POPULATION: 12 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (official); some Protestantism; some indigenous religions


Several Amerindian cultures thrived in Chile prior to the arrival of Inca invaders from Peru in the fifteenth century. From the sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth, Chile was under Spanish colonial rule. Then Chilean military leader, Bernardo O'Higgins (1778–1842), joined forces with José de San Martín (1778–1850) from Argentina to liberate the Chileans from Spanish rule. O'Higgins became the first ruler of the independent republic of Chile in 1818.

Trade, first with the European powers, then with the United States, helped Chile's economy develop. First, there was a nitrate boom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Copper and silver mining became important sources of income. Agriculture developed as well.

In the twentieth century Chile has experienced dramatic changes of government. In 1970, socialist Salvador Allende (1908–73) was freely elected to power. A military take-over by Augusto Pinochet (1915–) followed in 1973. Pinochet's rule ended in 1990, when Patricio Aylwin (1918–) took office as president and democratic rule resumed.


The Andes Mountains run the full length of the immensely long, narrow country of Chile. The nation's Pacific coastline is over 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers) long. Its terrain ranges from the northern Atacama desert to the snow-clad Andean peaks. There are farmlands where grapes are grown, grain and cattle country, and fishing zones where snow-covered volcanoes and lakes abound.


The official language of Chile is Spanish. The Chilean accent is quite distinct from those of neighboring countries such Argentina and Uruguay. It has a softer sound, and a melodious lilt.

Many Chilean names are derived from the saints and apostles of the Catholic Church. Others have Roman, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, or even German origins.


Many myths and legends survive in Chilean folklore. One legend from the islands of Chiloé tells of a lost city. It contains fabulous wealth: its streets are paved with gold and silver. A mist always hides it from sight. It is said that all who go there lose their memory. It will be seen only once: at the end of the world. Then all the nonbelievers will know of its existence.

One of the important folk heroes of Chile is a Mapuche Indian called Lautaro (?–1557). He served the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia (c. 1498–1553), learning the Spanish language and arts of war. Using his knowledge, he later led the resistance against the Spanish.


The official religion of Chile is Roman Catholicism, and the majority of Chileans are Catholic. There are also Protestants in Chile, and some Mapuche Indians practice their traditional religion. Their beliefs include worship of the creator Ngenechen and the destroyer Wakufu.

Many Chileans believe that the spirits of people who have died violently will linger in the area where they died. The living can appeal to them in their prayers, asking them to intercede on their behalf. Animitas (little shrines with flowers and candles) are often set up near where they died. Sometimes anamitas become places of prayer and pilgrimage.

The religious festival of La Tirana near the northern city of Iquique developed out of a mixture of Catholic and Amerindian beliefs. It includes dances representing good and evil forces in the form of maidens and devils.


Chileans celebrate the main Catholic holidays, including Christmas (December 25), the Immaculate Conception on December 8, Corpus Christi, and Easter. Their secular holidays include Labor Day on May 1, as


Empanada de pino


For the pastry:

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shortening or lard
  • ¼ cup ice water (approximate)

For the filling:

  • ⅓ pound ground beef
  • 3 or more jalapeño chilies, seeded and chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 small tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 10 olives, stuffed with pimentos, cut in half
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced


Prepare pastry.
  1. Mix the flour, salt, and shortening together in a bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, combine the ingredients thoroughly until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
  2. Add ice water slowly until the mixture forms a ball of dough.

Dough may be wrapped in plastic and chilled (for up to three days) until ready to use.

Prepare filling
  1. Brown the meat in a pan, breaking up the pieces.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño chilies, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onion is soft.
  3. Add the parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, and raisins, and cook until the mixture is dry.

Preheat oven to 375° F .

Assemble empanadas
  1. Divide the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball.
  2. Pat the ball into a circle about three inches in diameter.
    (Note: Alternatively, the dough may be rolled out and cut into three-inch circles with a biscuit cutter.)
  3. Place one-half an olive and one slice of hard-boiled egg in the center of each dough circle. Top with a spoonful of filling.
  4. Fold the dough circle in half to form a half-moon. Seal the edges by pressing down with the tines of a fork.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until browned, at 375° F .

Adapted from Barbara Karoff, South American Cooking: Foods and Feasts from the New World. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1989.

well as two Independence holidays: Independence Day on September 18, and the controversial Liberation Day on September 11. Day of the Glory of the Armed Forces on September 19 is celebrated with a military parade. The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus is marked on October 12.


To Chilean Catholics, baptism and first communion are important milestones. Civil marriage is often accompanied by a church ceremony. Some very religious families observe nine days of prayers when a person dies. These are held in the home and attended by family and close friends.


Chileans have a relaxed attitude toward time. On social occasions people are expected to be up to an hour late.

Formal greetings and introductions involve handshakes. However, the usual greeting among friends, both women and men, is a kiss on the cheek.


Many families in Chile's wealthy landowning class own ranches. Often they will also have a summer home in the Valparaíso-Viña del Mar coastal resort area.

Poor city dwellers ( pobladores) live in crowded shantytowns, especially in Santiago. They often live in a type of squatter's home made from any material at hand, such as zinc and bits of wood and brick.


Until recently, most Chileans had large families. Today the average urban middle-class family has two or three children. Both middle-class professional women and low-income women work outside the home. However, they still assume most of the household responsibilities. In poorer households, women often rely on the older children to look after younger ones.


Modern, middle-class city dwellers dress in Western-style clothes. Men wear suits. Women with office jobs are expected to wear suits or dresses, although trousers are also accepted.

In the countryside, huasos (cowboys) wear the poncho, a type of cloak, with colorful stripes for festivities. Regular, plain-colored ponchos are worn at other times. Huasos wear broad-rimmed straw hats in summer and felt hats in winter. They wear boots, and sometimes finely crafted spurs.

12 • FOOD

Pastel de choclo (baked corn paste) is a typical Chilean dish. A favorite soup, and a hearty meal in itself, is porotos granados or white bean soup, which also includes pumpkin, peppers, and sweet corn. A delicious and popular Latin American snack is a type of turnover called an empanada. In Chile the most typical empanada, the empanada de pino, is filled with minced meat, onions, a slice of hard-boiled egg, and an olive. Other empanadas are fried and filled with cheese. Native stews called cazuelas are made from beef, chicken, or fish and include potatoes, pumpkin, corn and green beans.


Education is highly valued in Chile, especially as a means of escaping poverty. Primary schooling has been free in Chile since 1860. The country has a current estimated 80 percent literacy rate. The national University of Chile was founded in 1843. Increasing numbers of Chileans attend university, forming a rapidly growing middle class. The Catholic Church has also played an important role in developing education.


Chile has a rich cultural heritage and a love of the arts. The New Song movement (La Nueva Canción Chilena) was an important political and artistic protest movement that arose during the 1960s. Its most famous figure was singer Violeta Parra. Her style blended folk, classical, and modern influences. Her children Isabel and Angel continued in her footsteps. Chile also has the distinction of having produced two Nobel Prize-winning poets, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

The national dance of Chile is the cueca. It involves rapid, spirited steps similar to the Spanish zapateado (flamenco), in which the feet tap the beat on the floor


Since the 1980s, fruit growers have benefited from government programs. Copper mining continues to be very important. Working conditions vary sharply according to social class. The urban poor ( pobladores) in the shantytowns often have to make do with informal labor and odd jobs.


The most popular sport is soccer, which is played and followed enthusiastically by many Chileans.

Horse-racing is a popular spectator sport in Santiago. In rural areas, Chilean huasos, or cowboys, compete in unusual medialunas (corrals in the shape of a half moon).

Chile has fine beaches, and many people enjoy swimming at resort areas such as Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Boating and fishing in Chile's beautiful lakes are both popular, and there are several ski resorts near Santiago and in the south.


The typical Chilean asado, or barbecue, is a favorite occasion for family and friends to gather. Large quantities of meat are grilled on open charcoal fires in private yards or in parks or other public places.

Chilean town-dwellers enjoy movies, and there is a lively theatrical tradition. Young people often meet in the evening in cafés or bars, and they enjoy dancing. People also enjoy shopping. Some of the better neighborhoods have elegant shopping districts and malls.

Chileans also enjoy trips to such seaside resort areas as Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.


There are many musical groups or peñas in towns across Chile, playing a variety of music ranging from folk to salsa music from other Latin American countries as well as modern, Western-style pop music.

Chile's Amerindian communities practice crafts including weaving, basket-making, pottery, woodcarving, and jewelry-making. The potters of Pomaire are famous for miniature figures derived from folkloric or religious traditions. Their beautiful clay pailas (pots) of varying sizes and shapes are found in many Chilean gardens and kitchens.


The growth of a well-educated middle class in Chile is an important indicator of development. However, the gap between rich and poor is still quite wide. The pobladores, or urban poor, do not have enough work or can only find temporary work. Many Amerindians in rural areas also live in poverty.


Dwyer, Christopher. Chile, Major World Nations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.

Galvin, Irene Flum. Chile: Journey to Freedom. Parsippany, N.Y.: Dillon Press, 1997.

Hintz, Martin. Chile. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1993.

Pickering, Marianne. Chile: Where the Land Ends. New York: Benchmark Books, 1997.

Winter, Jane Kohen. Chile. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1994.


Interknowledge Corporation. Chile. [Online] Available , 1998.

World Travel Guide. Chile. [Online] Available , 1998.

User Contributions:

very well done very well done i love it it shows so much carictore
You must correct your data on literacy. Chile has been for a long time one of the more educated countries in the hemisphere.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the literacy rate for the entire population is 95.7% (95.8% for males; 95.6% for females).
Chileans is NOT pronounced Chil-LAY-ans, it is Chil -ee -an
Very informative! This artical was a big help with my report! Thanks
This article was a major help with my spainsh project Thanks!
this really helps me with my information report for years 5-7 it is astonishing.
It is pronounced Chil-LAY-ans. The article is very informative.

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