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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.88 Santiago dic. 2014

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-69962014000300014 

LECTURAS

Architecture of ranchers in San Pedro de Atacama

Flora Vilches*(1), Lorena Sanhueza*(2), Cristina Garrido**(3)

* Professor, Anthropology Department, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
** Antropologist, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile.


Abstract

The body of architectural material associated with the ranching era in San Pedro de Atacama does not seem to be part of the local heritage discourse. However, its own invisibility and memory would demonstrate that it is an impor tant part of the Atacama identity.

Keywords: Architecture – Chile, heritage, archaeology, cattle traffic, capitalism, desert architecture.


 

Today, the town of San Pedro de Atacama, located in the north of Chile, is one of the country’s most important tourist hubs. Part of its success as a national and international destination is that it possesses an important Pre- Hispanic archeological heritage in the area that is recognized and exhibited as such. However, the same care is not lent to recent history. There exists an important accumulation of material evidence from the first capitalist settlers in San Pedro as well as the memory of current inhabitants, especially from the period known as the ‘Time of the Bulls’, referencing the livestock shipments that fed the capitalist expansion in the area.

While anthropology has begun to study these transformative processes from documents and oral records (for example: Gundermann, 2003, 2004; Morales, 2010; Núñez, 2007; Rivera, 1994, 1998; Sanhueza and Gundermann, 2007), their material remains have not received sufficient attention. Despite working with cultural material, archaeology has not contributed. Apart from isolated effort from local experts, like those of Eva Siárez, we know little of the role this has played in the numerous social processes that occurred in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis and how these local populations interacted with said processes to become what they are today.

In this article(1) we added an archeological vision to the understanding of the capitalist expansion in the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama based on the study of the material remains, particularly those of architecture. Maintaining a constant dialogue with the oral sources, we believe that the materiality of the time of the livestock trade in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis can provide key information that questions the invisibility of recent history in the current lives of its inhabitants.


The Recent Past in San Pedro de Atacama

During the last decades of the 19th century, the Atacama society underwent a dramatic change with their livelihoods transitioning from a fundamentally agro-pastoral economy to one with a more diversified capitalist base (Núñez, 2007). The engine of this transformation was the installation of large industry in the region: silver ore in Caracoles, nitrate cantons in Pampa Central and El Toco, and subsequently the Chuquicamata copper mine. Cattle ranching were the commercial strategy for most local indigenous population, supplying livestock and other assets to mining enclaves. Large cattle shipments arrived to San Pedro de Atacama to later be distributed toward industrial centers. Importing firms or commercial houses located in this locality or in Antofagasta (Sanhueza, 2012) hired former herdsmen as employees and laborers to perform these jobs.

Ranching also implied an unusual demand in fodder for fattening the animals. The alfalfa production in San Pedro de Atacama was multiplied and indigenous lands began to be acquired and be concentrated in the hands of large landowners who, in turn, required a growing agricultural day labor force (Núñez, 2007; Sanhueza andGundermann, 2007). Without neglecting the exchange and trade of traditional products with the indigenous populations of the neighboring regions, local residents took advantage of the new opportunities of the glorious ‘Time of the Bulls’ until the 1930’s (Castro and Varela, 2000; Núñez, 2007; Sanhueza and Gundermann, 2007; Cárdenas, 2007). At that time, the worldwide economic crisis affected the nitrate industry and the livestock demand fell considerably. Ten years later, the construction of the Salta-Antofagasta railroad absorbed the cattle trade that had managed to survive, marginalizing the lucrative livestock shipment business in San Pedro de Atacama.


The architectonic capital: the material evidence of the ranching age

The material evidence of the San Pedro de Atacama cattle ranching consists of objects that the inhabitants conserve in their homes, but also and more importantly, the large scale architectonic remains that, ironically, have remained invisible to academia or to the discourse of a current ethnic recognition, and thus, to patrimonial discussions. They literally correspond to real estate that began to be held by the business owners and traders who arrived in the area but which was equally constitutive of the daily experience of the local inhabitants and migrants associated with the new economic order.

There are three major units: the housing complex, the corral complex and the houses of the town. All of these are located in the ayllus that formed the San Pedro de Atacama oasis and even some to the interior of the current city limits or in the old city center of the town itself (fig. 1 and 2). Moreover, they challenge the cohesive linearity of the identity processes of the Atacama population and generate questions about the dynamics through which the heritage of the contemporary past is made up of (or not).

Fig. 1. Map of the San Pedro de Atacama oasis indicating housing complexes and ranching complexes.
Source: drawing by Paulina Chávez.
Leyend: 1. Catarpe; 2. Solcor Farolo; 3. San Miguel; 4. Mostajo Yaye; 5. Don Isidoro; 6. CONAF / Chilean National Forest Office; 7. Bull’s pen; 8. Sota; 9.Bull’s passage; 10. Gavia; 11. Polanco; 12. Patrón Costa; 13. Tchecar; 14. Séquitor; 15. Solor.

Fig. 2. Map of downtown San Pedro de Atacama indicating houses associated with the time of the ranchers.
Source: drawing by Paulina Chávez.
Leyend: 1. Abaroa Family; 2. Yutronic Family; 3. Álvarez Family; 4. Gumercinda Hoyos; 5. Ivanovic Family; 6. Polanco Family; 7. Blacksmith; 8. Hotel / Restaurant.

The four housing complexes identified so far (Polanco, Tchecar, Catarpe and Mostajo Yaye) correspond to places where people who had an economic link to the cattle trade lived, be that owners/agents or producers of the alfalfa necessary for maintaining the large numbers of animals that passed through San Pedro (fig. 1). All of these are composed by a structure of housing with a differentiated activity area, patio, domestic corral, and eventually, cultivated patches. Notwithstanding, the internal structure of the spaces varied. Each complex is built in adobe and has a single slope roof (except for Mostajo Yaye), have angles in the both the door and window openings, as well as plaster on all the walls, generally on the interior and exterior. Regarding the patios and corrals, these are built with a combination of adobones –large adobe blocks–, adobe and eventually stone.

As seen in Table 1, clear differences exist between the surveyed housing complexes. Polanco stands out for its structure, internal complexity, and the size of the spaces and entrances. It has the largest rooms, which is consistent with the large size of the public spaces such as the patio and domestic corrals (figs. 3 and 4). This is related to the number of people that lived in this housing complex, but also with its social and economic position demonstrated through not only the size of the house but also the height of the walls, openings, windows and finishes. The Catarpe and Mostajo Yaye complexes are without a doubt more modest, both in the number of people that lived in them as with the resources inverted in their construction. This is advertised by the size of the built spaces, in the height of the walls and finishes. The structuring of the spaces follows the local pattern, with a single rectangular volume and access through a patio.

Table 1.

Fig. 3. Polanco housing complex, Ayllu de Yaye.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project.

Fig. 4. Polanco housing complex plan. Published scale 1: 500.
Survey by Alex Paredes.

Until now we have identified thirteen architectonic complexes that correspond to this designation, two of which coexist with the housing complexes of Catarpe and Mostajo Yaye. The ranch complex responds to a group of structures composed by a large enclosed field known as a canchon, a square structure with high adobe walls associated with a small adobe house, located inside or outside of the canchon and eventually an area fenced by large adobones that acted as a corral. These are located in the ayllus of Catarpe, Yaye, Tchecar, Solor, Séquitor, but mainly in Solcor (fig. 1).

The size of the canchones varies, but as reflected in Table 2, three ranges can be observed: smaller than 400 m2, between 450-800 m2 and over 1,000 m2. The walls are built in adobe with heights oscillating between 3 and 4 meters and, generally, are raised above a plinth of river stones. The adobes are placed transversely so that the width of the wall coincides with the length of the adobes. The houses associated with the canchones are rectangular structures, also of adobe, that can be found both outside and inside the canchon, attached to one of the walls. Their dimensions vary greatly, between 20 and 53 m2 and generally the interior wall is plastered. The roof is a single slope, with the exception of Catarpe where it is gabled (figs. 5 and 6).(2)

The high standardization of the ranch complex in terms of its composition contrasts with the great diversity in their construction. The adobes of different size and composition, as with the details of their main features (arches, crowns and towers), suggest the presence of different builders and eventually different owners. The functionality of the canchones is not entirely clear, although their relationship to the time of the bull corrals is unquestionable. We manage two proposals: corrals or pasture storage. In fact, the regularity in the sizes and composition of these complexes alludes to a functional homology; however, there are certain details that suggest differentiated uses. One of the most notorious is the width of the access points to the canchones that could have to do with the use linked to animal management, because larger openings would be more convenient. On the other hand, those with noticeably narrower access openings could be associated with uses such as gathering places for large quantities of grasses, a fundamental element for the ranch system.

Table 2.

Fig. 5. Catarpe Housing complex and ranching complex, Catarpe Ayllú.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project.

Fig. 6. Catarpe Housing complex and ranching complex. Published scale 1: 500.
Survey by Alex Paredes.

With respect to the houses in the town, we have been able to identify at least eleven constructions that would have been in use during the ‘Time of the Bulls’ (see Siárez 1998, 2009, 2013). They are continuous facade houses, located within the historical center of San Pedro, inserted into the checkerboard landscape of the town as can be observed in Table 3. These meet residential functions, corresponding to the residency of the big ranch businessmen, as well as the sale of goods and services(3).

Table 3.

Within the residential structures we noted the residencies of the Ivanovic, Álvarez, Abaroa and Polanco families located along central streets su ch as Caracoles, Tocopilla and Gustavo Le Paige (fig. 7). The facades of these buildings present high adobe walls, sometimes with finishes (moldings) and single or double paned doors that in three cases are located on corners, leading to a hallway that connects to an interior patio. Clearly, the majority of the building features are of a Hispanic colonial influence and are present in many other local dwellings but differ in size and in the quality of their finishes. This situation would be repeated with the internal equipment of the residences with teardrop chandeliers (Siárez, 1998, 2009).

Fig. 7. Abaroa family residence, San Pedro de Atacama.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project.

Regarding those properties that fulfilled secondary functions apart from housing, we found the house located on the intersection of Tocopilla and Gustavo Le Paige streets (NE corner) which originally belonged to the Almonte family and was later sold to Pedro Yutronic, who then opened a general store (fig. 8). Notably, the construction detail of a metal ring for tying horses has been preserved. Another case, the residence of Gumercinda de Hoyos, Mr. Abaroa’s secretary, located on the Toconao- Gustavo Le Paige intersection facing the plaza also functioned as an administrative office for the business (Siárez, 2009).

Fig. 8. Yutronic Residence/Almonte General Store.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project.

Finally, during this time the property located on the south side of the plaza functioned as a hotel and restaurant whose owner was Sara Arancibia de Álvarez (Siárez, 2009). This function has been maintained until today. A little farther off from the center of town, almost at the end of Caracoles street, westbound, a blacksmith was located.


The conservation, recycling and memor y of built space

The location of ranch architecture in San Pedro de Atacama has been an important factor in the structures’ state of conservation. Those located in an urban radius have been exposed to the constant hustle and bustle of the local inhabitants and also in the last few decades to the growing influx of tourists. This explains why the best conserved complex be Catarpe as it is located in the ayllu farthest from town. But exposure of the constructions is also linked to the management that they have had since their original use was discontinued, independent of whether or not they have passed hands from their original owners, Atacama families, non-Atacama families, state organisms or private businesses.

The life stories of each structure vary: some have more complex trajectories than others (see tables 1, 2 and 3). We find at least three situations that are repeated yet not mutually exclusive: reuse linked to original function, reuse with a different function and the recycling of building materials for other purposes. With respect to the first, housing complexes and town houses have been reused as housing. In some cases additions are made. In others, some enclosures are partially used with interventions varying from striped walls to tile floors and mosaics. For their part, the canchones are reutilized as sheep or horse pens, with the latter employed in both domestic use and tourism.

As for the new use of structures with a new function, the range is wide. Polanco is the most versatile housing complex, because according to locals it was used as a hospital and later as a military precinct during the dictatorship. Meanwhile, the canchones have been for the large part recycled as housing but also for functions as diverse as a mechanic shop or as the access to a five star hotel (fig. 9). The houses, due to their central locations, have been occupied for commercial uses (mostly restaurants, stores and hostels) or as spaces for public institutions such as an elementary school, police station or the municipal public works department. These uses have produced aggressive interventions in the structures that have implied a broad magnitude of structural changes.

Fig. 9. Access to Hotel Tierra Atacama through the Corral de Toros ranching complex, Yaye Ayllu.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project.

Finally, the recycling of building materials from the structures is the most radical form of reuse for this architecture where in many cases has meant the complete disassembly of the walls. In the majority of cases the adobes are reutilized for the construction of housing due to its high quality, measuring almost double those manufactured today. The canchones have been the structures most affected by these practices. In fact, Séquitor and Patrón Costa retain only fragments of the wall and vertex respectively (fig. 10). There are also several testimonies of other canchones that we have been unable to detect due to the imprecision of these same stories that could have completely disappeared.

Fig. 10. Séquitor ranching complex built and rebuilt as a shack, Séquitor Ayllu.
Photography: FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project..


Remember by linving

The continuity in the use of the ranching structures, as diverse as it may be, is what distances them from the category of ruin (especially archaeologically) commonly associated with pre-Hispanic times. In practice, these spaces are inserted into daily life in a dynamic way; an issue that apparently impedes their understanding in the same was as the remains of more distant ancestors who despite their deterioration are still being used and, in a sense, alive. This condition has not prevented them from being recognized as part of a glorious time of great abundance. This is an aspect that younger generations recognize and reproduce.

What we find is basically an incomplete store, full of modifications and veiled memories from two kinds of informants: those who remained in Atacama and those who left town recognized as first generation descendants from the ranching time(4). In both cases these are childhood testimonies from the decades of the twenties to the forties. They do not know for certain what the canchones were used for, although the majority coincide in that they served as storage for grass, tools or carts. With regards to the grass, all agree that practically all the fertile land in San Pedro was used to cultivate alfalfa for sale. In this sense, the displacement of the canchones is indicative of the large quantities of grass that was being accumulated and that could bring us closer to the true capital that supported the local population. We know that the bulk of the Atacama people were not responsible for the construction of the canchones nor lived in the opulent residences, but they were able to supply grass to the businessmen. However, today we can find no evidence that any particular Atacameño became rich thanks to this activity.

Instead there exists the legend of the Yutronics, the most recognized family of the time because of the general store that ran at the center of town. All of the testimonies we collected emphasize how this family gained its wealth from a debt system. Eager to acquire imported goods such as tools, leather saddles, work clothes or packaged food and household goods, many Atacameños without cash would sign promissory notes they later not pay thus handing over their lands to pay debts. The majority of those interviewed also linked this scheme to other capitalist families associated with the Yutronics be it by affiliation or political and commercial affinity. The Yugoslavians and Austrians were particularly identified for scams that after taking people’s land would then use it for the ranching business, that is, to the exclusive production of grasses.

On the opposite side of history sits the Abaroa family. Unlike their foreign contemporaries in the territory, the Abaroa family is considered by the nonagenarian informants as "people from here" or Atacameños. Testimonies from the younger participants, around 60 years old or younger, as with the official history, say they were Bolivians. The fact is that like other wealthy families such as the Hoyos or De los Rios, the Abaroas came from the recently annexed Republic of Bolivia. Whatever their ethnic origin may be, from the stories a nationalized memory of the territory unfolds. Maybe this allows us to speak of the symbolic consolidation of the Chilean territory during this time. On an identity level it is relevant that the Abaroas are remembered as generous capitalists and active participants in the cultural and religious activities of Atacama but above all as Atacameños.


The issue of heritage

Following Smith, heritage is not a given thing but an "authorized patrimonial discussion" (2006, p. 11). More than a question with defined values, the author says that it is an inherently political and discordant practice that demonstrates the present day cultural practice. It can be used for different groups and individuals with different purposes or degrees of hegemony and legitimacy and as such is a tremendously dynamic process. In this context, the metaphorical invisibility of the capitalist-expansion architecture in San Pedro de Atacama acquires meaning.

Gundermann stated that the Atacameño communities are facing the rapid changes imposed by the process of modernization through the "rhetoric of nostalgia" (2004, p. 231). This is translated in a schematic idealization of the ancestral past that has come with the collective actions of ethnic recognition as a result of state policies not only in San Pedro de Atacama but also in various spaces with an indigenous population in Chile. In this context, there is no doubt that the archaeological investigation of the pre-Hispanic past has judged an active role at the moment of feeding both the content of these recognitions and the influx of the tourist industry and the cultural exoticism (Ayala, 2008). In other words, different groups and individuals have contributed to authorizing a patrimonial discourse where modernity has no place in the Atacameño lifestyle.

However, the materials remains of the ranching times as well as the memories associated with them tend to indicate the contrary albeit within a complex articulation of presences and absences, gains and losses. The monumental and ostentatious architecture evokes a time of abundance of money and meat while the vast extensions (dry and abandoned) remind one of the fertile lands that were taken. Both are unavoidable and demonstrate that we as subjects are socialized in a physical world composed of material objects that presents us with frameworks of action through the habitus (Miller, 1987 in the sense given by Bourdieu, 1977). In this way, one can also speak of a habitus material (Meskell, 2005) in relationship to the world that is conceived and structured by the people, but that is also forming the human experience in daily practice.

Then, even though we agree that the architecture of the ranchers in San Pedro de Atacama is far from being a visible domain, the interesting thing is that this same discursive invisibility creates the ability to provide the framework of action for the inhabitants of the oasis. In other words, the humility of these fixed objects makes them easy to overlook, but this does not make them less constitutive of the Atacameño (Miller, 1987). Little by little, modernity has passed to form part of the Atacameño life because the transformational processes that are accelerated in the early 20th century are revealed to be rapid and sinuous. A space of constant accommodation and negotiation (although not always happy) lies in the interstices of the capitalist expansion.

Archaeology can help bring out the darker side of these processes, one that marginalizes, betrays and in the worst cases destroys the communities we work with (González-Ruibal, 2009). The archaeology of the ranching past deals with a key moment for the Atacameño population: maybe not the first nor the last and extensive loss of ancestral lands. The framework is there, written in architecture that is built, demolished and rebuilt; visible and invisible, humble and surprising.


Acknowledgements

We would like to express our gratitude to the Atacameño communities who generally and literally opened the doors of their homes to share their knowledge, objects and memories. We specifically thank Eva Siárez and Magdalena Gutiérrez, who closely collaborated with our research and all the members of the FONDECYT n° 1120087 project that contributed to the structure record. 

 

Notes

1. This research is part of the FONDECYT n° 1120087 project "Capitalist expansion and identity in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis, 1880-1980: an interdisciplinary approach".

2. The names of the canchones are not the original names. Analytically, we have named them according to the locals refer to them (*); the ayllu where they are located (**); the current owner or administrator (***); or the original owner (****).

3. Our work with this complex was limited to survey the spatial location of the property as all of them are currently in use and have undergone enormous transformations (see below).

4. The stories to which this text refers to come from a total of nine informants interviewed in 2012 and from another six interviews between 1996-1998 and 2008-2010.

 

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1. Flora Vilches. Archaeologist, Universidad de Chile, 1996; Master and PhD in Ar t History and Archaeology, The University of Maryland, 1999 and 2005. She has developed research around the archaeology of recent societies in the north of Chile and its relationship with the eruption of industrial capitalism. Currently she is teaching in the Anthropology department of the Universidad de Chile, where she also coordinates the Master in Archaeology program. She is the researcher responsible for the FONDECYT Nº 1120087 project titled "Capitalist expansion and identity in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis, 1880-1980: an interdisciplinary approach".

2. Lorena Sanhueza. Archaeologist, Universidad de Chile, 1997; Master in Archaeology, Universidad de Chile, 2004; Doctor of Anthropology, UTA-UCN, 2014. Her studies are centered on pre-Hispanic archaeology in the central region of Chile and in material alfalfa culture studies. Currently she is teaching in the Anthropology department of the Universidad de Chile, where she is also responsible for the heritage area. She is co-researcher in the FONDECYT 1120087 project titled "Capitalist expansion and identity in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis, 1880-1980: an interdisciplinary approach".

3. Cristina Garrido. Anthropologist, Universidad Austral de Chile, 1999; Master in Archaeology, Universidad Católica del Norte, 2008; Doctoral candidate in Anthropology, UTA-UCN. CONICYT 2008-2012 scholar. The central theme of her work is the relationship between territory, indigenous communities and worldviews of the Atacama Desert. Her doctoral thesis, in development, looks at the relationship between popular religiosity, church and state in San Pedro de Atacama, El Loa province, Chile. She is currently responsible for various initiatives for stewardship, conservation and diffusion of the immaterial heritage of Atacama and the Atacameños. She is also co-researcher in the FONDECYT 1120087 project titled "Capitalist expansion and identity in the San Pedro de Atacama oasis, 1880-1980: an interdisciplinary approach".

AYALA, Patricia. Políticas del Pasado: indígenas, arqueólogos y estado en Atacama. San Pedro de Atacama, Línea Editorial IIAM, 2008.         [ Links ]

BOURDIEU, Pierre. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977.         [ Links ]

CÁRDENAS, Ulises. 2007 Ms. Las salinas del Valle de la Luna: historia olvidada de un asentamiento minero contemporáneo en la puna de Atacama, II Región de Antofagasta. Manuscrito en posesión del autor.         [ Links ]

CASTRO, Victoria y VARELA, Varinia. "Los caminos del ‘reinka’ en la región del Loa Superior. Desde de etnografía a la arqueología". En: Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Chilena (XIV , 1997, Copiapó, Chile). Actas del XIV Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Chilena, vol. 1. Copiapó, Chile, Sociedad Chilena de Arqueología, 2000. p. 815-840.

GONZÁLEZ-RUIBAL, Alfredo. "Vernacular cosmopolitanism: an archaeological critique of universalistic reason". En: Meskell, Lynn (ed.), Cosmopolitan Archaeologies. Durham, Duke University Press, 2009. p. 113-139.         [ Links ]

GUNDERMANN, Hans. "Sociedades indígenas, municipio y etnicidad: la transformación de los espacios políticos locales andinos". Estudios Atacameños, (25): 55-77, 2003.         [ Links ]

GUNDERMANN, Hans. "Inicios de siglo en San Pedro de Atacama: procesos, actores e imaginarios en una localidad andina". Chungará, 36 (1): 221-239, 2004.         [ Links ]

MESKELL, Lynn. "Objects in the mirror appear closer than they are". En: Miller, Daniel (ed.), Materiality. Durham, Duke University Press, 2005. p. 51-71.         [ Links ]

MILLER, Daniel. Material culture and mass consumption. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1987.         [ Links ]

MORALES, Héctor. Etnopolítica en Atacama. Laberintos de la etnicidad atacameña en Chile. Tesis (Doctor en Antropología). Berlín, Freie Universität Berlin, 2010.         [ Links ]

NÚÑEZ, Lautaro. Vida y cultura en el oasis de San Pedro de Atacama. Segunda edición. Santiago, Editorial Universitaria, 2007.         [ Links ]

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