Where The Chilean Wild Things Are

The people of Chiloé are all praying that the Pincoya is out there somewhere doing her ritual dance facing the sea. If she decides instead to turn her back on the ocean, Chiloé is sure to face a shortage of fish and a difficult year.

Parque Nacional Chiloé (photo by Teresa Smith)
Parque Nacional Chiloé (photo by Teresa Smith)

The Pincoya is a goddess of beauty in the personification of the spirit of the sea. It is believed that the marine harvest depends on her. A statue of the Pincoya sits in the main square of Ancud, posture perfect. Her eyes gaze out over the sea that surrounds the archipelago of Chiloé, islands that are alive with centuries-old captivating myths. She is only one of many mythological spirits who resides on the islands of Chiloé. Her legend stems from indigenous mythology and Spanish settlers' legends.

Chiloé is made up approximately 30 islands off of the southern coast of Chile. The main island, Chiloé, is just a short ferry ride from Pargua, (near Puerto Montt), across the Chacao channel. Terrain here is hilly, with quiet villages dotted along the landscape boasting beautiful wooden houses painted bright colors. On the shore, stilt houses rest tediously over the sea and wooden churches that are considered UNESCO World Heritage sites can be found on all parts of the island as well. The larger of the villages on the islands include Ancud, Castro, and Quellon. All welcome visitors into their harbors to share their seafood, traditions, and, of course, the mythological folklore that makes these islands so unique.

Castro (photo by Jessica Dubow)
Castro (photo by Jessica Dubow)

One of the most famous beasts that is said to inhabit the island is El Trauco . He is a deformed man who wanders the woods atop stump-like legs. His main goal and desire is to steal the virginity of young women. Even though repugnant, he has a magical irresistibility with innocent girls. If a young Chilota woman is found to be with child and none claim to be the father, it was most likely the work of El Trauco .

A common sighting is that of the Caleuche . This ghost ship appears briefly in the ocean near the shores of the island, lit up in a glowing fog. There are always reports of the ship appearing in a haze with the sounds of music drifting towards shore as if there was a party aboard the boat. Caleuche travels through the chilote waters under the command of shipwrecked sailors and witches.

La Pincoya in Ancud (photo by Teresa Smith)
La Pincoya in Ancud (photo by Teresa Smith)

Another monster-like creature is the Basilisco . This creature has the body of a snake and the head of a rooster. It lives in caves and kills those who are unfortunate enough to meet its gaze. Black magic brujos ("witches") also inhabit the island and have shape-shifting capabilities, changing into other creatures as well as elements of nature. In order to transform into a witch a person must bathe in a waterfall for forty days to wash away their baptism. Then, after killing a loved one, they finally make a pact with the devil.

The most famous of these witches is the Voladora . She has the ability to turn into a bird and fly through the air as a messenger. She flies during the night and fills the sky with screeching cries and laughter. Some say, if one hears the cry of the Voladora they will be certain to experience bad luck and if not death.

El Trauco in Ancud (photo by Teresa Smith)
El Trauco in Ancud (photo by Teresa Smith)

Statues of the mythical creatures are littered around small villages and visitors can find many references to this unique history in most towns. Currently Disney is looking to make a film based on the legend of the ghost ship Caleuche . Also, Chilean director Alan Fischer is working on a feature-length movie about the islands and the legend of the Trauco. This film, "Hijo de Trauco ", ("Son of Trauco"), will come out in July 2012.

The somewhat terrifying mythology of these magical islands off the coast of Chile has been preserved, partly due to its isolation from the Chilean mainland which limited Spanish colonialization the chance to bury indigenous traditions, and in turn, helped maintain the islanders deep connection with the past. This history will be preserved even further on the silver screen for future generations to enjoy. It is worth a visit to the island, to feel the fog roll in and hope for a glimpse of the ghost ship, just don’t cross paths with El Trauco .

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