Pampa Pilgrimages Revive Glory Days of Nitrates Industry

Pampa Pilgrimages Revive Glory Days of Nitrates Industry


For All Saints Day, children, youth, men and women of different ages participated in traditional, emotion-filled pilgrimages to pampa cemeteries. The events also served to conclude the “Tin Flower Wreath” workshops sponsored by SQM that revive and teach this age-old art form.

Walking the pace of an accompanying brass band, different generations participated in the meaningful pilgrimages to pampa cemeteries in Coya Sur and the former Francisco Vergara nitrates office, and coastal graveyards in Cobija and Gatico, as part of festivities to celebrate All Saints Day to pay homage to people that lived in those towns and played a key role during the glory days of the nitrates industry.

Carrying tin flower wreaths made with their own hands, the emotion-filled pilgrimage filled the historical cemeteries with colors. The traditional pilgrimage marked the end of the tin flower wreath workshops given by SQM for the past 7 years to revive and emphasize the value of this funeral art used by the former inhabitants of the former nitrates offices. Today, these workshops allow new generations to revive and learn about this art form.

In María Elena, workshop participants met for 6 weeks to learn about and make the wreaths. In Tocopilla, the workshop was condensed into two intense weeks. In both towns, while they made the wreaths each afternoon, participants exchanged entertaining anecdotes and stories about their ancestors that lived at the various old nitrates offices near the pampa district.

Elena Gaete, an organizer and teacher for the workshop in Tocopilla, which attracted 28 participants, explained, “It is so great that this workshop is held every year since it enables us to continue our pampa traditions. The people that take part were very happy since they learned old techniques and, also, leaving flowers at the cemeteries fills us with emotion and happiness.”

Pablo Pisani, Director of Communications, Sustainability and Public Affairs Manager at SQM, commented, “For our company, as an heir to the nitrates industry, this initiative is very important because it helps conserve and tell the story of our historical heritage. Reviving the cultural legacy of the nitrates era motivates us as a company. In this spirit, for the last seven years we have successfully implemented this initiative in the Antofagasta and Tarapacá Regions.”

This year, workshop participants in Iquique and Pozo Almonte innovated by also making paper flower wreaths in addition to the traditional tin flower wreaths. The paper wreaths, another form of funeral art from the nitrates era, allowed them to honor the dead with another offering that can withstand the extreme weather conditions in the pampa. In Tarapacá, the pilgrimages were made to the pampa cemeteries at the former nitrates offices of Mercedes, Agua Santa and Catalina.