The Country Wrestles with Questions over Mining and Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
PUBLISHED: THE HILL: Changing America by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor Sept 14, 2020
“I awoke when the ground of dreams gave way
beneath my bed.
A blind column of ash was staggering in the middle
of the night,
I ask you: have I died?
Give me your hand in this rupture of the planet
while the wound of the bruised sky makes stars.
Aye!, but memories, where are they?, where are they?
Why does the earth boil, filling with death?
Oh, masks under curled dwellings, smiles
that fright had not yet reached, beings torn
under the beams, covered by the night.” -Pablo Neruda
“Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe they are fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world. At night, five or six human beings, naked and scarcely protected from the wind and rain of this tempestuous climate, sleep on the wet ground and coiled up like animals. Their country is a broken mass of wild rock, lofty hills and useless forests. Nature, by making habit omnipotent, and its effects hereditary, has fitted Fuegians to the climate and productions of his country.”
An earthquake has indeed taken over Chile and her inimitable landscape that boasts the longest chain of mountains in the world. Her inimitable landscape was formed according to indigenous Mapuche cosmology when Xeg Xeg filu and Kai Kai filu, serpent of land and sea, warred. Xeg Xeg controlled earth and earthquakes. Xeg Xeg helped humans move to higher ground during a tsunami caused by Kai Kai. Kai Kai yelled, causing the ocean to rise and taking all beings with it.
Chile has been in an uproar lately. We were fortunate enough to visit this most elongated of all countries on Earth before Santiago went up in smoke a year ago. Young people led protests by the hundreds, decrying the poverty abounding in Chile, a country Pablo Neruda loved for its majestic snowy peaks in the south, astounding fjord land and the phantasmagoric volcanic red desert up north in Atacama. Lack of healthcare, low wages and bad pensions have conspired to create an uproar among her population, a long time coming. The illusion of a model Chile has been shattered. That should sound familiar to those of us living in the U.S. Chile astounded us with a journey unlike any in the world. A major part of the spine of the country in the Andes, over 10 million acres was preserved by the remarkable conservationist Douglas Tomkins and his wife Kris of the company Patagonia, one of the largest gifts of its kind in the world. This fantastic generosity helped Chile expand its national park system by 40 percent. “If anything can save the world, I would put my money on beauty,” wrote Doug years ago.
How Chile has changed since Darwin first encountered the Tierra del Fuego natives in 1832, so called because of the countless fires the locals lit to guide them through the frigid nights. The glaciers, volcanos, the tsunami and earthquake he experienced molded Darwin’s imagination about geologic history and ultimately the genesis of species and their uncanny evolution over time. Chile, where he spent longer than any other geographical location, moved his spirit like no other region on Earth. When Darwin met its first inhabitants he wrote, “Few if any of these natives could ever have seen a white man; certainly nothing could exceed their astonishment at the apparition of the four boats.”(from “The Voyage of the Beagle”) But Darwin continued, “Nor is it easy to teach them our superiority except by striking a fatal blow. Like wild beasts, they do not appear to compare numbers; for each individual, if attacked, instead of retiring, will endeavor to dash your brains out with a stone, as certainly as a tiger under similar circumstances would tear you.” But Darwin also admitted that there “was something very attractive in the simplicity and humble politeness of the poor inhabitants,” people who had inhabited the southernmost tip of the continent for more than 7,000 years migrating without clothes in chilling rain and cold in conditions that must have shocked the European mind. “These Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even one full grown woman who was suckling a recently born child, came one day alongside the vessel, and remained there whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked child.”