Sep 112017

On this date in 1541, Michimalonco and a large band of local Indians attacked the newly founded Spanish settlement of Santiago (now in Chile) after seven caciques were taken hostage by Spaniards following an uprising. Michimalonco is a bit of a shadowy figure because the historical records for this period are so sparse. Michima means “foreigner” and lonco means “head” or “chief” in the Mapudungun language. He was an indigenous chief said to be a great warrior, born in the Aconcagua Valley but educated in Cusco under the Inca Empire. Hence he was known in Quechua as a “foreigner” because he was not an Inca (and spoke Quechua with an accent). His actual name is not now known. When he first presented himself to the Spanish he was naked and covered with a black pigment. He had seven wives and lived between the Jahuel Valley and Putaendo Valley at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Santiago in 1541 was a new settlement founded by Pedro de Valdivia, who led Spanish forces south to Chile from Peru to conquer the region. He was accompanied by his mistress Inés Suárez, (c. 1507–1580), eventually a conquistador in her own right, and one of the leaders of the Spanish in Santiago at the time of Michimalonco’s attack. Suárez’s husband had died before she reached Peru (she told a compatriot that he died at sea) and the next information that is known of her is from 1539, when she applied for and was granted, as the widow of a Spanish soldier, a small plot of land in Cuzco and encomienda rights to a number of Indian slaves. Shortly afterwards she became Valdivia’s mistress which later caused considerable scandal because he was married at the time (and was eventually forced to leave her and bring his wife to Chile from Spain). I am not entirely sure why the Spanish nobility were so up in arms about the affair since this kind of thing was perfectly normal among the European aristocracy.

The earliest mention of Suárez’ friendship with Valdivia was after he returned from the Battle of Las Salinas (1538). Although they were from the same area of Spain and at least one novelist relates a tale of long-standing love between them, there is no real evidence that they had met prior to her arrival in Cuzco. In late 1539, over the objections of Francisco Martínez and encouraged by some of his captains, Valdivia, using the intermediary services of a priest, requested official permission for Suárez to become a part of the group of 12 Spaniards he was leading to the South. Francisco Pizarro, in his letter to Valdivia (January 1540) granting permission for Suárez to accompany Valdivia as his domestic servant, addressed the following words to Suárez, “…as Valdivia tells me, the men are afraid to go on such a long trip and you very courageously put yourself in the face of that danger…”

During the long and harrowing trip to the south, Suárez, in addition to caring for Valdivia and treating the sick and wounded, found water for them in the desert, and saved Valdivia when one of his rivals tried to undermine his enterprise and take his life. The Indians, having already experienced the incursions of the Spaniards, (Diego de Almagro, 1535–1536) burned their crops and drove off their livestock, leaving nothing for Valdivia’s band and their animals.

In December 1540, eleven months after they left Cuzco, Valdivia and his band reached the valley of the Mapocho river, where Valdivia was to establish the capital of the territory. The valley was extensive and well populated with natives. Its soil was fertile and there was abundant fresh water. Two high hills provided defensive positions. Soon after their arrival, Valdivia tried to convince the Indians of his good intentions, sending delegations bearing gifts for the caciques.

The Indians kept the gifts but, united under the leadership of Michimalonco, attacked the Spanish and were at the point of overwhelming them. Suddenly, the Indians threw down their weapons and fled. Captured Indians declared that they had seen a man, mounted on a white horse and carrying a naked sword, descend from the clouds and attack them. The Spaniards decided it was a miraculous appearance of Santo Iago (Saint James the Greater who had already been seen during the Reconquista at the battle of Clavijo) and, in thanks, named the new city Santiago del Nuevo Extremo. The city was officially dedicated on February 12, 1541.

In August 1541 Suárez uncovered another plot to unseat Valdivia. After the plot was put down, Valdivia invited seven caciques to meet with him to arrange for the delivery of food to the settlement. When the Indians arrived, Valdivia had them held as hostages for the safe delivery of the provisions and the safety of outlying settlements. On the September 9, Valdivia took 40 men and left the city to put down an uprising of Indians near Aconcagua.

Early on the morning of September 10, 1541, a young yanakuna (Inca servant) brought word to Captain Alonso de Monroy, who had been left in charge of the city, that the woods around the city were full of Indians. Suárez was asked if she thought that the Indian hostages should be released as a peace gesture. She replied that it was a bad idea because if the Indians overpowered the Spanish the hostages would provide their only bargaining power. Monroy issued a call for a council of war.

Just before dawn on September 11, mounted Spanish soldiers rode out to engage the Indians, whose numbers were estimated first at 8,000 and later at 20,000, led by Michimalonco. In spite of the advantage of their horses and their skill with their swords, by noon the Spanish were pushed into a retreat toward the east, across the Mapocho River; and, by mid-afternoon, they were backed up to the plaza itself. All day the battle raged. Fire arrows and torches set fire to most of the city. Four Spaniards were killed along with dozens of horses and other animals. The situation became desperate. The priest, Rodrigo González Marmolejo, said later that the fight was like the Day of Judgment for the Spanish and that only a miracle saved them.

All day Suárez had been carrying food and water to the fighting men, nursing the wounded, giving them encouragement and comfort. The historian Mariño de Lobera wrote of her activities during the battle:

 …and she went among them, she told them that if they felt fatigued and if they were wounded she would cure them with her own hands… she went where they were, even among the hooves of the horses; and she did not just cure them, she animated them and raised their morale, sending them back into the battle renewed… one caballero whose wounds she had just treated, was so tired and weak from loss of blood that he could not mount his horse. This woman was so moved by his plea for help that she put herself into the midst of the fray and helped him to mount his horse.

Suárez recognized the discouragement of the men and the extreme danger of the situation; she offered a suggestion. All day the seven caciques who were prisoners of the Spaniards, had been shouting encouragement to their people. Suárez proposed that the Spanish decapitate the seven and toss their heads out among the Indians in order to frighten them. There was some objection to the plan, since several men felt that the fall of the city was imminent and that the captive caciques would be their only bargaining advantage with the Indians. Suárez insisted that hers was the only viable solution to their problem. She then went to the house where the caciques were guarded by Francisco Rubio and Hernando de la Torre and gave the order for the execution. Mariño de Lobera tells that the guard, La Torre, asked, “In what manner shall we kill them, my lady?” “In this manner,” she replied, and, seizing la Torre’s sword, she herself cut off their heads. After the seven were decapitated and their heads thrown out among the Indians, Suárez put on a coat of mail and a helmet and rode out on her white horse. According to an eyewitness, “…she went out to the plaza and put herself in front of all the soldiers, encouraging them with words of such exaggerated praise that they treated her as if she were a brave captain,…instead of a woman masquerading as a soldier in iron mail.”

The Spanish took advantage of the confusion and disorder engendered among the Indians by the gory heads, and spurred on by the courageous woman who now led them, succeeded in driving the now disordered Indians from the town. One historian wrote, “The Indians said afterward that the Christians would have been defeated were it not for a woman on a white horse.”In 1545, in recognition of her courage and valor, Valdivia rewarded Suárez with an encomienda. His testament of dedication said in part:

    …in battle with the enemies who did not take into account the caciques who were our prisoners, they that were in the most central place – to which the Indians came, …throwing themselves on you, and you, seeing how weakened your beleaguered forces were then, you made them kill the caciques who were prisoners, putting your own hands on them, causing the majority of the Indians to run away and they left off fighting when they witnessed the evidence of the death of their chieftains; …it is certain that if they had not been killed and thrown among their countrymen, there would not be a single Spaniard remaining alive in all this city… by taking up the sword and letting it fall on the necks of the cacique prisoners, you have saved all of us.

Had it not been for Suárez’ actions the city would have certainly fallen. You’ll have to decide for yourself what this episode says about the conquistadores. After the defeat Michimalonco fled to the Andes mountain valleys. He hid there for a couple of years but, feeling homesick, he went back to the valley and allied his forces with the Spanish and went to fight the Mapuches in the south. The ultimate success of the Spanish, in both Inca and Aztec territory, was achieved by a simple policy of using Indian forces against Indians, since the Spanish were seriously outnumbered in the early years of conquest. It’s the ages old policy of “divide and conquer” which the Romans knew all about 1,500 years earlier (“divide et impera”). If local Indian forces had been united against Spanish, British, French, or Dutch incursions into the Americas, the invaders never would have succeeded. Because they were divided among themselves they were easy prey.

Chilean cuisine, like all of South American cuisine, is a mix of local and European influences. The Spanish brought grapes, olives, walnuts, chestnuts, rice, wheat, citrus fruits, sugar, garlic, and spices. They also brought chicken, beef, sheep, pigs, rabbits, milk, cheeses, and sausages. The local Indians used corn in many of their dishes. The combination of the Spanish and indigenous ingredients resulted in popular corn-based dishes that are still part of the typical diet. Popular dishes include humitas (corn that is pureed and cooked in corn husks) and pastel de choclo (corn and meat pie).

Pastel de Choclo


4 cups frozen corn
8 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled)
3 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
4 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp oil
1 lb ground beef
salt and pepper
ground cumin
1 cup black olives
1 cup raisins
2 pieces of cooked chicken breast, cut into cubes or strips
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat the corn, basil, salt, and butter in a large pot. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Fry the onions in oil until they are soft. Add the ground meat and stir to brown. Drain the grease from the pan. Season with salt, pepper, and ground cumin to taste.

Use an oven-proof dish to prepare the pie. Spread the onion and ground meat mixture on the bottom of the dish, then arrange the olives and raisins on top. Place chicken pieces over the top. Cover the filling with the corn mixture, then sprinkle on the confectioners’ sugar.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Serve hot.

May 222015


The 1960 Valdivia earthquake or Great Chilean earthquake occurred on this date in 1960. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, rating 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. It occurred in the afternoon (19:11 GMT, 15:11 local time), and lasted approximately 10 minutes. The resulting tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, and the Aleutian Islands.

The epicenter was near Lumaco, approximately 570 kilometres (350 mi) south of Santiago, with Valdivia being the most affected city. The tremor caused localized tsunamis that severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 metres (82 ft). The main tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean and devastated Hilo, Hawaii. Waves as high as 10.7 metres (35 ft) were recorded 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) from the epicenter, and as far away as Japan and the Philippines.


The Valdivia earthquake affected all of Chile between Talca and Chiloé Island, more than 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 sq mi). Coastal villages, such as Toltén, disappeared. At Corral, the main port of Valdivia, the water level rose 4 m (13 ft) before it began to recede. At 16:20 UTC-4, a wave of 8 m (26 ft) struck the Chilean coast, mainly between Concepción and Chiloé. Another wave measuring 10 m (33 ft) was reported ten minutes later.

Hundreds of people were already reported dead by the time the tsunami struck. One ship, Canelos, starting at the mouth of Valdivia River, sank after being moved 1.5 km (0.93 mi) backward and forward in the river; its mast is still visible from the road to Niebla. A number of Spanish-colonial fortifications were completely destroyed. Soil subsidence also destroyed buildings, deepened local rivers, and created wetlands in places like the Río Cruces and Chorocomayo, a new aquatic park north of the city. Extensive areas of the city were flooded. The electricity and water systems of Valdivia were totally destroyed. Witnesses reported underground water flowing up through the soil. Despite the heavy rains of 21 May, the city was without a water supply. The river turned brown with sediment from landslides and was full of floating debris, including entire houses. The lack of potable water became a serious problem in one of Chile’s rainiest regions.


The earthquake did not strike all the territory with the same strength; measured with the Mercalli scale, tectonically depressed areas suffered heavier damage. The two most affected areas were Valdivia and Puerto Octay, near the northwest corner of Llanquihue Lake. Puerto Octay was the center of a north-south elliptical area in the Central Valley, where the intensity was at the highest outside the Valdivia Basin. East of Puerto Octay, in a hotel in Todos los Santos Lake, piles of plates were reported to have remained in place.

Two days after the earthquake Cordón Caulle, a volcanic vent close to Puyehue volcano, erupted. Other volcanoes may also have erupted, but none was recorded due to the lack of communication in Chile at the time. The relatively low death toll in Chile (estimated at 6,000) is explained in part by the low population density in the region, and by building practices that took into account the area’s high geological activity.


The earthquake was a megathrust earthquake resulting from the release of mechanical stress between the subducting Nazca Plate and the South American Plate, on the Peru–Chile Trench. The focus was relatively shallow at 33 km (21 mi), considering that earthquakes in northern Chile and Argentina may reach depths of 70 km (43 mi). Subduction zones are known to produce the strongest earthquakes on earth, as their particular structure allows more stress to build up before energy is released. Geophysicists consider it a matter of time before this earthquake will be surpassed in magnitude by another. The earthquake’s rupture zone was 800 km (500 mi) long, stretching from Arauco (37° S) to Chiloé Archipelago (43° S). The rupture velocity has been estimated as 3.5 km (2.2 mi) per second.

The earthquake triggered numerous landslides, mainly in the steep glacial valleys of the southern Andes. Within the Andes, most landslides occurred on forested mountain slopes around the Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault. Some of these areas remain sparsely vegetated while others have naturally developed more or less pure stands of Nothofagus dombeyi. These landslides did not cause many fatalities nor significant economic losses because most of the areas were uninhabited, with only minor roads.

One landslide caused destruction and alarm following its blockage of the outflow of Riñihue Lake. About 100 km (62 mi) south of Riñihue Lake, landslides in the mountains around Golgol River caused this river to dam up; when it burst through the earthen dam, it created a flood down to Puyehue Lake. The Golgol landslides destroyed parts of international Route 215-CH, which connects to Bariloche in Argentina through Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.


Earthquake-induced tsunamis affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia and the Aleutian Islands. Some localized tsunamis severely battered the Chilean coast, with waves up to 25 m (82 ft). The main tsunami crossed the Pacific Ocean at a speed of several hundred km/h and devastated Hilo, Hawaii, killing 61 people.

The Chilean coast from Mocha Island (38º S)and to Aysén Region (45º S) was devastated by a tsunami. Across southern Chile the tsunami caused a huge loss of life, damage to port infrastructure and the loss of a large number of minor boats. Further north, the port of Talcahuano did not suffer any major damage, only some flooding. Some tugboats and small sailboats were stranded on Rocuant Island near Talcahuano.

After an earthquake in Concepción the day before, people in Ancud sought refuge in boats. A carabinero (police) boat, Gloria, was towing a few of these boats when the second earthquake struck on 22 May. As the sea regressed Gloria became stranded between Cerro Guaiguén and Cochinos Island. The stranded boat was wrecked when a tsunami wave came and engulfed it. The small port of Bahía Mansa had all of its new infrastructure destroyed by the tsunami that reached heights of up to 10 m. The boat Isabella that was at that time in Bahía Mansa quickly left the port but suffered the loss of its anchors.

In Valdivia River and Corral Bay several vessels were wrecked due to the earthquake, among them Argentina, Canelos, Carlos Haverbeck, Melita and the salvaged remnants of Penco. Canelos was anchored at Corral and filling a cargo of wood and other products destined to northern Chile when the quake struck. The engine of Canelos was warmed up in view of these events. After hours of drifting around in Corral Bay and Valdivia River the ship was wrecked and abandoned by its crew at 18:00. Two men on board of Canelos died. As of 2000 the remnants of Canelos were still visible. Santiago, another ship anchored at Corral at the time of the quake, managed to leave Corral in a bad state but was wrecked off the coast of Mocha Island on 24 May. The schooner La Milagrosa departed from Queule on 22 May to load a cargo of Fitzroya wood shingles in a small port south of Corral. La Milagrosa was battered by the currents and waves of the tsunami for four days while moving south. Outside Corral the crew rescued six nearly unconscious and dehydrated minors on board of two boats. The boats found were used to navigate in Valdivia River and Corral Bay but had drifted into the high sea.


At the coastal town of Queule a carabinero reported hundreds of people to be dead or missing some days after the tsunami. Historians Yoselin Jaramillo and Ismael Basso report that people in Queule decades later know about 50 people to have died because of the earthquake and tsunami.

A seiche (standing wave) of more than 1 meter was observed on Panguipulli Lake following the earthquake. A seiche also occurred in Nahuel Huapi Lake, on the Argentinean side of the Andes, more than 200 km away from Valdivia. The wave, most likely produced by an earthquake-triggered sediment slide at the lake bottom, killed two people and destroyed a pier in San Carlos de Bariloche city.

During the earthquake, several landslides west of Tralcán Mountain blocked the outflow of Riñihue Lake (39°45′00″S 72°30′00″W). Riñihue Lake is the lowest of the Seven Lakes chain and receives a constant inflow from the Enco River. The blocked San Pedro River, which drains the lake, passes through several towns before reaching the city of Valdivia near the coast. Because the San Pedro River was blocked, the water level of Riñihue Lake started to rise quickly. Each meter the water level rose was equivalent to 20 million cubic meters, which meant that 4,800 million cubic meters of water would release into the San Pedro River (easily overpowering its flow capacity of 400 cubic metres (14,000 cu ft) per second if it rose above the final, 24-meter-high dam. This potential disaster would have violently flooded all the settlements along the course of the river in less than five hours, with more dire consequences if the dam suddenly broke.

About 100,000 people lived in the affected zone. Plans were made to evacuate Valdivia, and many people left. To avoid the destruction of the city, several military units and hundreds of workers from ENDESA, CORFO, and MOP started an effort to control the lake. Twenty-seven bulldozers were put into service, but they had severe difficulties moving in the mud near the dams, so dykes had to be constructed with shovels from June onwards. The work was not restricted to the lake; drainages from other parts of the Seven Lakes were dammed to minimize additional flow into Riñihue Lake. These dams were removed later, with the exception of Calafquén Lake, which still retains its dam.

By 23 June, the main dam had been lowered from 24 to 15 m (79 to 49 ft), allowing 3,000 million cubic meters of water to leave the lake gradually, but still with considerable destructive power.


On 24 May, 38 hours after the main shock of the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, Cordón Caulle began a rhyodacitic fissure eruption. Being located between two sparsely populated and isolated Andean valleys, the eruption had few eyewitnesses and received little attention by local media, which was preoccupied with the severe and widespread damage and losses caused by the earthquake. The eruption fed a 5.5 km long and N135° trending fissure where 21 individual vents have been found. These vents produced an output of about 0.25 km3 DRE (dense rock equivalent) both in form of lava flows and tephra (volcanic ash). The eruption ended on 22 July.

In the coastal village Collileufu, native Lafkenches (Mapuche) carried out a ritual human sacrifice during the days following the main earthquake. Collileufu, located in the Budi Lake area, south of Puerto Saavedra, was in 1960 highly isolated. The community had gathered in Cerro La Mesa, while the lowlands were struck by successive tsunamis. Juana Namuncura Añen, a local machi (shaman), demanded the sacrifice of the grandson of Juan Painecur, a neighbor, in order to calm the earth and the ocean. The victim was 5-year-old José Luis Painecur, an “orphan” (huacho) whose mother had gone to work as domestic worker in Santiago and left her son under the care of her father.The sacrifice was learned about by authorities after a boy in the commune of Nueva Imperial denounced to local leaders the theft of two horses; these were allegedly eaten during the sacrifice ritual. Two men were charged with the crime of murder and confessed, but later recanted. They were released from jail after 2 years. A judge ruled that those involved had “acted without free will, driven by an irresistible natural force of ancestral tradition.” The story was mentioned in a Time magazine article, although with little detail.

The cuisine of Chile bears some resemblances with that of Argentina (and other Latin American countries), and in some respects is unique because of its diverse geographical regions producing a wealth of ingredients from the lofty Andes to the long Pacific coastline. One of the great comfort foods of Chile and Argentina is pastel de choclo, a kind of pie baked in individual earthenware pots, called a paila. It has a meat filling with olives and boiled eggs, and topped with a basil scented corn pudding.

The Argentinian poet Florencio Escardó wrote the following ode to pastel de choclo, published in 1876:

Y ya lo creo!
¿Habrá cosa mas rica que una humitaen chala?
¿Qué les parece á ustedes una mazamorra con leche que haya sido traída desde cinco leguas en el tarro, del lechero?
Y díganme con franqueza, ¿hay cosa mas deliciosa que un pastel de choclo?
¡Si es cuento largo el enumerar las cosas ricas que se hacen con el maiz!

You won’t find this dish in restaurants in Argentina. Not sure about Chile. This is pure home food.


Pastel de Choclo


500 grams fresh sweetcorn kernels
1 handful fresh basil leaves
salt to taste


500 grams chopped beef, or beef and chicken mixed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium white onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp hot paprika
2 large hard-boiled eggs, sliced
2 tablespoons raisins
1 handful black olives, pitted and sliced
3 tbsp granulated sugar


Process the corn, basil, and salt until it is a mealy paste. Add a little milk if it is dry but do not make it too wet. Set aside.

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion until it takes on some color. Add the meat, paprika and cumin and thoroughly brown.

Divide the meat among 4 deep earthenware bowls set on a baking tray. Top with sliced egg, olives and raisins.

Pour the corn on top to form a crust.

Bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes. Remove and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle the tops with sugar and place under the broiler for a few minutes until the tops are amber and bubbling.

Then slice up a couple of boiled eggs and lay the slices upon the meet and onions, together with some black olives and raisins. Pour the sweetcorn paste as a third layer, and off to the oven for 15 min.

Serve with ensalada mexcla (lettuce, tomato, and onion.