The History of the Fonda

Baking empanadas, overflowing chicha (a grape-based fermented alcohol) and ritual Cueca dance competitions--fiestas patrias celebrations begin nationwide this week.

Photo courtesy of www.laotravoz.cl
Photo courtesy of www.laotravoz.cl

Fondas, public parties, will spring up in various parks, universities and open spaces as Chileans leave their weekly work habits to spread the conviviality for the four-day holiday. Parilladas (grills) and anticucho (kebab) stands will line the sidewalks and, as a mandatory act since 1967, flags will flutter on all public buildings. In the midst of these whirring festivities it can be easy to get caught in the partying and not understand exactly what the celebrations are marking. The day officially celebrates Chile's independence, yet in reality full independence was not achieved. It was more a mark of breaking from the long struggle of political ties with Spain.

The Spanish first arrived in 1535 when one of Francisco Pizarro's officers, Diego de Almagro, led a gold hunting expedition from Peru overland into Chile. For three years Almagro's team searched for the substantial deposits of gold and silver that had proved such a success in the Incan Peru. Unfruitful, they retreated back to Peru.

A captain of Pizarro's army, Pedro de Valdivia, wanted to expand the Spanish empire further south into the rich agricultural land of Chile, and led a second quest in 1540. He encountered fierce resistance from native Araucanians, the Mapuche people. However, Valdivia did succeed in establishing major settlements including Santiago de Nueva Extremadura (now Santiago de Chile) in 1541, Concepción in 1550 and Valdivia in 1552.

The Mapuches, who inhabited the territory south of Chile's Rapel River, were a powerful force against the Spaniards, while tribes in the northern region offered less resistance after having already been subjugated by the Incans in the 15th century. The Mapuches destroyed some major settlements in 1553, and the rebellion, known as the Arauco War, lasted for the next 100 years, with intermittent uprisings until the 19th century.

In 1808 French general Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain and King Ferdinand VII was overthrown. When news reached Chile, violence increased and on September 18, 1810, the Santiago town council deposed Chile's colonial governor. Since the governer, Francisco Garcia Carrasco, had alienated Chile's Criollo elites, they created their own delegation of seven members. While this junta was only considered an interim government since there was no longer a King of Spain, it was seen as the first real act of independence and has been celebrated since as such.

Absolute independence, however, was not reached until 1818 and warfare still raged in Chile as the Spanish dispatched troops from Peru. The independence process is traditionally divided into three stages. The first is Patria Vieja (the old country), which was marked by the national junta. The second is Reconquista (reconquest), when the Spanish, led by revolutionary figureheads Bernardo O'Higgins and Jose de San Martin, attempted to reimpose rule and opposition. In April, O'Higgins proclaimed total independence and adopted a liberal constitution for the first republican government of Chile. This final stage of independence from Spain is referred to as Patria Nueva, the new country.

The weekend's activities celebrate and recognize chilenidad, the general essence of what it is to be Chilean, rather than specific historical events. For instance, Rancagua, the site of the 1814 battle where O'Higgins and his men sought refuge and were eventually defeated, is celebrating the week with National rodeo championships. Yet each of these cultural events draws from various themes of Chilean resistance. In La Araucanía, the Semana del Folclor is a week-long celebration of regional and national folkloric traditions, cooking demonstrations, music and history. In Tarapaca, the independence celebrations last all month with religious ceremonies, theatrical productions, and children's activities. In Maule, folkloric presentations, juegos tradicionales (traditional Creole games) and equestrian events mark the Dieciocho celebrations.

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