03 May 2008

The Promise of Folklife

Chile is wealthy with traditional culture. I'm not always sure that it's ready to embrace it, though. At least in Santiago. It seems the common wisdom here is onward and upward, forward and faster, newer and better at any cost. Rural or traditional culture reeks of ignorance and poverty and most Santiaguinos would rather forget that part of their history. Except, of course during the month-long Independence Day celebrations in September. Then it's acceptable to wear the hats of your ancestors and listen to their music and dance their dances.

Fortunately, the more common wisdom in this diverse country is that Santiago no es Chile. There are plenty here interested in celebrating the unique mezcla cultures that compose the entirety of this nation.

One of my students introduced me to Tikitiklips. Pronounced just as it's written, Tikitiklips are the Chilean equivalent of the US-based Schoolhouse Rock series featured prominently in my upbringing during the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Rather than teaching basic ideas of mathematics, science, grammar, and, um, the three ring system of checks and balances within the US legislative process, Tikitiklips emphasizes regional folk crafts and traditional folktales set to contemporary musical compositions. Like Schoolhouse Rock, these are short two to three-minute films that see the light of day on Saturday and Sunday mornings between cartoons and other programs for children. The crafts, images, and tales presented within the clips span the length of the country and highlight Chile's indispensable diversity.

The first comes from the extreme northern Aymara region within the Atacama desert. The song, apparently, is a Christmas carol from Iquique. Featured within the film are the sculptures made from the volcanic soils of the Altiplano, the colorful textiles, black olives and their fruit bearing trees, and, at the very end, the ever-present llama. The sculptures, textiles, and music are decidedly Bolivian and Peruvian in influence but I have no interest in entering the political debate surrounding this still-contested part of the world.

Also from the north is El Soldado Trifaldón. The lyrics deal with a would-be soldier who lives in a melon and battles hordes of ants. Or something like that. The artwork is based on the famous protest murals of the Brigada Ramona Parra that date back to the political turbulence of the 1940s.

Moving toward the center of the country we have Don Crispin and the black ceramic figurines from the area around Talagante. The film also depicts the Cuasimodo procession that takes place during Easter in and around the rural areas of Santiago.

Also close to Santiago is the little enclave of Pomaire, famous for its earthenware pottery called greda.

Tikitiklips even offers a voice for the otherwise marginalized Mapuche population. In El Rey de Papel we see the volcanoes and Araucania trees that populate the Lake District as well as paper puppets and a Mapuche girl in traditional dress.

Los Gorrioncitos also comes from the Lake District and highlights the woven birds and other sculptures from the area.

Two clips from the island of Chiloé--itself a storehouse of traditional culture--feature the famous architecture (and specifically the wooden churches), wool hand puppets, and ceramic pots (for making cazuela de pollo?).

And on and on. There is one filmed in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Valparaíso. One about traveling to the city of Concepción that includes more woven birds as well as the black pottery of the region. More puppets, loom woven tapestries, and sea culture surrounding the area around Melipilla are illustrated in Barco en el Purerto. Finally, La Señorita Aseñorada offers crafts made from crin (horse hair) in the town of Rari, in the Maule Region.

All in all, a fantastic series of klips made even better with great songs and an abundance of examples of expressive culture. Enjoy!

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