5 (more) Names You´ll Recognize if you Live in Chile

Due to the popularity of the initial 5 Names article, I decided to follow up with a few more recent entries which you are bound to recognize if you spend some time in Chile.  The following are snapshots of cultural icons that have made an important impact upon the country and its national identity.   

Gabriela Mistral  (1889-1957)

Gabriela Mistral was born Lucila de María Godoy Alcayaga in 1889 in Vicuña, a small settlement in the Elqui Valley, and was the daughter of a teacher and dressmaker. She became passionate about encouraging the educational development of children and so became a teacher, becoming first a teaching assistant at the age of 15. Her early poems were born after starting at the Escuela Normal de Preceptoras de La Serena, where she became heavily discouraged by the rigidity of the conservative system.  In 1910 she headed to Santiago to teach at the Escuela de Barranca before passing special exams that led her to traveling different schools across Chile, including to Temuco, where she met Pablo Neruda (and who famously introduced her to Russian literature). Between August 1904 and September 1910, the local press of the La Serena area began publishing her poetry; in 1909 Mistral´s romance with Romerlio Ureta ended when he committed suicide and this affected her so much that she began to write about life and death in a way unique to previous Latin American entries.  Her poems honoring the dead, Sonetos de la muerte (1914), made her particularly famous in Latin America, but it was in 1922 that the collection Desolación [Despair] was published, to great international accolade. Mistral played an important role on the international stage, and was involved in the League of Nations, received multiple honorary degrees, was in cultural societies of various countries (such as the United States), and she taught Spanish Literature at numerous universities outside of Chile.  Mistral was the first Latin American recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1945.

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, in the region of Maule. His father worked for the railway and his mother was a teacher, although she died not long after Neruda was born. He was raised in the southern city of Temuco, and as a youth he met Gabriela Mistral, who was at the time the principal of a secondary school for girls.  In 1920 he began writing for ¨Selva Austral¨, a literary journal, under the pen name Pablo Neruda, a name he chose to honor the Czech poet, Jan Neruda (1834-1891). In 1924 he published his most lauded work, Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada.  In addition to writing, Neruda studied French and Pedagogy at the Universidad de Chile, and between 1927-1935 he traveled to various countries overseeing honorary consulships for the Chilean government. During this time he published a surreal collection of poems, Residencia en la tierra (1933), which elevated him internationally.  In 1950, while he was living in Mexico, he published Canto General, which spoke about the entirety of South America and its people. In 1943 Neruda came back to Chile to live, and in 1945 he joined the Communist Party; in 1947 his protests placed him in sufficient danger that he had to go into hiding until 1949, when he left Chile. His work titled Las Uvas y el Viento (1954) is considered to be a diary of his political activities during his exile.

In 1950, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, awarded ¨for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”.

Violeta Parra (1917-1967)

Violeta Parra is someone that I studied during my university years and someone that I personally admire the work of.  Born in San Carlos near Chillan, Parra began singing with her sister at the age of 17, before being sent to school in Santiago. She married in 1938 and the influence of her husband, Luis Cereceda, led her to becoming involved in the socialist movement of the time. In 1949, she married Luis Arce and toured Argentina with her family playing music in circuses. In 1952 Parra began to compose her own songs based upon traditional folk music, and later started to teach music at various universities around Chile. Her music began to be published which made her very popular, and she met Pablo Neruda, who in 1970 dedicated the poem¨Elegia para Cantar¨ to her. Parra´s popularity grew and she was invited to Poland to participate in an international festival, prompting her to move to Paris to perform in nightclubs. Over the years, Parra lived, traveled and worked in various places, and in 1962 she started a relationship with a flautist from Belgium called Gilbert Favre. In 1965 she returned to live in Chile, set up her own peña (community center for the arts and political activism) in La Reina and suffered through the demise of her relationship with Favre, who moved to Bolivia, prompting the song Run Run Se Fue Pal Norte.

Her most famous song, Gracias a la Vida, was written after her relationship with Favre ended. It was released on her final album, Las Últimas Composiciones (1966), and is considered by many to be a suicide note.  Violeta Parra shot herself in the head in 1967, leaving behind an extensive legacy of not only artwork but art work too, as you can see in the Museo Violeta Parra.

Victor Jara (1932-1973)

Victor Jara was born in Lonquen to a poor family and worked from a young age. He was raised by his mother, who was a self-taught singer, guitar and piano player, after his father left to find work and never returned.  She died when Jara was 15 at which time he began to study accounting and later to become a priest before leaving to enter the military.  After a few years, he began to study theatre which led him to meet Violeta Parra, who inspired him to explore Chilean folk music with the group Cuncumen.  His first album was released in 1966, Canto a lo humano, and by 1970 he was working full-time as a musician.

After visiting Cuba and the Soviet Union in the 1960´s, Jara joined the Communist Party of Chile and began using his music to address the political situation of the time.  He backed Salvador Allende, organized cultural events in support of the Socialist government, and later became a teacher at what is now called the Universidad de Santiago.

On September 11 1973, Allende died during the coup d´etat led by Augusto Pinochet, and Jara sought refuge in the university. The next day he was taken prisoner alongside thousands of other people who were believed to be involved with the left, and held in National Stadium.  Victor Jara was tortured, had his hands broken and told to play the guitar and then shot in the head, his body struck by over 40 bullets.  His body was placed at the entrance to the stadium beside others who had been murdered; civil servants found him and alerted his wife Joan who held a brief secret burial before fleeing the country.  His murderers were eventually charged, some 42 years later.

Jorge Gonzalez (1964 – )

Jorge Gonzalez was the lead vocalist, bassist and song writer of the Chilean band, Los Prisoneros.  The band formed in 1979 in the Santiago suburb of San Miguel, and today are considered as one of Chile´s most influential musical exports in Latin America. The band formed while still in high school and were signed to EMI Records in 1985, and mixed a variety of styles to form New Chilean Pop, a marked difference from the earlier folk-inspired music that was popular. Their songs were controversial to say the least, and criticized everything from societal attitudes (as you can see in the link below) to politics.

The band has broken up and reformed various times; in 1989 band member Claudia Narea found love letters from Gonzalez (who was married) to his wife, and not long after Gonzalez attempted to commit suicide. The band (going through multiple member changes) definitively broke up in 2006, and Gonzalez has rejected and received various offers at a solo career, and formed the now-disbanded Los Updates with his wife in 2006.

More Information

Visit the Museo Violeta Parra to see a collection of her works, including the original manuscript of Gracias a la Vida.

Violeta Para´s former guitar and manuscript

Visit the Museo de la Memoria to learn more about Chile´s dictatorship.

Visit the Museo a Cielo Abierto, which Jorge Gonzalez was involved in and which includes a mural of Los Prisoneros.


If you liked this, have a look at:

20 Things You Didn´t Know About Chile

Chile in Photos

An Introduction to Musica Latina

Paranormal Chile Top 7

10 Common Misconceptions About Chile

The People of Tierra del Fuego


Autumn Giveaway!!

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

Fantastic Food, Fabulous Ferias!

Santiago is the heart of this nation – all foods end up here – and nowhere is this more obvious than the ubiquitous feria, or market.

The feria is my favorite thing to do here in Chile because there is no other place where you can delve right into the culture and discover what it really means  to be a local. They are a lifeforce for the people in the suburbs who use them everyday (except Monday) to stock up on  almost everything they might need, from fruit and vegetables to medicine, fresh fish or clothing. Stallholders begin in the wee hours, receiving deliveries and then setting up their spot for the day, of which aesthetics are key. Effort is put in to ensure their produce looks fresh and better than the neighbor’s offering, with everything from fake grass, realms of hanging garlic to delicious preparations of ceviche (seafood marinated in lemon juice) or pebre (a spicy tomato salsa mix) made to show off their ingredients to the max.

NZD$20 (not including packaged items)

Food plays a key part in Chilean life. The indigenous of both northern and central Chile had a diet rich in potatoes, quinoa and meat from sources such as pudues, alpacas and llamas, well before the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Spanish then brought with them domestic livestock and ingredients that today make up traditional comida chilena, the very best of which is known as comida casera (homemade food).  Many of the dishes are simply prepared, which reflects Chile’s peasant past.  Dishes include the cilantro-heavy cazuela stew or lentejas (lentils),  while the hugely popular Corn Pie (Pastel de Choclo) mixes both meat and chicken. Beans (porotos) are so frequently consumed and traditional that there is a saying – “mas chileno que los porotos!”

Chile is also blessed to have the Humboldt Current drifting past it’s Pacific Ocean coastline, which brings a huge variety of sea dwelling creatures up from Antarctica. All year round you can enjoy seafood in delicious dishes, my favorites of which are Chupe de Jaivas and crab/prawn empanadas.  You know it must be good if it has been immortalized in poetry, which Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda actually did in his Caldillo de Congrio (Kingclip Chowder) poem.

I also find the feria to be a place where you can see real artisans at work, from the man who quickly wraps up the carton of eggs to the elderly gentlemen who will rapidly explain the medicinal or culinary uses of strange ingredients. Remember to shop around for the best prices (cheapest in the centre), watch your belongings, take small change (no big notes!) and use a portable shopper to cart your purchases (not just for nanas!).  Finally, stallholders will give you about a million small plastic bags for your purchases so it can be a good idea to take along a reusable bag or simply place things directly in your trolley – and therefore baffling them all!

Ask the locals where the day’s feria is when you are in the suburbs – they will likely be able to tell you! For a unique Santiago experience head to the bustling La Vega market in Recoleta wbere you can try comida chilena in La Vega Chica, or go for huge portions in the Tirso Molina.

Red: A Short Story

I have always loved to write. It is the only thing I really know how to do, and the only thing that defines me from someone else. My goal with this blog is to one day turn it into a book – the ultimate of ultimates for a nerd like me – and maybe one day be able to provide for my family just by writing words on a page.

Below is a story completely unrelated to Chile, except the fact that I wrote it here. It is a little bit dark, but I hope that it strikes a cord with someone.  Enjoy!

R e d

They say that you always remember your firsts.

I remember the first time I saw my brother Charlie. He was only a few hours old, with matted brown hair and skin that seemed too stretched for his bones. I was scared of him at first until my mother placed him in my arms, and he scrunched up his face with a little sigh. At that moment I knew I was a big sister for life, and my heart melted.

I remember the first time the men came as well. I was eight and standing in the kitchen watching my mother peel potatoes. Suddenly my mother gave a little exclamation and ran out the door. I could hear her speaking angrily with people outside but I was more fascinated by the small droplets of blood she’d left behind in the sink. They swirled around and mixed with the potato skins, seeping deeper and deeper until the bright colours had all but disappeared.

‘Go to your room Jenny,” she told me after, and I was shocked to see how her eyes had changed. My mother always had beautiful eyes – so deep and grey like fairy pools – but I remember how empty they had looked then, and the emptiness scared me. I ran from her, and scooped Charlie up into my arms, and together we hid under my bed with our blankets and pillows stuffed around the edges. There were many strange noises that afternoon, and when my father came home I heard my parents arguing. It wasn’t to be the last time.

I also remember the first time I saw the flowers. Beautiful, they were. I woke up one morning and all the fields around our house were covered in tiny red buds, as though the sky had bled. Charlie and I raced outside, laughing as we picked up handfuls of flowers and threw them in the air. We had a dog then too, named Bilbo. He was jumping around us, barking, bringing us sticks to throw and covering us in slobber. My parents watched us from the house, and I remember that my father put his arm around my mother and for a second they looked almost happy.

Life went on as normal. I went to school and learnt about far-away lands, such as the pyramids of Egypt (my favourite), and about not so far-away places such as the City, and about things I didn’t care about much, such as Money and War. It seemed like all we ever heard about in those days were those three things. Dates came and went. School holidays. My birthday. Then all of a sudden it was Charlie’s sixth birthday and we were so excited because we got to have a party. I created all kinds of games for us to play and helped mum pick out a cake shaped like Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Bakery. I remember this moment because she used a new card to pay for it. It was silver and I watched its reflection bounce off the store windows. Charlie loved that cake, and after he’d blown out all the candles we all went to play outside amongst the red flowers with our cousins. I remember my Uncle Joe talking to my father, all quiet like, when my mother went to the kitchen to bring out the sausage rolls.

“Have they told you what they’re doing yet?” He asked and I could see my father stiffen.

“They would never tell us Joe, but they’re keeping the roof over our heads and food on our table – otherwise we’d be out on the street.”

“Don’t say that – you know that you and your family are always welcome at my house if times get tough.”

“Times are tough for everyone now, aren’t they? But I trust in them and for once things are ok. Plus, if we can’t trust our own government, who can we trust? And the flowers are real pretty, like, the kids love ‘em.”

I remember my Uncle Joe’s sad smile.

“They sure are.” He said, and then my mother was back, laughing with my Auntie Caro. Her eyes were shining – big grey orbs like the moon – and her cheeks were rosy and filled with a hundred smiles.

The scream came from nowhere. I remember it rising up and up; I could almost see it in the air, red and pointed like wire, curling around us all with its jagged edges.

It was Bethany, my eleven year old cousin. She came running up, too upset to form words. She pointed wildly to the hedge that encased the property, her face reddening and bloating like a balloon. Uncle Joe went to the hedge, and emerged a few seconds later with a darkened face and told the children to keep away. I remember his look to my father, and the pure shock I saw there, and then I don’t remember anything else but Charlie’s high-pitched wail, “But Mummy – where is Bilbo???”

The men came a few times after that. The first time Charlie and I stayed upstairs in the fort we’d built out of chairs and sheets. My mother did not read us a story that night.

The second time my parents sent us to stay at Uncle Joe’s. I loved being at his house, it was always so cosy and full of laughter, probably because of all the children. We played Scrabble, watched a movie, even ate McDonalds! It was so different to life at my house, with its creaky floors, empty cupboards and shrieking windows. Even Charlie slept the whole night through, a nice respite from his regular nightly scream.

It was around this time that I came home to find the table filled with wrapped presents. I hold onto this memory tightly, as I remember the look of joy on Charlie’s face. He danced around the table, leaving a trail of coloured paper behind him. The presents were not the only surprise. That night we sat in front of a shiny new fireplace – our faces lit up by its glowing tendrils – and dunked chocolate biscuits into steaming cups of hot cocoa. It was bliss. We always went to bed cosy and warm then after. Uncle Joe and Aunt Caro came over more often then. One time I ran to her with a big bouquet of red flowers that I’d spent hours collecting. The flowers spread all around our house and across all the neighboring fields. What I loved was that every flower seemed different, and the further I went from home the darker and more unusual each flower became. It was almost as if they growing, evolving, mutating with each step that I took.

“Here Auntie, here! I’ve made you a present!” I cried and presented them to her. She took them hesitantly and exchanged a look I didn’t understand with my Uncle.

“Smell them! Aren’t they lovely? I’ve never smelt such lovely flowers in all my life before!” I sang and waited expectantly. She smiled and leant forward to inhale quickly.

“Mmm they certainly are beautiful, Evangeline. Aren’t I so lucky to have a niece like you! Now how about you show me that picture Mum says you’ve been drawing?”

I nodded and led her by the hand to the lounge. But no matter how much we laughed and talked that night, I couldn’t quite shake a feeling of tension. Dad and Joe disappeared many times that night, they sat out on the deck while Dad smoked cigarettes, a habit he had taken up with a passion, much to the chagrin of my mother.   I went to bed before they left, and next morning, when I left for school I saw a bunch of red flowers, tied with a black bow, upside down in the rubbish heap.

The final time that I remember the men coming to our house, my parents were no longer speaking to each other. The atmosphere was thick with tension – if you could slice through the air with a knife it would have shattered into a million pieces. There were two men in black suits – I remember this because I’d never seen a real live person wearing a suit before. They both had sunglasses and briefcases that they had to type a number into to open. They sat at the dining room table with my father, whose face was haggard from losing so much weight, while my mother poured them all cups of tea and ground her teeth. I watched through a tiny crack in the door as my father signed paper after paper, and then shake their hands when they went to leave. The moment the front door closed my mother started crying and I remember her words like it was yesterday .

“Why did this happen to us Jim? How could this happen to good people?” She sobbed, and my father held her so stiffly as though she was made of wood.

“It will be alright Vivian. The scientists will know how to fix this. They will slow down – they will stop – the plants from growing. They won’t hurt anyone anymore, I promise you.” I waited to hear more but at that moment Charlie appeared next to me, with a look of panic because his face was covered in blood. I took him to the bathroom and began to tidy him up, and his voice shook as he told me he was scared.

“Don’t be scared Charlie-bum” I told him, “do you remember the magic ladder song?” He nodded and we began singing it together. We’d made up the song a few years before when the factory had closed, and people had just suddenly become sad.

“Where does the ladder go? To the land of pharaohs. And where do we climb next? To see Tyrannarasauras Rex!” We sang it together, giggling as all the red was wiped off of Charlie’s face. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t a nose bleed, and that it was his eyes and ears that were leaking.


I remember so many firsts. I remember so many lasts. I remember saying goodbye to Charlie. I remember the day the school closed. I remember us driving away, and the last time I ever saw our house. The flowers were stretching everywhere around us, as far as the eye could see, moving in the breeze like an army of red soldiers. It had looked pretty once. Then, as we drove away, they appeared to tower over the car, and the further we went the blacker their colour became.   We travelled for hours – each town emptier and grimmer than the last – until finally we reached the mountains. When the car finally stopped, I got out. All I could see was the view around me. There were colours of every description – the blue of the sea, the bright yellow of the sun, the trees were a million shades of green – it is beautiful to behold. I see a whole new world – and at last, there is no more red.


The People of Tierra del Fuego

Time for a wee history lesson!

Now I am not one who takes the history books at their word. I am sceptical of everyone and everything (hence why I am making my own volunteer organization!) but I have to admit that this does not always apply. I think we can safely say that the indigenous people of many nations had a terrible time, and none more so than the people of Tierra del Fuego, the region in the extreme south of Argentina and Chile.

It is difficult to obtain much information about them – indeed, Chileans don’t really talk about them. So I was happy to see a small section on the numerous groups at The Natural History Museum, in Quinta Normal.


Some Background

Tierra del Fuego is the bottom-most part of Patagonia, the cold, vast expanse that is shared by southern Chile and Argentina. It was inhabited by numerous indigenous groups such as the Ona, Selknam, Qawasgar and the Yagan. The organisation Cultural Survival describes this region as having each year: 80 blizzards, (up to) 5 metres of rain and snowfall and just 20 days of sunshine (1987). There is few fish, no arable land, and the Qawasgar Indians, for example, had no clothes, no musical instruments and only a few stone tools to use.

Today, small numbers of Qawasgar survive and many were brought to the island of Chiloe to work as boat hands (Cultural Survival, 1987). However, Cultural Survival reports that these workers are discriminated against and easily fall prey to alcoholism, which is encouraged by either low wages or by being paid in spirits (Cultural Survival). This prevailing attitude of racism is most likely connected to past ideologies which were noticed in 1853 by the ethnographer Samuel Kirkland Lothrop who wrote that Tierra del Fuego was viewed as a “strange and romantic land, peopled by unmitigated cannibals (…) the very distance of Tierra del Fuego from the places where most of us live is a gap (…) not only geographical, but racial and cultural as well” (210).

When Charles Darwin sailed through this region this gap would be noted down, in “The Voyage of the Beagle”, perhaps the most well known and most pervasive account of this area. Some of his descriptions may appear a little shocking to today’s sensibilities. In a 1833 letter he wrote: “In Tierra del [sic] I first saw bona fide savages; & they are as savage as the most curious person would desire.—A wild man is indeed a miserable animal, but one well worth seeing.”11 He wrote in his account that: “I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilised man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement. … Their skin is of a dirty coppery red colour. … The party altogether closely resembled the devils which come on the stage in plays like Der Freischutz.” (in Grigg, 2009).   Many of his statements were based on second-hand accounts, for example he stated that “The different tribes when at war are cannibals. From the concurrent, but quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr Low [a Scottish sealer], and of Jemmy Button, it is certainly true, that when pressed in winter by hunger, they kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs: the boy, being asked by Mr Low why they did this, answered, “Doggies catch otters, old women no.” (in Grigg, 2009). This was false information but the idea spread like wildfire in the colonised world.


It is beyond sad to me that today nearly all of these original groups are extinct.  Please go here to hear recordings by the last of the Ona/Selk’nam people, Lola Skejpa.

I find it even more shocking when I go to a nightclub in Bellavista that uses images of sacred coming-of-age rituals as their decor, or when I visit museums and have the option of buying mugs and tshirts with these same pictures on.


These are the most popular images that we see of them today, in their traditional gear worn during the HAIN ceremony. In a nutshell, the Hain was a coming-of-age ceremony held by the Selk’nam. The Selk’nam had a fiercely patriarchal society that was re-enforced each year when young men would undergo a terrifying ordeal facing off demons ^. At the end of the ceremony, these ‘demons’ would disrobe and the adolescents would feel shock at the deception. This was then blamed upon the women of the tribe, who are blamed for misfortunes and as deceitful. Their beliefs can be read in more detail here.


The Natural History Museum

10931400_10153006196655097_1479809962739681015_nThe museum itself isn’t anything special but it is worth a trip even if you don’t speak Spanish. It’s one of many museums in Quinta Normal, which in itself is a lovely park to while away a few hours.  It’s also the place where I saw this shocking but evocative display:

10624823_10153006202620097_3787910348521634862_nThere is always some cool shops in front of the park gates. One of them sells lovely natural honey products such as soap.