‘Tijerales’ – a cultural fiesta

‘Tijerales’ is the name for a topping-out ceremony – a roof raising celebration – that takes place between builders and the building owner, when constructing a new house or building and the first part of the roof-construction is finished. Like in most parts of the world, this is also celebrated here in Chile. The difference in Chile, at least in comparison with some countries, is that here they make a party out of it. They really celebrate big time.

maestro6The basic ingredient of the celebration is preparing a huge barbecue. Loads of meat are brought in, and the biggest barbecues that can be found (usually at least two half oildrums welded together) are prepared and sacks of charcoal are lit. Like with most barbecues in Chile plenty of chicken, beef and pork-meat are cooked directly on the grill, while whole lambs (cut in half) are pierced on a large skewer and slowly grilled while rotating over the burning charcoal for hours. While meat is grilling and delicious smells start to appear from the scene of celebration – drinks are brought in. Cold beers, fresh chicha and wine in quantity. This is the treat of the building owner – and it is expected not to lack anything! And then bottled are opened, and while the meat is prepared slowly – conversations begin.

And this is the interesting part, because of the many different types of participants who attend. While this event of course is meant to celebrate the workers and their job well done, the host also invites family, friends and neighbours. This means that the social mixture of people and personalities can be quite exceptional. You see, in Chile, handymen and construction-workers are usually of quite low social rank. The trade of construction is traditionally not a trained profession that requires formal education, but something that the workers pass on from generation to generation. So many construction-workers are un-educated people who always have made their living from doing hard work with their hands, often finding casual labour from day to day. Construction workers have the reputation of being the people who possess the largest vocabulary of swear-words and also very easily take to drink.

maestroSo at these celebrations, all the building workers are invited along with friends of the building owner that could easily be lawyers, teachers or bank assistants. There will be family members that could be of very opposite political beliefs, and neighbours that could be farmers, policemen or anywhere along the social ‘ladder’. In some catholic homes, there could also be a priest attending to offer blessings to the new construction. So, as you can imagine, the mix of people can really be extreme and very unusual, compared to the regular barbecues. I would say that the Chilean ‘tijerales’ produces a kind of social and cultural melting pot, or centrifuge, that would make any sociologist or anthropologist go mad with desire to discover new aspects of their fields. For all us other mortals, it can just be a real treat to experience.

At the beginning of the celebration, the workers are usually very nervous and shy in the presence of so many unknown and distinguished guests. You can clearly see that they have put on their best shirts and trousers, and that they have combed their hair with water or brilliantine making them look almost inrecognizable and like small school children in their first day of school. Not like the hardworking, dirty, swearing, sweating, spitting ‘maestros’ that you could see climbing on the rooftop with a hammer in their hand, a dirty cap on their head and a fag hanging from the corner of their mouthes. The beginning of these events make the workers feel very out of place – but the whole event is made for them!

Barometro-abrilSo how does a worker and a lawyer start to socialize? Talk about their latest day of work? Discuss politics? No….they drink! Bottles are put on the table and thirst is quenched, toasts are proposed and slowly the atmosphere start to loosen up and spirits start to raise. Soon you can see workers and policemen side by side taking turns in attending the lamb-skewer or refilling the barbecue with more charcoal. Many have their opinion about which way is the best to grill the lamb, and more conversations start to flow. Suddenly you see the laywer getting his hands dirty from refilling with charcoal, while the worker starts to show gastronomical skills and techniques.
Somehow parts start to change, prejustice start to brake and the intercultural pot starts to boil. A worker cracks a joke so dirty that the lawyer almost chokes laughing. But then the distinguished doctor comes along and cracks one that is even worse – and now it is the workers turn to go into fits of laughter. And so it goes. The doctors little daughter plays with the farmers son, the lawyers wife learns real country cooking from the workers wife and the school teacher has found himself new construction workers. The willingness to brake down social gaps are mutual, obvious and natural, and there can be some real hilarious moments and encounters at these celebrations.


And so the day passes. Friendships are made and new contacts created. Prejustices are to some extent broken and the new building gets its deserved celebration. The whole thing ends in a tremendous feast where all the meat is consumed and all the wine drunk with great noise and great pleasure.
Maybe the workers continue onwards to a night in town, spending all their weeks salary on cheap wine and cheap women, while some of us just go back home with filled bellies for a very good nights sleep.

It is well known that if the workers aren´t back to work by Monday morning, they might be there by Tuesday…

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