Celebrating cultural heritage

South Africa celebrates Heritage Day on 24 September every year. The original significance of this day was to commemorate the famous Zulu King, Shaka. However it was rebranded as Heritage Day to “celebrate the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a rainbow nation”.  But, like most public holidays this is simply another day off for most South Africans and the average citizen seldom, if ever, even contemplates the reason for each holiday.

Chile on the other hand, celebrates its heritage remarkably well. Last Sunday I enjoyed a glimpse back in time along with many Santanguinos (citizens of Santiago) as I made the most of “Dia del Patrimonio Cultural” (Cultural Heritage Day). This is not an official holiday, but since the year 2000, the last Sunday in May has been dedicated to remembering and appreciating Chile´s cultural heritage. The main activities of such a day include the opening up of buildings and historical monuments, many of which are usually closed to the public. Such buildings include the Government Palace (La Moneda), the Central Bank, The Justice Palace or the National Congress Building amongst many other museums and centres of interest.

The weather could not have been nicer for a day wandering around downtown Santiago and it hardly felt like autumn at all. The sun and warmth made for a festive atmosphere and even though people had to wait in queues to enter the most popular buildings, everyone still seemed to be enjoying themselves. For me the nicest sight was seeing families with children of all ages appreciating and showing an interest in the cultural heritage of their country. Sadly I am not sure the response would be the same in South Africa…

People queuing to enter the National Congress Building

Patricia, Rodrigo and I started off at the National Congress Building. A useless fact for you all is that the Chilean National Congress is apparently one of the oldest in the world, preceded only by those in France, the UK and the United States. Who would have thought…The tour we were on was accompanied by journalists and cameramen from two of the local TV channels. Smile, you´re on camera!!! We were welcomed into the building by the president of the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Parliamentarians) who now use the building

The inside of the Congress Hall with it´s old leather chairs, dark wood and ornate finishes

since the Congress moved to Valparaiso. The tour took us through many ornate rooms as well as the old congress hall complete with ornately carved, dark wooden finishes and a huge painting paying homage to Chile´s navy. We also saw the Congress Library which reminded me quite alot of some of the libraries in Oxford. Whilst I don´t think I caught many of the details that our guide was telling us, it was still an interesting tour.

The funniest part of the day was when we were leaving the building and a journalist asked me if I minded being interviewed about my experience. Apparently even my answer of “si” was enough for her to realise I was foreign and quickly ask if I could speak spanish. I replied with my standard answer of “si, un pocito” (yes, a little) and before I knew it the camera was rolling. She only asked a couple of questions and I think I managed to give fairly intelligent and more importantly intelligible answers, saying something about how I had learnt alot on the tour and I thought such a day of celebrating the countries cultural heritage was a really good idea. However, it seems the editing department of TVN (the National TV Channel) did not find my short interview interesting enough and I never made the 9 ´o clock news! Phew…

Confiteria Torres - established in 1879, a meeting place for politicians and intellectuals (though these are not necessarily one in the same...)

After the congress building, we decided the queues for most of the other buildings nearby were too long and using my knee as a further excuse, we headed to Confiteria Torres, a restaurant often frequented by politicians and which has its own heritage that is rather unique. In Santiago there is a very popular sandwich called a Barros Lucca which is fairly simple and consists of meat and melted cheese on the typical Chilean bread called marequeta. This sandwich was invented in the 1920´s in this Confiteria when the then President of Chile, you guessed it Barros Lucca, would ask for the same sandwich every day for lunch and eventually it became his namesake. The restaurant continues to be famous for the fact that when a candidate wins a presidential election, they usually go there to celebrate. Piñera, the current president of Chile apparently asked if they could name a sandwich after him, but it seems that his popularity didn´t stretch that far…

After lunch whilst wandering slowly towards home, we encountered some interesting scenes with people dressed in traditional clothes from different times in Chile´s history, saw people enjoying a ride on an little old train and even saw “soldiers” (a.k.a very bored looking teenagers) dressed in the uniforms that the Chilean army used in various battles over the last two centuries. It was an interesting mix of old and modern and it was lovely to see the usually dead downtown area so busy on a Sunday.

A cute little train taking people from one site to another. I never quite figured out how to hitch a ride though...could have been useful with my knee!

Events like this always make me compare things to my own country and like I said at the start of this post, I think so often South Africans are rather apathetic about remembering and paying homage to our history and culture. I think there are probably many reasons for this apathy which I will not explore now, but I hope to take a more active appreciation in such events back home some day. Sad though how we always seem to appreciate other people, cultures and countries more than our own…

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”                               -Dagobert D. Runes

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4 Responses to Celebrating cultural heritage

  1. linda koch says:

    Hi Ingrid, firstly it was so wonderful to chat to you last night, This episode is so interesting, especially the queues. You are right in that I too think of “heritage day” here as a “day off”, it is sad to think I have been in SA for 36 years and have never been to a museum in JHB or indeed the Union Buildings in Pta. I did go to the Voortrekker Monument though, but that was many many moons ago. But since joining the Bird Club a few years ago, and the “MWIG” (Mid week interest group) I have been able to get to see places like Lillieslief Farm, Apartheid Muesem, Museum Africa – and they have all been such interesting places to visit. It is just a matter of showing some intersting and taking the time to see what is all around us. Also the excuse being that unless you have an overseas visitor you never really think of going to such places. Ok, My Love, enjoy your weekend.
    Much Love
    Mum

    • ingridckoch says:

      Hi mom
      Yes, it was wonderful to speak to you for so long yesterday. And I totally agree with everything you said here. We never take advantage of the things we have at home because we know they will always be there. It is a matter of attitude.
      Love you lots and miss you stacks
      Ingrid

  2. Helen Duigan says:

    I guess we’re too divided still – different groups value different “heritages”. Look at Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, facing each other from two hills, over a deep valley!

    • ingridckoch says:

      Hi Helen. That is exactly right, being the “rainbow nation” with so many different cultures makes it very difficult to unify around one common thing. Whilst Chile has got an indigenous cultural heritage, unfortunately it is rather unknown to most Chileans and the majority of people only identify themselves as Chilean, unlike home where you could be one of 11 different tribes. But this does make it much easier for Chile to celebrate one common history for everyone…

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