Thursday, 15 September 2011

Fiestas Patrias

Last Saturday morning as DH, DD1 and I took our seats in a draughty theatre, waiting for the thick velvet curtains to open for DD2's nursery's show for Fiestas Patrias, it struck me that this was the Chilean equivalent of the nativity play. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had turned out in their droves to witness the annual rite of passage for their little one. Only this time the subject of the show was not a child born in Bethlehem, but the birth of a nation... We were treated to a narrated history of the first explorers and settlers arriving in the Atacama Desert and bringing light in the form of Roman Catholicism to the natives. Thus began the story in the north of Chile, gradually working its way down and recounting the origins of this long thin country from an untamed wilderness to the beacon of modern civilisation we see before us today. The organisation and preparation with which the nursery staff had planned the event was quite impressive, with scenery, props, music and of course the direction of acting by some very small children, all dressed up in traditional costumes from different regions of Chile. As DD2 had been given the part of a "chilota" or southern Chilean woman, we had an apparently interminable wait before she finally appeared, clad in black shawl, skirt and headscarf, busily and very seriously stirring a huge pot with a long wooden spoon... It was obviously a proud moment for all of us and one that DD2 enjoyed tremendously, even singing Chile's national anthem with the rest of the (wholly Chilean) children at the end.
Two days later and it was DD1's turn to have her moment of glory, this time in the indoor gymnasium within her school's vast sports centre. This time all the children of Year 1 were dressed identically as northern Chileans, the girls resplendent in striped skirts and hats while the boys sported a traditional Andino woollen hat and belt over their school uniform. The children filed in, smallest first (DD1 was third to enter) matched with a same-height partner of the opposite gender and began singing a hauntingly melancholy chant about life in the Andes... This was followed by patriotic poems recited by the individual classes plus traditional dances which had been meticulously choreographed by the PE department. Great fun to watch actually, although listening to six- and seven-year-olds declaring their unswerving loyalty to the Chilean flag was slightly over the top. Especially from DD1, who says she even feels Chilean now...
All the flag-waving, patriotic fervour and extreme national pride are elements we don't usually employ back in Europe for fear of being exclusionist though here it seems to be a genuinely heartfelt blanket sentiment which encompasses all ages, social classes and political persuasions. Apparently...

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