Laurie Hermans in the Field: My Time in Chile

Laurie Hermans is no was an anthropology student from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands when she first contacted me nearly a year ago about coming to Chile. She was interested in doing research on animitas and had found a piece I wrote about them here in Cachando Chile (see: Animitas: Chile’s Popular Saints ).

Anthropologist Laurie Hermans, animitas, Casablanca, Chile

Anthropologist Laurie Hermans researching animitas in Casablanca, Chile

She arrived in late January and we got together periodically to bounce ideas around, work up new leads, explore possible contacts, and just to have some fun once and a while… In fact, she was one of the participants in the great Cuasimodo hunt.

I was impressed by her independence and adaptability as she proceeded from contact to contact, comuna to comuna, in search of people who could tell her more about animitas. It wasn’t easy, but she did a great job. She’s back in the Netherlands, her thesis is done (great work Laurie!), and should have her diploma in hand by now.

I asked her to write a bit about her experience here in Chile, and this is her response:

Guest Post by Laurie Hermans, Dutch Anthropologist:

So here I am, in the bathroom of my mother’s house in Den Dolder, a little town in the middle of Holland, and thinking about my time in Chile that just passed by. Now it seems unnatural to flush toilet paper, and I still find myself doubting whether or not to throw it into a little basket, as we always did in Chile. When I think of it, those three months were awesome at some points, and terrible and full of homesickness at others, but definitely worth the trouble. The brain is a funny organ; it makes you forget all the bad moments in the past, which in the case of my time in Santiago, is not that hard to do.

But how did I end up in Santiago in the first place? I hear you guys asking.

Well, I chose animitas—the little shrines built in remembrance of somebody who died tragically—as my research topic for my BA thesis in Cultural Anthropology, so that’s why!

Animitas in Casablanca, Chile (Photo M Snook, 2010)

I tried to find out how aspects of everyday life prevail in the animitas, an expression of popular religion. To be able to do so, I had to find people who actually went to animitas. After learning Spanish…

Laurie Hermans, anthropologist, fieldwork

Laurie Hermans in the field

In more or less four months, I tried to learn Chilean (which is different from ordinary Castellano) well enough to conduct interviews and to find enough information about my topic. I went to libraries, book stores, churches, universities, houses of people I had interviews with and of course, I went to the animitas.

Catching people for interviews was harder than I thought it would be though. Especially after the earthquake, when everybody (including me) had their eyes glued to the images of what remained of Concepción, and nobody was eager to go out into the streets any longer than necessary. It amazed me nevertheless, to see how helpful and friendly people were. They had their hands full of more important things, but they still wanted to help me with my thesis! Without their help, I wouldn’t have succeeded. I still haven’t handed in my thesis, so I can’t guarantee 100% that I succeeded, but I’m pretty sure that it will be good.

Besides studying, Santiago is a perfect place for partying. My house was even situated on Santiago’s party street (Pio Nono in Bellavista), where I lived with two great Chilean students and a fantastic Colombian guy. Of course, the temptation to drink pisco sours (there’s raw egg inside!) and terremotos (liquor with pineapple ice cream—how strange, but how delicious it is for one’s taste buds!) was endlessly hard to bear and therefore, something done regularly.

After working hard on the animitas I travelled with an Australian companion to the north of Chile for some serious adventure: sand boarding, paragliding, road tripping and surfing! But now I’m back in Holland again, in the bathroom in Den Dolder, bored to death and with some serious typing on the program. God, it would be marvelous to go back in Chile…after my financial limitations are erased—and Chile likes the Dutch again. We aren’t all like Joran!

¡Que te vaya bien, Chile!

** I asked Laurie to mention some of the things that impressed her most during her stay here in Chile:

  • The earthquake
  • Daily culture (such as the little conversations at the supermarket, happy people in the street, getting squeezed in on the subway)
  • People always say “¡que te vaya bien!”
  • Street dogs
  • Relaxed bus “schedule'”

18 responses to “Laurie Hermans in the Field: My Time in Chile

  1. Another nice gringa being so typically honest about her Chilean experience.

  2. I would like to know a little of what she found out about animitas, and how can be possible that someone in Holland knew about them!?

  3. Hi Marmo! Tanto tiempo! I’m not sure how she first heard of animitas. I know she has a professor from Chile art her university, but don’t know if that’s how she first made the connection.
    It really wasn’t easy for her to get solid information. There’s surprisingly little available, but she certainly tried! She spoke with priests in different comunas, with municipal officials, with people who study them, who’ve written about them, with Oreste Plath’s daughter, with people who take care of the animitas, with people who ask them for favors… like I said, she really impressed me with her determination!
    Maybe we can get her to do another piece about her findings in general!

  4. Pingback: Laurie Hermans in the Field: My Time in Chile | Cachando Chile … life university

  5. Very cool! I love hearing all the interesting things people decide to study. Like Marmo, I would love to know what her reflections/conclusions are. When she finishes writing her thesis, maybe she’ll do another guest post.

  6. Well she HAS finished her thesis (and I’ve even read it), but I will most definitely let HER tell that part of the story!

  7. Excellent story! Now, of course, I want more answers about the origins of animitas. We may never know. Perhaps it started with one family, then another and………
    Thanks for sharing Peg. I’m going to Paris to write my thesis, I’ll share when I do😉

  8. Si, ha pasado bastante tiempo desde que hago un comentario, pero sigo leyendo CachandoChile todo el tiempo. Sólo que no he comentado nada últimamente. Esto de las animitas en Holanda me ha dado demasiada curiosidad como para no preguntar algo.

  9. @Barb-The origins of animitas go way, way back. It seems to be a convergence of the belief systems of the early Spanish colonizers and the indigenous peoples who were already here. You see them all over the highways and other dangerous places. Some are incredibly elaborate and other simple and abandoned. I have tons of pictures and will definitely post more on the subject in the future!
    I’m looking forward to reading your Paris thesis–hopefully you’ll supply the cheese and wine as I read it!

  10. Pingback: Cuasimodo a la Chilena | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  11. Hi Margaret; esto de las animitas lo encuentro muy bueno, Romualdito , ahí en Estación Central , es una, o sino , la más grande de las animitas.Te cuento en la V región hay un tour para recorrer las animitas más populares , pasando por la de Emile Dubois (algo así como nuestro Jack el destripador), el tour es para un mínimo de 3 personas y lo pueden tomar en http://www.fotogamia.cl
    Lo de la animitas es pura devoción popular y fé .Saludos y que estés muy bien.

  12. Hola Nano-Sí, el Romualdito es famoso! De hecho, la foto en el post mencionado arribe (Animitas: Chile’s Popular Saints: https://cachandochile.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/animitas/ ) es de ahí.
    Muchas gracias por el dato del tur y el link- muy interesante ese sitio! Voy a tener que ponerme en contacto con ellos!Thank you!

  13. Estimada Margaret: Curiosamente uno de mis tópicos favoritos en mis circuitos es explicarles a los pasajeros de que se tratan las animitas Chilenas:

    Anima del Latin Animus (alma)

    Cuando alguien muere en forma trágica, accidente o asesinato, las personas crean estas capillas para recordar al difunto. Después comienza el culto pidiendo milagros a la animita.
    En Chile se dice que los que fueron malos en vida; delincuentes o asesinos, cuando mueren no pueden llegar al cielo pues estan en falta. La gente pide favores a esa animita para ayudarla a que se redima creando buenas acciones y al mismo tiempo es una forma conseguir favores garantizados.
    Las más populares o más milagrosas pueden ser descubiertas facilmente pues estan llenas de velas, flores y placas (exvotos) agradeciendo el favor concedido y suelen ser de algun “malo en vida”
    En valparaíso, la más famosa es la del primer asesino en serie de Chile. 1906, Emile Dubois, un Frances. Fue fusilado y hoy día, en el cementerio N° 3, hay un santuario enorme dedicado a su animita. Dicen que es muy milagroso.

    Esto quiere decir que en Chile, puedes comenzar como un delincuente y puedes terminar como un santo.
    Espero llegar a tiempo con esta historia o se la puedas transmitir a la antropologa.

    Abrazos desde Valparaíso. La ciudad de las animas en pena

    Leo Silva

  14. Hola Leo!
    Muchas gracias por tus explicaciones. Aunque no lo creas, a pesar de la famosa que es y cuánto me encantan las animitas, aún no conozco la de Emilie Dubois! Tema pendiente… siempre hay temas pendientes en Valpo (de mi corazón!)…
    La verdad es que nunca había pensado tanto en esa relación entre el malo y la calidad de ser milagrosa… Interesante.
    Como es tema que me ha interesado desde el mismísimo día que llegué a Chile, lo he dado muchísimas vueltas y es tema que volveré a escribir en ese espacio, sin duda, con algunas teorías propias…
    Muchas gracias por tus aportes!

  15. Hello!

    Although it has been a while since I have been in Chile (I miss it..) is it really cool to stay in contact with Margaret like this, how it all happened. I found out about the animitas in Holland thanks to some professors of anthropology. They traveled a lot in Latin America and also to Chile and they named the animitas as an interesting and (at least in Holland) undiscovered phenomenon of popular religion, the subject I wanted to write my thesis about. The main reason I decided to write my thesis in English is to share my experiences and thoughts with more people so, in case you are interested, let me know!

    Love, Laurie.

  16. Hi Laurie! So nice to hear from you! (to everyone else- Laurie wrote separately to say she’d been on a well-deserved vacation)…
    The door is always open for you at Cachando Chile, so tell us more whenever you want!!
    Cariños!

  17. Hi!

    Margaret proposed to let me write another blog if people are interested so I would be happy to take that offer! To me the most interested part of the animitas has to do with the space they occupy. When I studied the animitas, it became clear that space is contested, that is, different people or groups of people like to inhabit or use a certain space, in which some spaces are more popular than others. Therefore animitas are not apparent in some highly contested areas of the city such as the centre, but more and more frequent in the outskirts of the centre. This is also because people use the centre of the city more as a area to pass and go to work, people in general who come there during the day return to their homes outside the direct heart of the city.

    People who went to the animitas have an urge to remember the person who died but also the tragedy that had happened there. When an animita really starts to grow is this thanks to a couple of reasons, from which the most important one is the ‘tragicness’ of the story behind an animita.

    Hopefully other people will do some more research about the animitas and popular religion in Chile to unravel the mysteries of the animitas! It is thanks to Margaret that I could get permission from my teacher to go to Chile and hopefully it is thanks to these kind of messages that people will generate more interest towards the animtas.

    Cool that you guys are interested!

  18. Thanks Laurie–interesting thoughts about contested space. There’s also the aspect of animitas marking the spot of the tragic death, so it naturally follows that there are more in areas that present greater danger, such as along highways. It is also easier to place an animita there because these spaces are considered something of a no man’s land, whereas urban property is owned–and used–by someone, making it all the more difficult to erect an informal shrine.
    All that said, remember that there are indeed animitas within the city, such as Romualdito, the most famous of all.
    I thought of you this weekend as I stopped along the side of Rt 68 to take pictures of a large animita (“Fely”) near Quintay–all the while hoping not to be hit by a bus in the process and have to have my own animita right there too!

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