This week we travel to South America to visit Chile, one of the longest and narrowest countries in the world. One theory of the origin of the name “Chile” is that it came from the indigenous Mapuche word “chilli”, which means “where the land ends” or “the deepest point of the Earth”. Another interpretation is it came from the Mapuche imitation of a bird call, “cheele cheele”.
The Chilean flag is made up of three colors: blue, white, and red, with a white star on the blue square. The blue represents the sky and the Pacific Ocean, the white represents the snow of the Andes Mountains, and the red represents its sacrifices for independence.
Chile has a huge diversity of terrain, with ancient glaciers, volcanoes, the Atacama Desert, and many forests and lakes. Only a fifth of Chile is flat! The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world, but when it rains, some parts of the desert turn into beautiful fields of purple flowers. From north to south, it extends 4,270 km (2,653 mi), and its widest point is 350 km (217 mi). To see this visually, have a look below at Chile’s length compared to the U.S..
Chile won its independence by the 1820’s, and its social and cultural identity trace back to its indigenous tribes and the European conquests that began during the 16th and 17th centuries. The vast majority of the population speaks Spanish, and over the years the language has developed unique traits particular to Chileans, known as “chilenismos”. There are also many indigenous languages such as Mapudungun, which is more common in Southern Chile (particularly the city of Temuco), and Aymara, which is spoken in the north.
Chileans are united despite geographic distance by not only a common language but also a rich cultural life. It is known to some as the “país de poetas”, the country of poets, because its poetry is one of its most significant creative arts and is well-regarded in Hispanic literature. Two Chilean poets have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Between March and November, its capital, Santiago, is a hub for cultural events and the arts. From September 18th to 19th, Chileans celebrate their independence with parties, where they enjoy food and dance to “cueca” music. (Fun fact: Chile is one of the largest consumers of bread in the world!) On New Year’s Eve, coastal cities put on the biggest firework shows in South America.