Notes on talk by Pilar Olivares to Cal Berkeley alumni group March 2020

Human Migration to the Americas

Schools used to teach that there was only one sources for human migration to the Americas.  Called the "Clovis Theory", it postulated that only source was via the land bridge across the Bering Strait that opened up toward the end of the Ice Age.  The Clovis Theory meant that all migration would have had to happen during a very narrow window. Recent discoveries have caused people to re-think that hypothesis.   People have been sailing since long before that time, and it is becoming increasingly evident that people must have crossed from Polynesia to South America in addition to the migration via the Bering Strait.

A site in Patagonia called Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt, has been definitively dated to 14,500 years ago.  It was discovered when a wagon became stuck in a creekbed and bones were discovered while they were digging the wagon out of the mud.  Archaeologists determined that the bones belonged to an Ice Age-era mastodon, similar to a wooly mammoth.  Further excavations yielded the remains of a human camp of a group of perhaps 80 people.  Since the area was once a peat bog, there was excellent preservation of organic matter including the rope that was used to tie down the tents, and fossilized remains of wads of herbs that had been chewed and then spit out.  Analysis of the plants that were eaten include those that were not native to the region, which implies trade with  neighboring tribes.

On Chiloé Island, the remains of settlements have been discovered dating back to 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.  All have chicken bones.  Chickens originate in Southeast Asia, and it was thought that they were brought to the Americas by Europeans after Columbus.  Today on Chiloé Island, there are chickens that lay blue and green eggs, which are genetically much closer to Chinese chickens than those found in Europe. The first Europeans to reach Tierra del Fuego reported that the inhabitants were giants, around six feet tall, much taller than the typical European of the time, but normal size for Polynesians.  These are further evidence of a Polynesian immigration to southern Chile. 

Nowadays, in schools, students learn about these two sources of immigration to the America before Columbus - the Bering Straits and Polynesia.

The Mapuche people

The Mapuche chose the name "Mapuche" for themselves when it became necessary for them to distinguish themselves from neighboring tribes.  In their language, the word "Mapu" means "Earth" as in a living organism, sometimes called Gaia.  The word "Che" means "people" or "human".  So the word Mapuche could be translated as "People of the Earth" or "Human that looks after the Earth."  You can see this word "Che" in the names of other tribes that came through the Bering Strait, such as Apache or Comanche.  Their languages are related to each other. 

 The Mapuche displaced the original inhabitants of the area, which were pushed further south into Tierra del Fuego.  The Fuegian language and customs are unrelated to those of the Mapuche.  Their facial features are very different, as can be seen in very old photos.  The Mapuche have Asiatic features like their distant relatives in North America, while the Fuegians look more Polynesian.

The Mapuche flag was designed in the 1950s.  It features a design of a chacana in the middle which is shaped like a cross.  The chacana is a common symbol in Mapuche art and denotes the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.  The Mapuche culture traditionally was matriarchical.  They farmed and fished.  They revered the moon since it serves as a calendar to show when to plant crops.  After the arrival of the Spanish with their metal coins, the Mapuche valued silver more than gold, since silver represented the moon, while gold was for the sun. 

By the time the Spanish arrived, the Mapuche controlled much of what is now called Patagonia.  One of the slides shows Patagonia divided into the Ngulu Mapu (the west coast) and Puel Mapu (the east coast) regions of Mapuche-controlled territory.  The Mapuche were unique in the history of the Americas since they were the only tribe that held the European invaders to a stand-off for centuries over much of its territory.  Much of Mapuche territory stayed independent of the Spanish well into the 1800s due to its isolation.  During the War of Arauco in the 1550s, a Mapuche boy named Leftraru (Latauro in Spanish) was kidnapped by the Spanish at age 10.  While a captive, he learned Spanish, how to fire a gun and how to ride a horse.  He escaped at age 16 and returned to lead his people in war against the Spanish.  He taught the Mapuche successful tactics including guerrilla raids, using horses, and fighting battles only with superior numbers, and only on rainy days when the Spanish matchlock guns wouldn't fire.  There is an equestrian statue in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago of Pedro de Valdivia, who outlived Latauro by only one year. 

Traditionally, Mapuche girls took an adult name when they reached menarche.  At that age, they also got their ears pierced and started wearing silver jewelry such as you see in the slides.  They didn't have buttons, but instead used tupu, which look like a large disk with a pin sticking out of it.  Originally, the tupu pins were only 2-3 inches long, but when the Spanish began marauding, they grew in length and thickness to allow Mapuche to defend themselves by wielding them as a weapon. 

The Spanish outlawed the Mapuche language in the areas they controlled.  Mapuche art contains some symbols or glyphs that represent words, so Mapuche weavers incorporated these symbols and designs into their weaving.  A poncho could tell an entire story with those symbols.  This weaving helped keep the language, myths and legends alive. 

Legends are based on real events that cannot be understood or explained, so a legend arises around them.  For example, the legend of the Earth Snake called TrenTren Vilu fighting the Water Snake called CaiCai Vilu.  (Spellings of these names vary from author to author.  One variation is Threng Threns Vilu and Co Co Vilu).  The Mapuche language shows size by repeating a word.  So Cai means water, and Cai Cai means big water.  According to the legend, the water snake attacked the earth snake with a giant wave, causing a big flood, which resulted in a permanent change to the coastline.  The earth got angry at being attacked.  This is a way for a non-scientific people to explain the cause of a tsunami, and why volcanoes erupt.

Newén is a Mapuche word that can be translated as existence or energy that is contained in all living things.  When something dies, its newén leaves it and transforms into something else.  The newén from a person, for example, might become a tree.  Thus the energy is recycled.  When a traditional Mapuche harvests bark from a tree, it asks for permission from the tree since it might have once been a friend of theirs.  Traditional belief is that physical sickness comes from a disease of the soul.  Traditional healers treat illnesses with herbs and conversation.  It has been show to be effective against chronic pain, which is exacerbated by depression, sadness or anxiety.  The Chilean national health service offers people a choice of modern medicine or traditional doctors who treat a person's newén. 

In years past, Mapuche faced discrimination and many changed their names or tried to change or conceal their facial features.  But now, most Mapuche take pride in their heritage.  There is a revival of the Mapuche language which is taught in some Patagonian schools, and also of traditional arts like weaving.

Chiloé Island

From early Spanish days until the opening of the Panama Canal, Chiloé was an important port for ships to take on water and supplies on their trip around Cape Horn.  It was the closest port to the Straits of Magellan.  It is likely to have been the origin point for potato plants.  Today there are over 300 varieties of potatoes grown on Chiloé Island, and the places of greatest genetic diversity are usually their points of origin.  The International Seed Bank collects and stores varieties of important food crops such as potatoes.  They have traced the DNA of potatoes and say it points toward Chiloé. 

Chiloé Island is famed for its boat building.  Since there is no native metal, boats like the Chiloé sloop traditionally were built using wooden pegs.  They have a big sail and can carry up to 30 tons of cargo.  The bottoms are fairly flat, since they have to rest on the beach or mud bottom when the 42-foot tides go out.  The local newspapers show the tide tables. 

The wood-working technology carried over into building churches.  There is no marble, sandstone or limestone to build churches, so they were traditionally built using wood, including wooden roofs built using shipbuilding techniques.  These churches blend European design with local ingenuity.  The Jesuits used the churches as schools, community centers, medical clinics and farmers markets to attract people inside.  These wooden churches feel much cozier than stone churches.  Many are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

One of the customs of
Chiloé Island is the "minga."  A minga is a community working together to accomplish a task that could not be done by an individual or a family.  Chilote houses are built on short stilts, which makes it easy to move them when a family relocates to a different town or different island.  The family calls a minga, and the neighboring families show up to help disconnect the house from its foundation and move it to its new location, traditionally with teams of oxen.  This builds up a debt which the family will repay in the future by helping out at someone else's minga.

The 1800s in Patagonia

 Bernardo Philippi was a Prussian biologist who lived in Chile during the 1830s and 1840s.  He retraced the steps of Charles Darwin as recounted in Darwin's classic book The Voyage of the Beagle.  He spoke several languages including German, French, and Spanish.  At that time, southern Patagonia was almost depopulated due to disease among the Mapuche.  Newly-independent Chile wants that land, but so did France.  The Chilean government ordered the inhabitants of Chiloé Island to build a ship to sail to the Magellan Strait to claim the land for Chile. The Chilean boat arrived one day before a ship dispatched by the French arrived.  The French started to say a Mass of thanksgiving for a safe arrival and claim the land for France, when Philippi appeared and told them they were too late.  Negotiations ensued, with Chile paying France some money and getting clear title to Patagonia and Easter Island in return. 

The Chilean government hired Philippi and adopted a policy of actively recruiting immigrants to settle Patagonia, to cement their claim to the land and prevent foreign governments from settling it and thus seizing it.  Philippi sent scouts to the Gulf of Corcovado and the area that is now Puerto Montt.  The scouts reported a fertile land with an ample supply of fresh water, timber and good soil.  The Chilean government hired agents and sent them to Europe to recruit immigrants.   People came from Alsace and Lorraine in the west to Russia in the east and everywhere in between.  Although only 4% of these immigrants came from what is now the country of Germany, this wave of immigrants from 1838-1897 were called Germans (Alemanes in Spanish).  The voyage from Europe to Chile generally took three and a half months including going around Cape Horn or through the Straits of Magellan.  The great-grandfather of our lecturer Pilar Olivares was one such immigrant.  He left Leipzig at age 24 since he was a third son in a family of millers and had no prospects if he stayed in Germany.  He built a clock during the voyage which his great-granddaughter still has.  And the clock still works!

Manuel Montt was president of Chile when this migration began.  The town of Puerto Montt is named for him.  Nearby Puerto Varas is named for his minister of the interior.  In the space of only two years, 8300 Catholics and 9700 Lutherans immigrated to the Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt area.  These two populations didn't mix, with each settling into a different neighborhood. 

A road was constructed from Puerto Montt to Puerto Varas, cutting the travel time to only 8 hours via ox cart.  The road took 8 years to build, and is not part of Highway 5, the Trans-America Highway.  The road was difficult to construct since much of the land was marshy.  Sawmills were built to cut up the trees that were removed.  Much of this lumber was exported to elsewhere in Chile or other countries. 

Random thoughts

 Chileans wanted to be thought of as sophisticated, so many gave up the working-class habit of drinking mate and instead took up drinking tea to emulate the British.  That's why in a Chilean supermarket you see much more tea for sale than coffee.

The map on the title page of the PowerPoint presentation was drawn by Alexander von Humboldt, the man for whom the Humboldt Current and Humboldt Penguin are named.  This is the first use on a map of the word Patagonia, which was coined by Darwin and means "big feet."  They gave this name to the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego since they were so tall, and thus had large feet.

Chile has the largest concentration of people of Palestinian origin outside of the Middle East.  The area around the Central Market in Santiago has held successive waves of immigrants.  Many years ago it was mostly Jewish, then Palestinian, and now it is home to many Koreans. 

Chile has many very strong earthquakes and active volcanoes.  In May 22, 1960 a quake measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale hit.  The shaking lasted for several minutes.  There was much destruction.  The quake spawned a tsunami which left salty sediment, rendering much land near the coast unfit for agriculture for 30 years.  These large quakes measuring 8 or more on the Richter scale tend to come in groups of three - one on one side of the Pacific and the other two on the opposite side or in the middle.