Organilleros: The Tradition Lives On

Whether it’s a couple of poor university students serenading passengers on the bus, jugglers at the streetlights or clowns pulling pranks on the streets, Chile's vibrant street culture entertains the masses for just a few pesos.

Santiago Chile Organillero
Photo by Sofia Carvajal

The organillero, my sentimental favorite, is a man (I´ve never seen a woman doing this) with a cart of windmills, balloons, containers of bubbles, furry spider toys and, most importantly, a parrot sidekick. As the music plays, the parrot picks out your fortune from a row of papers and hands it to you along with your purchase.
Santiago Chile Organillero
Photo by Sofia Carvajal

It´s a charming, old-fashioned tradition, and the traditional sing-song, organ-type melodies of the organillero can be heard from blocks away.

One sunny afternoon, the familiar music wafted down Viña Del Mar's main street Avenida Valparaiso from Juan, a man in his thirties with a leather-like tan hiding under his well-worn hat and a trusty parrot sidekick Gaspar perched faithfully at his side.

There are about three organilleros who place themselves along Avenida Valparaiso and sometimes in Plaza Vergara to keep the local shoppers amused on weekends. However, it seems that organilleros meander down the streets of Santiago and Viña del Mar less and less frequently nowadays.

"There are actually more [organilleros] than you think, because there are about seven families dedicated to keeping this tradition alive in Viña alone," said Juan, squinting in the mid-afternoon sun. "It's just a constant number of families--it doesn´t increase or decrease every year."

As he talked, he waved his hand briskly over rubber spiders on strings, fluorescent windmills, containers with bubble liquid--all surprisingly recession-proof novelties, according to Juan. "It´s the balloons that move the quickest," he confided.

"People have large hearts and don´t mind giving you their spare change." With that, I handed him a few pesos for his time, and he pointed to Gaspar, who waddled forward on cue and picked out a fortune-telling slip for me. (The future looks bright, it said.)

So if you come by an organillero on the street, buy a balloon, tube of bubbles or a toy for your nephews or nieces--it doesn´t cost much to keep this street tradition alive.

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