THE COUNTY OF SALAMANCA MEMORIES OF FIESTAS PATRIAS LOOK INTO THE PAST
The traditional ramada, paseo de canasta, donkey races, the houses freshly painted and the Chileans in new clothes, among many other details and preparations, these were some of the events that occurred in Salamanca for the most important celebration of the year: Fiestas Patrias.
These were other times and other ways of life, memories that remain in the history of Salamanca. Sixty years ago, the national anniversary was the event that could unveil the purest expression of the country’s most valued traditions. In the memories of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, live the memories that bring a sparkle to their eyes and bring up emotions for the good old days. It is worth asking them to share their tales of the past and to have them describe the old, original Salamanca of decades ago.
That September 18
Among freshly painted houses and well-dressed people, very early, at about 7 o’clock in the morning, the Cerro Chico gave the first greeting to the country with 21 consecutive gunshots to open the day. Later, the plaza became a central meeting point for the official ceremony on September 18, where Chile was honored with poetry, music and traditional dances.
After the ceremony, the people of Salamanca went straight to the ramada, at that time located between the municipal building and the parish. The air was filled with the scent of bayberry from the pillars and ceilings. The ramada is where the townspeople enjoyed lunches and typical foods as they looked forward to the start of the cuecas and waltzes. As the dancing began, the ground was covered with a haze from the kick-up of dirt made by the quick footwork of the couples.
Popular games, indispensable in those days, brought together children and adults to participate in the classic sack races, egg on a spoon races, greasy pole, blind man’s bluff and many more. There were bike races, donkey races, amateur boxing fights and even motorcycle racing.
One aspect of the celebration that is distinct to Salamanca and a very special tradition for the community was Don Carlos Valencia’s firework show. Don Carlos, a former mayor of Salamanca and businessman, every year in an act of altruism launched fireworks from the town square on the night of the 18th, creating a unique spectacle.
With agriculture as the foundation of the community, the rodeo is the most classic of the classics. The half-moon shaped corral of El Queñe was one of the main centers that brought together corraleros from all sectors and corners of the country, and is also remembered for having hosted important figures of the time such as: Silvia Infanta y los Baquianos, Las Consentidas, Las Caracolito, the duo Rey Silva and repeatedly Violeta Parra, in her prominent period of traditional country compilations.
During the 19th of September, as a closing to the festivities, the Paseo de la Canasta, a unique and well remembered event, took place. Large processions started very early in the morning towards the Cerro Chico, the majority of the people carrying baskets overflowing with food for lunch and snacks for the families. The day was spent under the shade of a tree, with a transmitter radio playing music and popular greetings, while children played and with joy, and the adults had long conversations and shared with other families visiting the area.
The music of the time was based on these traditions and customs. The Agrupación Mallacún composed, among many others, one song in particular called “Paseo de Canasta” which tells the listener about the Fiestas Patrias and this activity in particular:
The houses are already decorated
In the streets of my town.
Blooming like in Spring the colors of my flag.
Paseo de Canasta through meadows and hills,
Cheerful they go singing in chorus a cry.
Children have fun with kites,
While the elders laugh beside the fire.
The sun shines pleasantly.
There’s the faint scent of peppermint
And the scent of chicha floods the streets.
Decades ago, Fiestas Patrias were celebrated with the traditions of the Chilean countryside and customs unique to each small community, where each person enhanced him or herself and the entire country proudly celebrated the anniversary of the independence of Chile.
Jorge Saldívar Barraza, Historian of Salamanca /
Nono Chávez, Mallacún musician and member of the local folklore group