Navy Day, also known as Da de las Glorias Navales, is celebrated annually on May 21 to commemorate the day Chile fought a strategic conflict against Peru. During the War of the Pacific in the nineteenth century, the Battle of Iquique inspired countless young Chileans to fight for their nation and ultimately win the war against Bolivia and Peru. The national holiday is a day off for the majority of the population and a special occasion for the Chilean Navy, who honour their alumni, Captain Arturo Prat and the crew of the Esmeralda, whose valour and sacrifice ignited the flames of the Chilean revolution.
The background of Navy Day Chile
Navy Day in Chile commemorates a significant event in Chilean history — the day the Chilean Navy lost a decisive battle during their protracted border conflict with Bolivia and Peru. It was made significant by the valour and determination of a small crew on the Chilean ship Esmeralda, who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of their objective, thereby inspiring legions of Chileans to fight for their country.
On the surface, the Pacific War appeared to have been precipitated by a tax dispute between Chile, Bolivia, and Bolivia’s ally, Peru. However, historians believe that the war broke out in 1879 due to simmering tensions between the three countries and a long-standing border dispute. Chile, recognising the importance of sea routes, obstructed the Peruvian port of Iquique with the Covadonga and the Esmeralda. Within a month, Peru retaliated by sending two more modern warships to break the blockade, which were better equipped to handle and inflict significant damage. The commander of the Esmerelda, Captain Arturo Prat, chose not to retreat and stood his ground against the Peruvian Huáscar, while the Independencia blocked the Covadonga. Esmerelda was rammed three times and sustained severe damage during the combat. Prat refused to give up and, along with two shipmates, aboard the Huáscar in a desperate attempt to capture it. They failed and died on board as the Esmerelda sank with half of its personnel still on board.
Prat’s death was a rallying cry that inspired thousands of adolescents to join the Chilean navy, which ultimately led to the country’s victory. He is regarded as a national icon and has been honoured by the naming of streets after him, the inclusion of his image on the 10,000 Chilean peso bill, and the observance of Navy Day.
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NAVY DAY CHILE ACTIVITIES
Consider the Chilean viewpoint.
Have a Chilean friend or acquaintance with Chilean ancestry? Discuss with them to learn what this day means to locals and how they commemorate it.
Educate yourself on the Battle of Iquique.
Grab some books, watch a documentary, or read an article that analyses the impact of the conflict on Chilean youth. Learn additional information about the heroic Arturo Prat, his crew, and the legacy they left behind.
Recognise the Chilean Navy.
To honour Chile and its Navy’s sacrifices, study their history. Why not investigate other navies in modern world history while you’re at it?
5 fascinating details about Captain Arturo Prat
In 1860, while he was still a student at the Naval Academy, Prat first boarded the ship as an indentured sailor.
In addition to attending the Naval Academy, Prat studied law aboard the Esmeralda while serving as a naval student.
Prat also served as a teacher, imparting his knowledge to the youth of the Benjamin Franklin School in Valparaso, Chile, where he instructed impoverished individuals.
There are 144 streets named Arturo Prat and 130 streets named Esmeralda in Chile.
Posthumously, Prat became so prominent in Chile that newspapers began using the term ‘Pratiotism’ instead of ‘Patriotism.’
NAVY DAY CHILE DATES