Chile is a long, narrow country stretching from Atacama Desert to Antarctica, and between Andes Mountains and Pacific Ocean — such varied topography and climes also contributing to a broad cultural variance. Two centuries of colonisation by Catholic Spain — from which the indigenous Mapuche managed to remain independent, an earlier dominance of Incan civilisation, and a 20th century leftist dictatorship have all left their cultural mark.
Chilean culture is often associated with the Andes mountains — but with 4,270 km of coastline, there is also a powerful marine influence. The early Mapuche peoples traded with Polynesians, according to recently discovered anthropological evidence; the seafaring Spanish found it all too tempting to take control of the country. Today, this gives the nation a particular responsibility for environmental concerns including climate change, and the capital of Santiago will host the 25th Convention on Climate [COP25] in December of this year.
The indigenous peoples of Chile, today representing 10% of the country’s total population, is richly diverse. With 9 groups in total, the continuously independent Mapuche by far the largest at 85% of the total, the country established a special commission and protective law in 1993. Discrimination and marginalization remain, however, as they are not recognized by the constitution itself, and the law does not meet international standards.
The Pre-Colombian civilisations of Chile were culturally rich, representing 10 peoples gathered in 3 regions. Early mythologies were animistic, with a shamanic healing tradition of ‘matchitun’ among the Mapuche that exists to today. This early mask, likely shamanic and dated 400BCE – 500CE, is from the Moche people of the north — who also lived in Peru. Incans came much later, their rule brief: 1470s-1530s.
The arts, including street art as seen here, have flourished throughout Chile’s history, from Pre-Colombian era to the present day. Music and dance, literature — especially poetry, and visual arts all share a place of value within the culture, to which film was added in earliest 20th century.
It’s now 46 years since General Pinochet’s dictatorship of Chile began, and he died in 2006 — but the horrors of his US-backed presidency and the destructiveness it inflicted on the society continue to define Chilean culture today. Social conflict and trauma are said to take up to 5 generations to heal — and the impunity of Pinochet and his cronies, despite multiple findings by both Chilean and international courts, has served to keep the wound open — with missing people and unanswered questions even now.
The Pinochet legacy of societal disintegration and human rights violations has contributed to poverty and social ills in Chile even today. In 2014, the nation established a system for social protection — yet some remain on the margins of society. Chile Solidario is one of the more successful programs of social protection today — but even in the capital of Santiago, homelessness remains an issue.