The old mining town of Humberstone established in 1872, was one of many mining communities in the Northern regions of Chile, all extracting Salt Petre to fuel the worlds demands . Sadly there was a downside to this Chilean mining venture, that ended up being recorded in the history books, as an atrocity that would blacken the pages of Chilean history.
At the turn of the twentieth century, sodium nitrate was the most lucrative of all Chile’s exports. The nitrate mines, owned by Chilean and British capitalists, were notorious for treacherous working conditions and labor exploitation. Mobilized by anarchist groups and the nascent labor unions, in early December 1907 thousands of nitrate workers carrying the flags of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina descended from the hills to the northern provincial capital of Iquique to demand better conditions. So infamous was the misery of these miners that they were joined in solidarity by 12,000 laborers from all trades, bringing nearly all commerce and industry in northern Chile to a halt. An estimated 5,000 workers occupied Iquique’s Santa Maria School for over a week while Chile’s President Pedro Montt – who’d come to power through the support of the labor movement – initially attempted to facilitate talks between workers and the mine owners. But as the numbers of strikers continued to swell, President Montt ordered General Roberto Silva-Renard to end the strike by any means necessary.
At 2:30pm on December 21st, Silva-Renard issued a warning to the leaders of the workers’ committee to disperse within an hour. The leaders refused, and stood firm atop the school’s roof. Exactly one hour later, Silva-Renard ordered his soldiers to aim their guns at the rooftop. All the strike leaders fell dead with the first volley. The amassed workers and their families desperately fled in all directions in a futile attempt to escape as they were shot down mercilessly with machine guns. The soldiers then stormed the school grounds, firing frenziedly into the classrooms with no regard for the women and children screaming in vain for mercy. At nightfall, they hauled and dumped the thousands of bodies into a clandestine mass grave. The survivors were ordered at sabre point to get back to work, whereupon they were subjected to a decade-long reign of terror before the labour movement could begin to recover.
In his report to the government, Silva-Renard – “the Butcher of Iquique” – blamed the strikers for his heavy-handed actions, and was in turn promoted to Brigadier General as a reward for his defense of democracy, law and order. In 1914 he was blinded and rendered invalid in an assassination attempt by the brother of one of his thousands of victims, and was buried with full honours when he died seven years later.
In August 2007, as the centenary of the massacre approached, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet ordered a team of archaeologists and forensic scientists to excavate the site that was for so long rumored to be the mass grave of the Santa Maria School Massacre victims. Nearly 2,500 bodies were exhumed. As Chile owned up to the truth of its shameful past, public exhibitions were mounted, a monument to the dead was erected, a national day of mourning was decreed – and General Silva-Renard’s name was quietly removed from the artillery regiment that had been posthumously denominated in his honor.
I trust that this overview of Sodium Nitrate Mining and these pictures, will serve to illustrate the harsh conditions of the 1800’s into the mid 1900’s, of the lives and times of those fortunate enough to find employment, and endure the hardships all in the cause of family survival.
Leaving the high city of Alto Hospicio that overlooks the Pacific ocean at 2,000 feet, we headed inland into the Atacama Desert. Our destination was the old Salt Petre mining ghost town of Humberstone. A town slowly dissolving into the sands and history of the Atacama desert. This town is now deserted, left to the ravages of time, a town that once flourished with life, and yet remains a remarkable piece of Chilean history, a history touched with development and commerce, but sadly a part of an atrocity that still remains a stain on Chile’s past. A little bit of history on this old deserted town indicates it was established in 1872 and finally closed its doors as a mining town in 1960. At this time in history when the town was established as a Salt Petre mine, there were a number of other mines operating in the Atacama extracting Salt Petre.
Salt Petre was in high demand in this era, primarily for the use for Gun Powder. What makes this town so unique, is its organization by the corporation that established the mine. The corporation established a complete community with every amenity available at that time, Town Hall, School, a Church, Hospital, Dentistry, a Theatre, Tennis Court, Football field and a Swimming Pool, it had Shops and a Cantina. The Miners accommodation was on site, houses that were designed to house the Miners and their families, houses were built side by side, no intervening spaces, Streets were laid out in formal arrangement. I walked the Town of Humberstone for over two hours, at times it felt like the ghosts from the towns past accompanied me, the streets, eerily silent, the Church a silent remnant from out past prayers, the Theatre holding the echoes of the Caruso the Tenor. The buildings were a history book without words, corrugated iron rusting, walls both internal and external crumbling, all evidence of the Salt within the soil, that accompanied with the harsh Sun and Sands of the Atacama, displayed a Town that once was alive, served a purpose but was doomed to die when commerce and finance constraints took over. Two interesting facts on this Town, one was it had its own self sustaining currency, the other, the Swimming Pool, this was made entirely of corrugated iron spot welded together, The Pool was not open for viewing when I was there, I have added a video clip of the overview of Humberstone at the end, which depicts the pool. I end this story of Humberstone as seen through my eyes, the attached pictures will show you the Town as it is today, I hope you agree with the pictures that on seeing them you actually can see into it’s history, The Fading Memory of Once a Community welded together for Prosperity.
Leaving Iquique and continuing our Chilean adventure, our destination was an old Mining town that was fast becoming a part of the dusts of the Atacama Desert, Humberstone Township. However to paint the picture and bring the imagery to life, I need to give you a little more information on Iquique, it is a coastal Chilean port as I previously described, bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean, and bordered on the other, by the great Rock, Stone Mountain range which forms the backdrop to Iquique. This city holds a secret that you will only discover if you visit there, or someone gives you a research link.
To reach the top of the mountain behind the city, there is a two way road, precipitous and slow moving, from Iquique to the top is a distance of ten kilometers, cars, trucks and buses travel in slow formation, winding their way to the top in a slow convoy. Arriving at the top, the magic of Chile appears before your eyes, another City, a City above a City, not quite as big as the one you just left, but still a huge thriving metropolis called Alto Hospicio. I was amazed, taking photographs on the way up, I realized how high we were climbing, 2,000 thousand feet above sea level. From this city you could view the whole of Iquique, the city below, from the complete north to the south of the coastline, the layout of the City below grew small, twenty and thirty floor buildings in all detail could still be seen, but the panorama was breathtaking, the complete City below was exposed. I didn’t expect this revelation or surprise, Alto Hospicio was only mentioned in passing comments so I didn’t take much interest in its existence.
Our destination at that time was another hundred kilometers into the Atacama desert, and for reasons I can’t recall, we didn’t stop for photographs, however I was later given the chance to visit Alto Hospicio at night, and view the City of Iquique way down below, words cannot describe the panoramic view of Iquique from one end to the other, completely ablaze in lights with the Pacific ocean hugging its shore, the waters shimmering under the bright Moons rays, sparkling and dancing across the oceans waves, mesmerizing. My camera and I refuse to cooperate when it comes to night time photography, I was desperate and tried every setting on my camera, hoping upon hope that some at least would turn out, it wasn’t to be. What amazed me most about these two cities, is the fact that you cannot see Alto Hospicio from Iquique, yet you can view Iquique from Alto Hospicio, an interesting phenomena.
We proceeded on from here to our destination of Humberstone Township, an old Salt Petre Mining town, completely deserted and crumbling into the dusts of time and mysteries of the Atacama Desert, this fascinating story is to be the subject of my next post, however I take the time to describe through my eyes, the road to Humberstone Mining Town. A modern road with numerous vehicle travelling in both directions, some to the coastal port of Iquique and some venturing into the Atacama Desert interior. The road on either side soon took on the appearance of a Desert as we know it dry, vast and a dusty landscape fading into the horizon. This was the scene as we continued onto the old Township of Humberstone. I did not get bored with the scenery, always expecting something else and hoping to see and learn something new, thus ends this post. I have posted some pictures to amplify the imagery of my words above.
Cheers and Kind regards.
I introduce you to a most remarkable Man by the name of Sasha Pintor. Sasha is one of Chile’s most renowned street artists, whose studio is The Plaza Arturo Prat in the old historical area of Iquique Chile. I came across Sasha on my first adventure into the Plaza after the day of arriving. One of the greatest joys of the streets of Chile, is that around every corner, is a Miracle of Mans artistry on display, and none more so than in the Iquique. Sasha was just such an example, his pictures were alive with emotion, alive with the Spiritual being of his Soul.
Ana and I were captivated with his passion, we watched as he worked to create a work of art that would grace any wall, Sasha didn’t paint, he created.
To do Sasha full credibility on his talents, I have to describe his artwork being done as seen through my eyes at the time.
Sasha starts his art with a simple thin piece of White plywood, or as some call Chipboard, he proceeds to impregnate a black border around the board, then sprays a brown lacquer over the whole board. His easel is prepared for a work of art, then the Master begins his creation, using a sharp instrument, and with rapid hand movements, Sasha carves away the the Brown lacquer, before your eyes a beautiful scene is created. This Artist creates in a fashion that is opposite to Painters, Painters paint what the scene are in their mind, or the scenes before them, they paint on the space before them, Sasha does the opposite, he extracts his art from the working space before him. His work is unique and has never been duplicated around the world. I am proud to own some originals off his work, his artwork and talents can only increase in value over the years.
In closing my story on Sasha I would like to say, that travelling around the world and enjoying the sights and culture, always take time to give attention to the street artists, in there you will find the true persona of the country.
For those on Facebook I leave you Sasha’s Facebook link
Sasha always displays the Moon in his art out of respect to his Mother, The Moon
I have to continue with my story of the Chilean celebrations the 18th and 19th of this year for a number of reasons, the first being that I consider it a shame that these beautiful pictures are hidden away in a file behind my computer, when they must be shared for others to enjoy. The pictures give a wonderful insight into the country and culture of a land that many will never visit or get to know.
The other reason I want to share this post, is that the pictures depict one of the most moving dance routines and music that I have always loved and I was to see this performance in one magical coincidental moment close up. I had been standing at the back of the crowd enjoying the various dances and musical routines when I noticed a vacant seat in the front row, I was about eight deep behind the crowd, I watched this seat for a while, considering it vacant I edged my way through the crowd and motioned to the Lady sitting beside it as to it be vacant, she indicated that I was free to have the seat. I couldn’t believe my luck, I was seated directly in the front row, and central to the complete performances about three metres in front of me. My luck went into overdrive as the next performers prepared for their song and dance routine, it was my most cherished songs and dance from the culture of the natives of Rapa Nui culture.
A little bit of explanation before I proceed. Rapa Nui is isla de pascua, or Easter Island as we know it, it is classified as a part of Chile but is self governing as an autonomy in it’s own right, much like Catalania with the Spanish Government there. Now as to my luck going into overdrive, the Girls took centre stage and bagan the traditional Rapa Nui dance to the haunting music and song Rapa Nui Mi Amor, Easter Island my Love, absolutely spell binding, every eye around me was holding tears, mine included. I have posted at the bottom of blog a rendition of this beautiful song and dance, I think with my pictures you will enjoy this music and dance as much as I do, a very Native Spiritual song that illustrates their kinship and Spiritual heritage of the land of their Birth.
The Republic of Chile celebrates its Fiestas Patrias. The two-day festivity begins annually on September 18 to commemorate the proclamation of the First Governing Body of 1810, and the beginning of the Chilean independence process.
It is capped with the “Day of the Glories of the Army” (Día de las Glorias del Ejército) on September 19, which marks the anniversary of the first-ever military parade in the history of Chile. Army Day was formally established in 1915.
These two days are celebrated jointly with parades and street parties which incorporate Chilean traditions such as dancing the Cueca and the Chilean Rodeo, rounded off by a huge military parade on the 19th in the Parque O’Higgins.
I have been fortunate enough to be in Chile for these celebrations twice, the first time in 2009 when I witnessed the four hour parade in the Capital Santiago, the second was a month or so ago in Iquique, both times I have participated and joined in the revelry and gaiety with much enthusiasm, a little too much gaiety at times according to my wife. Sleeping in is not an option for me in Chile, everyday is an adventure and today was no exception. Chile celebrates these two days with mucho gusto, if the celebration dates happen to fall on days before or after a weekend, then the celebrations can last for a week, from the north of Chile to the south there are barbecues, partying, dancing and revelry all over the country. Following a light breakfast I rounded the corner following the sounds of much music and gaiety into the Plaza to be met with a sea of color, children and teenagers in all modes of dress, young children colorfully dressed in national costumes clutching handkerchiefs as part of the traditional dance, the Cueca. Warriors in traditional attire, beautiful Girls representing the Chilean Island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as we know it.
For two hours I was entranced with the display of dancing and musical culture, as one set of performers finished another started, I photographed as much as I could without losing the enjoyment of watching. I share with you these pictures of a memorable moment in my life, a video of the event would not do justice to the occasion, it would be over in a matter of minutes, whereas these pictures hold more color and vibrancy, enjoy my pictures and adventures and thank you for reading.
To be Continued