No one knows how Chile obtained its name, although it is likely from an indigenous language. The name has no connection with the Spanish word chile and its English cognate, “chili,” which come from Nahuatl, an indigenous Mexican language. Chile boasts an unusual array of geographical features for it’s size. It is only 748,800 square kilometers, yet it is home to one of the driest deserts in the world and some of the most secluded natural landmarks. As it is isolated from the rest of the continent by the Andes Mountains to the east and the aforementioned desert in the north, Chile was primarily shaped by European immigrants who arrived by sea in the Colonial Era.
Chile’s flag has four main features; two horizontal rectangles of red and white, and a blue square with a five-point star centered in it. According to history, red symbolizes the blood of patriots spilled in the struggle for independence from Spain. The white rectangle is to the right (or east) of the blue to signify the snow that blankets the mountain caps of the Andes on Chile’s eastern border. Blue represents the clear sky over the capital, Santiago and the five-pointed star indicates the union of all parts of Chile for one common goal.
As can be deduced by it’s history and traditional affiliation, Chileans (or chilenos) primarily speak Spanish. Interestingly, the Chilean accent tends to leave out the “d” in words. Divertida (fun) becomes “ivertia”. The primary ethnic group is Mestizo, a blend of indigenous peoples and Spanish colonist bloodlines. Nearly 5% of Chilenos are directly decedent of the indigenous tribes, the largest among them known as the Mapuches. Christianity has been fused into Chilean culture ever since Spain claimed the country during Imperialism. Today, many identify themselves as Christians, with the majority of them affiliating with the Catholic denomination.
As any country’s history has books to account, we have singled out five key events contributing to Chile’s political, economical, and geographic development. The Incas played a key role in Chile’s prehispanic history. This principal tribe in South America, originating from Peru, expanded their empire from the North into Chile. At its height, the empire extended from Ecuador to Chile and as far east as Brazil. By the 1450s, they had conquered northern Chile but in the 1500s their warriors had fight against Spanish conquistadores as they sought to colonize the land. The war was bitter, but in 1541 they fell to the newcomers. That same year, Santiago was founded by Pedro de Valdivia. The Spanish colonists flocked to Chile for its rich resources and prospects of gold and other earth-borne minerals. In the 1700s, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered a Polynesian Island far off the coast of Chile, which he dubbed Easter Island. This marked the end of land discoveries pertaining to Chile.
The 1900s were a period of political strife and turmoil. In 1973, General Augusto Pinchet led a military coup. As a brutal dictator, he undermined safety and traditional free thought through terror tactics. In the darkest times of the night, his agents would arrest, torture, or simply outright murder victims in order to completely oppress. One of the attacks is believed to have targets Pablo Neruda, a political activist and Nobel Prize winner for his poetic literary merits. But Pinochet’s reign would be brought to an end, but arguably not early enough. Democracy was restored in 1989 with Patricio Aylwin the first elected president after Pinochet’s brutal rule.
Jumping ahead to the twenty-first century, we find events of geological merits. In 2008, the volcano Chaitén erupted which indicated the start of a line of natural disasters that ravaged South America. The volcano spewed lava and ash up to 12 miles into the sky and prompted the evacuation of various settlements and the capital of the province. Only months later, off-shore earthquakes and other natural events started to exact its toll on all of South America.
Similar to many other states in Central and South America, Chile’s primary money system involves the pesos. The current Chilean pesos has been in circulation since 1975, after replacing the escudo or “shield” which was the currency for fifteen years. The Chilean convertible peso’s exchange rate, as of March 2013, is 471.50 CLP to $1 (USD).
Pictured in the photograph are five of the most recent presidents after the restoration of democracy in 1989. The brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet had reigned until this point. From left to right is Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet, Sebastian Piñera, Patricio Aylwin, and Eduardo Frei. President Piñera assumed power in 2010 and still holds office today. In 1989, democracy resumed in Chile with Patricio Aylwin after the military regime.
After the discovery of the elongated country by Ferdinand Magellan, Chile was colonized quickly by Spain for its rich resources. Its many exports include fruits, fish (one particularly popular kind is Lubina), copper, paper, wine, and chemical products. Today, Chile is one of the leading industrial nations in Latin America. In the early 1940s, the government worked to diversify the economy by rapidly expanding the industrial and agricultural sectors. Since the military coup in 1973, the government has played a less prominent role in the economy. Even though the Chilean economy remains with a positive net worth, it still has sectors that rely on exports, especially fuel and energy resources. As the country continues developing, Chile continues to import transportation and telecommunications equipment as well as petroleum, electricity, and natural gas.
An interesting statistic reported as of February 2013, has found that Chile’s employment is setting records as it nears full employment of its citizenry. If taken into context of the rest of the world, it is seen that this is remarkable. Many countries around the globe are suffering from recession, and with it, job loss. Unemployment is hitting record highs as Chile contrasts it on the opposite end of the spectrum. All that said, if you can’t find work, maybe you should move to Chile.
Chile has many famous people whose works have emanated throughout the world. A few notables are Pablo Neruda, Coté de Pablo, and Francesca (sometimes spelled Francisca) Valenzuela among others.
Born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Pablo Neruda adopted the pseudonym in the mid-1920’s. He is known for his poetry that specializes in Odes and themes centered about the sea and other natural wonders. One of his most popular poems is La Oda a la Alcachofa (Ode to the Artichoke), which equates an artichoke to that of an armored warrior being sent to the front lines. In 1971, at 67 years old, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. On February 8th, 2013, a Chilean judge ordered the exhumation of his grave in order to re-investigate his cause of death. It came to the table after a suit filled in 2011 by the Communist Party of Chile that claimed that the true cause of death was not as reported—prostate cancer. It charged that military agents of General Pinochet’s regime murdered him and erased it under the cover of cancer. An investigation is currently in progress to attempt to discover his true cause of death.
Especially in America, Cote de Pablo is well known for her role in the hit show NCIS. The actress was born in Santiago, Chile but raised in Miami, Florida since she was ten. She acquired a BFA in Acting and Musical Theater from Carnegie Melon University in 2000. Coté de Pablo plays Ziva (Hebrew for “Brilliance”), an Israeli born agent in the Naval Criminal Investigation Organization. She became a permanent fixture of the cast after the Season 2 finale. She is currently continuing with her roles in various television series and movies after NCIS launched her into the spotlight.
Francesca Valenzuela is one of many Chilean singers, specializing in upbeat styles and heavily relying on non-electronic instruments. Known for her rock-pop, she pulls from her background with acoustic instruments in many of her songs. Click here if you want a taste of Chilean music.
Festivals and Holidays
As in all cultures, festive days are an important denotation of the values of a society. In Chile, there are boundless holidays that often depend on which city or province that you live in. As such there are far to many to discuss, so we pulled a couple of our favorites out under the spotlight. The first one, La Fiesta de San Sebastian de Yumbel, is a holiday that attracts many foreigners. On January 20th each year, people flock to Yumbel (a relatively small city towards central Chile) to celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Sebastian. Saint Sebastian is a Roman martyr in the Catholic church. As the story goes, he was an esteemed officer in the Roman army, considered so even by pagans, and since then has been known as a champion of the church. When in Rome during 284 A.D., he found twin brothers, Marcus and Marcellinus, imprisoned for faith and encourage them to hold faith and willingly become martyrs. His words and actions were said to have been followed by miracles; the sick were healed of incurable diseases and more.
His disciples that he had gathered were beginning to die under the heavy gauntlet of religious oppression and one came back to tell him that his time was coming to an end. With fervent faith, he continued to labor in Rome to convert more people even though it had become extremely dangerous. He eventually was betrayed by a false disciple and sentenced to be shot with arrows and left to die. It is often said that God raised him up again, but historical evidence has another explanation for his survival: Irene of Rome. She found him and nursed him back to health after the soldiers left him to die. In celebration of his martyrdom, Chileans construct a grand display and have a holy procession through the streets and it is considered a place of pilgrimage to many Christians in Chile.
The second extraordinary holiday is Las Fiestas Patrias, which literally translates to “National Holidays,” but it actually is a single holiday for independence. It consists of military and civilian parades, dances, and food galore. They tradition is quite similar to other independence days around the world with spectacular traditional food and displays of nationalism.
The map to the right shows the districts of Chile in color. Easter Island is also under Chile’s jurisdiction in the Pacific, but it is not pictured on the map as it is more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest population center. Pictured in red is the Pan-American Highway, the longest “motorable road” in the world. Extending 29,800 miles, it cuts through many countries and climates from dense jungle to scorching desert and, therefore, is far from uniform. The Andes Mountains range along the eastern border between Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. Since Chile is a sliver country extending far north and south, it has many different climates. There are hundreds of diverse natural landmarks in each direction.
In the southern tip, Chile boasts the world famous Parque Nacional de Torres del Paine. This national park is known around the world for the marble caves, horns of Patagonia, and crystal waters of Lake General Carrera. The majestic caves, often known as the Marble Cathedral, are a network of nearly 200 miles of under- and partially underwater caves that were carved over thousands of years by the second largest fresh water lake in South America. The park is about 1000 miles south of Santiago and is extremely remote. To travel there, you first must fly to the nearest airport—which is 200 miles to the north of the national park—then take a narrow dirt road the rest of the way to the lake, and from there continue by boat. Even though it is expensive and difficult to travel there, tourist who have managed to make the trip always come back with stories to tell of the majestic peaks of Patagonia and the stunning Marble Cathedral.
Not any less stunning then the peaks of Patagonia is the Atacama Desert in the north. Known as an area for scientific and historical discoveries, the Atacama is the driest place on earth, garnering an average of a quarter inch of rainfall per year. With the lack of humidity, the Atacama is a prime area for scientists and astronomers. It is a site of the one of the world’s largest observatories and NASA has a base for conducting martian rover testing because the terrain is similar to Mar’s. As for historical significance, the desert has provided many prehispanic insights. In February 2013, archeologists discovered six mommies, most dating back to around 400 A.D., but a couple are thought to be more than 2000 years old. Due to the lack of humidity, the mommies are in pristine condition. This is a highly important discovery considering that there are only around 173 verified prehispanic artifacts in the world and many have suffered deterioration. In this area, there are also 80 designated archeology sites for ancient rock art dating from 1500 BC to 1500 AD, such as the Calartoco petroglyphs (900-1500 AD). The desert is considered one of the areas with the highest concentration of artifacts with a rich history because specific, low humidity conditions are required to fossilize and preserve. Thus, much of the rest of South America has fewer preserved artifacts due to rainforest and swampy conditions that stretch over most of the land.
One landmark that is shrouded in mystery and myth is to Chile’s west: La Isla Pascua, Spanish for the island commonly known around the world as Easter Island. Its most famous trait is the giant totems that loom on its shore. One of the most secluded islands in the world, it remained undiscovered until 1722. When Europeans found the island, it was largely uninhabited and today has a “permanent” population of around 5,000, but 20,000 at its’ peak due to the large flux of tourism and anthropologists.
There are many misconceptions revolving around the statues, but one of the first to be cleared up pertains to the statues. Rather than the few that are pictured in travel guides, there are actually almost 900 that have been found strewn across the island. There is even a central quarry with many half constructed totems, which suggests that these were once produced with assembly line processes.
As for the island’s ecological status, it has long been deforested and now remains with the only tall standing vegetation being tufts of eucalyptus imported from Australia. It is believed that some of the ancient inhabitants cut them all down either for war (perhaps a civil war, legend has it, between the “short-eared” and “long-eared” peoples) or for transportation of their statues to increasingly ambitious areas. The soil consists of red-brick colored mud and clay that spots the green and golden fields. Although it may seem barren, it is far from ecologically unstable even though it is likely that many species that may have inhabited the island have died out due to this extensive deforestation.
For many years, it was believed that the ancient people who inhabited Easter Island were decedents from a line of Peruvians, but now there is sufficient evidence to the contrary. The language of Rapa Nui (which also is the name of the island and the people in the native tongue) or “Rongorongo” has been found in inscriptions. This is the only written language of Oceania suggest that the people actually came from Polynesia and found the island around 400 A.D. Still today, the island remains shrouded in myth as anthropologist dig deeper into the history, some of which we can only guess at.
There are many traditional dishes that reflect Chilean culture, but there are certainly a few that any tourist must try in their lifetime. Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world (Canada actually has the longest) and has an extensive fishing industry, so it would be a shame to not try a dish of seafood. Paila Marina, a traditional dish consisting of fish, shellfish, and shrimp, has a delicate balance to satisfy any seafood lover’s appetite. Any country that someone tours requires a taste of their style barbeque. Churrascos in Chile is an assortment of barbequed meat cooked to perfection. Oftentimes it is served with Pebre, which can be used as a marinade or salsa and is found everywhere in Chile. And what is a taste of a South American country without fried plantains, known as maduros, served with various sauces ranging from garlic and lemon to tomato based? It is common among many of these countries and is a must have treat to go along with the other dishes. For pictures and these recipes, click here.