retail outlets have reliable refrigeration. Finally, not all households have a refrigerator” (2010). It is true that the nature of the country’s geography makes transportation of anything challenging. In the north exists the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, while in the south conditions are freezing and even inhospitable, such as in Patagonia. Furthermore, the extreme south of Chile is broken up by the sea making transportation even more difficult.

However, it is evident that Chile’s predilection for manufactured goods has meant that this is an extremely lucrative business. Within the realm of processed milk exists opportunity for expansion. Demand is steadily rising for fat-free and low-calorie options, which is being readily provided by the manufacturers. In fact, Euromonitor International has labelled this as the leading area for investment in Chile (2014). Proof of this is evident by the large-scale injection of funds by companies. For example, in 2012 more than US$140 million was poured into a new Nestle factory in Osorno that would “produce a range of milk products and ingredients with added nutritional value for domestic consumption and for export to the United States, Central America, the Middle East and Asia” (Nestle 2012). This factory can manufacture some 30, 000 tonnes of milk powder and is considered one of the most technologically advanced plants in the world (Nestle 2012). Nestle Chief Executive Officer Paul Bulcke explains that Nestle continually invests in Chile due to their increasing confidence in the Chilean market, with the desire to create products that can be used at every stage of their lives” (Nestle 2012).

The power held by this sector is known as ‘financialisation’, whereby “private capital markets have become a major source of influence and control over the (…) food system” (Burch & Lawrence 2009: 268). The general fear of mercantilism – of a static market – prompts the drive for increasing profitability (Mintz 1995: 162). For this reason, businesses are looking to expand their opportunities more and more. For example, Claudio Hohman of Cencosud admits that “We’re developing different formats to adapt better to the needs of different market segments,” something which could be beneficial if companies wanted to expand (Dowling 2008). Professor Claudio Pizarro of the University of Chile explains that “There’s a window during which no one is looking hard at Latin America… there are huge opportunities for Chilean firms in Peru, Colombia and Brazil.” (Dowling 2008). Peru is looking especially promising given that it has lower supermarket penetration. UHT milk, with its easy transportability and long shelf life, would suit not only exportation but also the variety of conditions found in other countries. This striving for constant growth is evident by the 2012 Market Indicator Report issued by the Government of Canada, which reveals “Latin America’s vigorous agriculture and manufacturing sectors were expected to boost the economy, starting in 2011, helping to drive rising levels of disposable income and increasing retail sales. This could encourage the mid-market consumer base to recover its confidence and its taste for luxury” (2012). This same report postulates that the future will see the hypermarkets looking to widen their reach to lower-income customers, most notably in second tier cities with populations of 50, 000 people and lower (2012).

UHT processed products are stringently marketed as having added health benefits, despite mounting evidence otherwise. For example, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention admits that outbreaks of illnesses have been connected with pasteurised milk, which through being treated also has lower nutrients and even missing enzymes (FDC 2014). The effect of these lost enzymes is not yet known, however the FDC maintains that the regular diet in countries such as the United States makes up for what is lacking in the pasteurised milk (2014). However, given that the United States is ranked as the sickest nation in the developed world by a report by the Institute of Medicine this raises some questions (Woolfe & Laudon 2013). In Chile, the World Health Organization explains that rapid nutritional transitions has resulted in a stark change of the nation’s general health (Bambs et al. 2008). It furthers that dietary change has lead to a 32.7% increase in obesity between the years 1960-2000, with approximately 205, 000 morbidly obese in 2003 (Bambs et al. 2008). The “progressive industrialization (…) associated with changes in lifestyle towards unhealthy dietary (…) patterns” has lead to a marked increase in health problems such as hypertension and diabetes (Bambs et al. 2008). It is for this reason that value-added products (such as ‘fat-free’) are growing in demand. However, many of these products contain sugar. An experiment conducted in Chile by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, in order to increase the health of children by getting them to drink milk, only flavoured milk would be drunk (Albala et al. 2008). This sugar-laden beverage resulted in no improvement whatsoever to their health at the end of the experiment (Albala et al. 2008). It is evident, then, that the Outside Meaning lies here with the manufacturing giants such as Nestle, “whose reach and power transcend both individuals and local communities”, at the risk of the nation’s general health (Mintz 1995: 6).

To a business, long-life milk offers easier transportability and easier storage, particularly if they are to be exported worldwide and across varying conditions. Entire aisles in supermarkets can be filled with numerous types of milk that can sit for months. Customers can safely buy and store cartons, stockpiling them in case of a natural disaster, such as the 2010 earthquake which saw entire suburbs become inaccessible. Most tellingly, a nation of individuals traumatised after the years of Pinochet can consume their milk without any fears that may lead them back to their government. However, it also means that Chile is entirely dependent upon the seedy world of corporations and capitalist gain. The result is a rapidly changing diet with varying health disadvantages. Children are growing up in a nation of the increasingly obese while becoming addicted to the very ingredients that make them that way. UHT milk, while perhaps not as at fault as aspartame laden Coca Cola, can be viewed as a symbol of this relationship. The reality this symbol denotes is that food is consumed not as a means to satisfy the hunger and needs of the many, but as a tool to make profits for the few.

The rise of the supermarket, and processed goods.


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