In a 1914 edition of the Split-based Pučki list (People’s News), the news from Punta Arenas, reported that, “The numerous and diligent local colony of our people has decided to erect a Croatian Civic Centre that is to cost some 200 thousand krona. If only the patriotism of wealthy people here was as great as that of our emigrants…”
The very next year, on the 1st of March, a session was held in the building that exists to this day on Errazuriz street to establish a Croatian benefit society (from which the Yugoslav benefit society later emerged) and the Croatian Civic Centre. The first board if directors consisted of Jorge Jordan, Lucas Bonačić, Simon Macan, Esteban Domić, Slavo Brnčić, Miroslav Tartaglia, Nicolas Štambuk, Rafael Mikušić, Felipe Turina and Jorge Kučan.
This year saw the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Croatian Civic Centre. The festivity ran for three days, from the 12th to 14th of March, at the Dreams hotel, the Sokol Club and finished with a Sunday mass dedicated to the club and led by Fredy Subiabre Matiacha. Nives Malenica, the Croatian ambassador in Santiago de Chile, was on hand for the first day. The Croatian Civic Centre presented a number of awards – the top medal for contributions went to academician Eugenio Mimica Barassi. The Mladost folklore ensemble from Antofagasta was also on hand for the celebration, performing dances from all of Croatia’s regions. The current president of the association, Mario Drpić Diaz, plans to see the club also move in this direction, as the community in Punta Arenas has to date been oriented less towards folklore and more towards culture, language and the culinary arts thanks to the Damas Croatas section.
CROATIANS IN THE TIERRA DEL FUEGO
The Tierra del Fuego is territorially divided between Chile and Argentina. The Chilean part includes the cities Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero.
Porvenir was established in the late nineteenth century when gold prospecting began in the Tierra del Fuego. Among the first European settlers the majority were Croatians from the village of Mimica near the town of Omiš, and the Mimica surname is still quite frequent in this town. There is an active Croatian club here, many streets bear Croatian names and there is also a prominent monument to Croatian settlers. Porvenir is the capital city of the Tierra del Fuego, situated on the Strait of Magellan, with some five and a half thousand inhabitants.
The town of Cerro Sombrero in the province of Primavera, did not exist prior to 1947 when oil was discovered in the Tierra del Fuego. A worker’s town emerged around the find, which over time acquired a school, church, hospital, movie theatre and, with the arrival of the Americans, a sports centre. The then intendant of the Magallanes Region, Mateo Martinić Beroš, officially declared the settlement a city in 1965. To this day Cerro Sombrero has no more than eight hundred inhabitants, but does boast a local government and a mayor, a post currently occupied by Blagomir Brztilo.
A Salesian mission was established in 1893 on the Atlantic coast of the Argentinean part of the Tierra del Fuego in the heartland of the indigenous Selk’nam (Onawo or Ona people). The port city of Rio Grande later emerged here, surrounded by large farms in which five hectares of land had to be secured for every head of sheep to provide it with enough land on which to seek food under the snow. This always-windy town is also home to a Croatian community. They do not have a formally established association, but function as if there was one. Every year they celebrate Croatian Statehood Day and have erected a monument with the Croatian coat of arms on the town’s main street, the Avenida San Martin.
The Tierra del Fuego has received numerous Croatians, and one of the border crossings is named Radman. The border is crossed by a creek, through the water, as there is no bridge. Depending on the water level not all vehicles are able to cross, and the border is then crossed further to the north at the town of San Sebastian.
To the south are Kovačić creek and the Milna River. The southernmost city in the world, with a population of some thirty thousand, is called Ushuaia and is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel. It is also the capital of the Argentinean part of the Tierra del Fuego and of Antarctica. Ushuaia, in the language of the Yaghan people, means “bay entering the land to the west”. The first white man to see it was the English captain Murray, who entered the channel in a ship named Beagle. There is a rich history here of ships, shipwrecks and adventurers. Among these was a Croatian from Zlarin named Fortunato Beban who sailed here, with his sons Fortunato and Tomas, from Punta Arenas in the late nineteenth century. He had four ships named General Garibaldi, Tomasito (Dalmata), Fortunato Viejo and Florencia. The Beban house stands to this day in Ushuaia and has now been converted into a museum. There are some one hundred thirty members of the Beban family, although most now live in other parts of Argentina.
There are some one hundred twenty Croatian surnames in Ushuaia, most hail from the Croatian islands of Brač, from the village of Mimica, and from the island of Hvar. There is also a school named after teacher Olga Bronzovich. Her brother Tomo Bronzovich is active in the Croatian community, which has organised a documentary exhibition about the Croatian families in the city. There is a section in the maritime museum dedicated to Croatians where they have exhibited a folk costume and other items that recall the homeland of their ancestors.
The island of Navarino is part of Chile, and lies opposite the city of Ushuaia. The state border runs through the middle of Beagle Channel. The island can be reached by ship from Ushuaia to Puerto Navarino, as the channel is at its narrowest here and is home to a Chilean navy base. The island is sparsely inhabited, with its largest town being Puerto Williams, the navy base – with some two thousand inhabitants; it is now developing a nascent tourism industry. Westerns are showing a growing interest in visiting the “end of the world” and a land in which the native Yaghan people once lived. The island is rich in ore deposits, coal and gold, which attracted the white settlers and has disrupted the natural harmony in which the aboriginal people lived. The native people did not wear clothing, covered themselves with whale blubber. Despite the fact that the maximum temperature in the channel is +9 degrees Celsius, the women would dive to gather shellfish. With the white settlers came viruses and bacteria to which they had no natural resistance. The white settlers also clothed them and in the end finished them off with alcohol. The last true Yaghan was a woman named Rosa who passed away almost forty years ago. A conversation with her was published in her book by Patricia Štambuk Mayorga, who, thanks to her efforts to preserve details of the life of the Yaghan, was declared a correspondent member of the Chilean Academy. Rosa was the wife of the last of the tribe’s chiefs, named Jose Miličić. He bore a Croatian surname, having been adopted as a child by Brač island native Ante Miličić. There is a quarter of Puerto Williams named Ukika where those with some native blood still live. Cristina Calderon now lives in the house of the late Rosa Miličić. She is the last with half native and half white blood, while others have much less pure indigenous blood.
There are still Croatians living in the small town of Puerto Williams. There is a construction company named Viličić, and the commander of the Beagle naval zone and navy governor of Puerto Williams is named Patricio Espinoza Sapunar, and hails from the Croatian island of Brač on his mother’s side. To the south of the island is Beban bay, named after Fortunato Beban, while the mountain peak on the west side of the island is named Vrsalovic. It’s peak stands at 642 metres and was named after Julio Vrsalović who prospected gold here.
To the west of Navarino island is the Murray Channel. The only island in the channel is name Martinic, named after Mateo Martinić Beroš, an academician, historian and former regional intendant.
Alongside the island of Navarino, to the eastern side of the Beagle Channel, not far from Cape Horn, is an island group consisting of three islands – Lennox, Picton and Nueva. These islands are part of the province of Chilean Antarctica (Provincia de la Antártica Chilena). In the late nineteenth century, when it was home to the Yaghan people, the Chilean government approved a concession on the islands for the exploitation of ores and the development of animal husbandry. The concession for Lennox was won by Stipe Lončarić, for Picton by Thomas Bridges, and for Nueva by the already mentioned Ante Miličić.
The island of Lennox is rich in gold finds and – in spite of the harsh living conditions – the Croatian settlers spared no effort in settling there. One of the most persistent was Ivo Borić, who hailed from the Croatian island of Ugljan. A creek on Lennox, the Arroyo Boric, has been named after him.
Besides the family of an officer of the Chilean navy, stationed there to control maritime traffic, there is no one presently living on the island of Lennox. The viruses plaguing cities do not trouble his children, as they are not to be found there.
In memory of the Croatians who earned their living in the harsh conditions on the island and at the initiative of Mateo Martinić Beroš, the Croatian Civic Centre in Punta Arenas installed a bronze commemorative plaque in Lennox bay on the 6th of December 1978. The president of the civic centre at the time was professor Andro Kukolj, and the plaque was installed to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Croatians in Magallanes. They were the brothers Paravić and Petar Zambelić. To the best of my knowledge this is the southernmost monument to Croatians, and in fact to any nation, in the world.
Travelling to the island of Lennox is now only possible with the permission of the Chilean navy. The head of the Split branch office of the CHF Branka Bezić Filipović had the honour of making the trip to the island abroad a naval vessel and to lay a wreath at the monument on behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, the Croatian honorary consulate in Punta Arenas and the Croatian Civic Centre in Punta Arenas. This emotional moment was shared with commander Patricio Espinoza Sapunar and the crew of the Alacalufe.
Text: Branka Bezić Filipović
2 – The Mladost ensemble of Antofagasta performed at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Croatian association in Punta Arenas
3 – Margarita Mihovilovic, the editor of the Male novine (The Little Newspaper), Mario Drpic, president of the Croatian Civic Centre, Branka Bezić Filipović, head of the Split branch office of the CHF and Rudi Mijač, Croatian honorary consul in Punta Arenas
4 – Academician Eugenio Mimica Barassi received the club’s gold prize to mark the hundredth anniversary
5 – Fredy Subiabre Matiacha led a mass at the cathedral to mark the anniversary
6 – Ushuaia – The Croatian centre’s flag at the “end of the world”
7 – Ushuaia – the school named after Tomo Bronzovich’s sister
8 – Cori and Tomo Bronzovich Bezmalinovich from the Croatian association in the city of Ushuaia
9 – Ushuaia – the historical Beban house
10 – Rio Grande – Ana Maria Rakela Zuvic and Maria Catalina Žuvela in front of the monument
11 – Mirta and Blagomir Brstilo, mayor of Cerro Sombrero
12 – Mirta and Blagomir Brstilo with Branka Bezić Filipović
13 – Lidija Mihovilovic Buvinic, a member of the Damas Croatas section in Punta Arenas with Cristina Calderon in front of the house in which Rosa Yagan Miličić lived