Alicanto in Chilean Mythology

Chilean Folklore: A Mythological Journey Through Chile

Several countries in this world have a rich culture and history along with some popular folklore that enriches the countries. Chile is no exception. Chilean folklore explains the origin and creation of the otherworldly collection of natural, attractive destinations and extreme environments discovered across the nation. 

According to one Chilean legend, there was a little bit of everything when the Earth was created, including some mountains, rivers, lakes, volcanoes, a few glaciers, along with some eclectic distribution of flora and fauna with some extra bits. Those extras were all dumped onto the Pacific coast of South America, creating a diverse land that we know as Chile. Before we find out about Chilean folklore, we should be informed a bit about the country itself.

Beautiful scenic picture of Chile
Beautiful Scenery of Chile
Credit: stockunlimited.com

Chileans claim to be the longest nation in the world as it is spread through at least seven important climate regions which are more than two thousand and six hundred and seventy miles from north to south. The climate areas involve tundra or mountains, alpine, deserts, glaciers, subtropical humid climates, Mediterranean climate, and oceanic climates.

Though there are debates over the fact of whether Chile is actually the longest country among other north-south nations like Russia, Canada, Brazil, and the U.S if you ask them, they will proudly claim that the debate is already over and they are in fact the longest country in the world. 

A Little bit of the History of Chilean Folklore

Chilean folklore covers a wide range of legends and myths from the beliefs of the Chilean indigenous people including Aymaras, Mapuche, Tehuelche, Changos, Picunches, Poyas, Diaguitas, and more. Their mythology and folk tales represent a vital impact on European colonization, especially during the period of Spanish colonization. These effects have helped Chilean folklore to evolve and become different from other local folklore and mythologies like Chilote Mythology. The Chilota mythology or Chilote mythology is constructed from Chilean folklore, legend, myth, and the beliefs of the aboriginal people who inhabited the Chiloe Archipelago that’s located in the south of Chile. The mythologies and folklore of this part signify the sea in the lives of the Chilote. 

As the colonization has affected the folklore and mythologies of Chile, on the other hand, Chilean folklore helped indigenous people to escape to another world from the oppressing colonization. For the indigenous people, the oral tradition and storytelling of Chilean folklore are comprehended as a “medical practice and a form of traditional knowledge.” As a part of a mythic mind, cerebral knowledge is imparted through folklore. The varied climates and terrain of Chile further impacted the development of beliefs in folklore and mythology that extended the collective culture of the nation.

Divisions of Chilean Folklore

In the classification of Chilean folklore, quintessentially the folklore and myths are divided into four geographical categories which include, Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central zones. 

Northern Zones

The myths, folklore, and legends include characters that are closely connected to religious devotion, deserts, and mining. The popular myths are le Lola, Alicanto, the Umpillay, the Achaches, the Quipana, and el Yastay. Other folklore involves the Payachatas, the treasure of Guayacan and Juan Soldado. The folklore of Chile draws inspiration from the pre-Incan and Incan Civilizations but they became distinct from others through the influence of Spanish colonization. One such instance of Chilean folklore where you can find all the connections between deserts and mining is in the following folk tale. 

The Birth of Desierto Florido

During the rule of the Spaniards, there was a beautiful lady named Ananuca who lived in Monte Patria, which is a village close to the river called Limari. While several young men in the village admired her beauty, no one could win her love. 

One day, a handsome and mysterious young miner came to the village in search of a mythical vein of gold. Instead, they found each other and fell in love, and lived in the village for quite some time. But, one night, the young men dreamt of the location of the gold, revealed by a mountain spirit, which compelled the miner to resume his search. He left Ananuca, promising to be returned.

Ananuca waited for days but the miner did not return. The locals said that the young man might be swallowed by the mirage. Ananuca wasted away with profound grief and the villagers buried her while mourning for her on a rainy day. The next day warmed the valley with the brightest sun and the ground where Ananuca died was filled with magnificent red flowers. Legends say that the flowers are a representation of her love, so that even after death they can remain close to each other.

Ananuca Flower From Chilean Folklore
Ananuca Flower
Credit: latinfolktale.wordpress.com

Even today, the Ananuca flowers can be seen between Quilimari Valley and Copiapo, changing the pampa with the majestic phenomenon referred to as Desierto Florido changing the desert into bloom.  

Central Zone

Mapuche Tribe in Chilean Folklore
Mapuche Tribe in Chilean Folklore
Credit: Wikipedia

This folklore and mythologies have come from many mythological characters from the beliefs of the Mapuche tribe. Initially, the Spanish settled in the central zone which led to the unique amalgamation. This zone has much folklore aka legends that have been modified over time through oral tradition. Among many mythical figures, some famous ones are Pedro Urdemales, la Llorona, el Piuchén, el Culebrón, la Calchona and el Chonchón. 

Folklore in Central Chile includes the Burial of Cacique Vitacura, Inca Lagoon, and Rere’ Bell along with legends of witches and the appearance of the devil. Another folklore is the buried treasure in the region of Valparaiso.

Buried Treasure in the Region of Valparaiso

Sailor Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake
Credit:history.com

According to lore, the renowned sailor Sir Francis Drake buried amazing treasure and jewelry along the coast of what is now known as the Region of Valparaiso. In 1578, it was Sir Drake who was the first European to discover Guayacan Bay, which became a famous place for the pirates to loot the Spanish galleons. Legend has it that many have died in searching for the treasure in this part. 

According to the fishermen, the most outrageous amount of treasure is hidden in Laguna Verde cave that is reachable from the city of Valparaiso. One of the entrances is on the Esmeralda street of Valparaiso and the gate is guarded by a goat. The goat is bewitched as a young girl and it is said that whoever tries to free her from her spell risks horrible suffering.

Eastern Zone

One of the most significant sources of myths is Easter Island. The Polynesian Rapa Nui People who inhabited the Eastern Islands crafted an explanation for man and their land. This folklore includes Aku-Aku and Make-Make.

The Beginning of the World According to the Rapa Nui People

The Rapa Nui People
The Rapa Nui People
Credit: Wikipedia

The Rapa Nui People believed that when there was nothing and everything was left to be created, there was a battle among the spirits. The most powerful spirit of the air imposed its will on the other weaker spirits and made them into volcanoes and mountains. And the rest who repented were transformed into stars.

The powerful spirit transformed his son, who was also a spirit, into a man and threw him to the ground. The spirit was puzzled and its mother, feeling sad, opened a window into the sky from where her pale face could be seen sometimes, looking through the window.  

The powerful spirit didn’t want its son to be alone, so it converted a star into a young woman who had to walk barefoot to reach the son. But her feet didn’t hurt because the powerful spirit created flowers and grass and when she touched the flowers, they became birds and butterflies. When she walked along through the patch of grass, it turned into a huge jungle. The couple were united and found the world marvelous. The spirit watched them through a window during the daytime, which is the sun, and the mother watched them during the night, which is the Moon.

The Southern Zone

The Zone was also affected by the indigenous beliefs of the Mapuche tribes. Chilean folklore includes The Three Pascuales, the City of the Caesars, and spirits of Mapuche beliefs like the Wangulen, the Wekufes, Pillan, etc.  

The City of Caesars

The City of the Caesars or otherwise known as the Wandering City, Trapananda or Trapalanda or the City of Patagonia, Lin Lin, etc, which is a mystical city situated in Patagonia in the valley of the Andes between Argentina and Chile. There is no evidence that proves that there was ever a city like this that existed despite searching for it during the colonization of South America. 

The City of Caesars in Chilean Folklore
The City of Caesars
Credit: ancient-origins.net

The mythical city is depicted as a rich and prosperous place, full of diamonds, silver, and gold. Legend says that, somewhere in the Andes, the city was founded between two mountains, one of diamonds and the other was of gold. There are also myths about the appearance of this enchanted city which appears sometimes, and the travelers who will experience it will forget the incident or any hunter who will seek the truth will be sent away with the treasure. The founders of this city involve the Patagonian giants, the survivors in the exile of “Destruction of the Seven Cities”, survivors of a Spanish shipwreck, and ghosts.

Chiloe

The Chiloe Archipelago has its own Chilean folklore due to its isolation and the combination of Spanish tradition and indigenous people. The characteristics of the legends here include thick forest, strong winds, mist, and rough forests. One of the significant folk tales here is the Pincoya, while others involve the Camahueto, the Caleuche and the Invunche, etc.

The Legend of La Pincoya

The tale of the mermaid La Pincoya by the fishermen is one of the many folklore in the land of myths. Legend has it that sometimes there will be the appearance of her husband, El Pincoy. According to lore, La Pincoya was born in the lake of Huelde close to Cucao. She is described as a pretty woman with golden locks of hair, fair skin, and a fishtail from her waist down. On some particular nights, she would sing irresistible yet haunting love songs. 

La Pincoya in Chilean Folklore
La Pincoya
Credit: Wikipedia

The fishermen at Chiloe rely on her because she fertilizes shellfish and fishes. If she dances, facing towards the sea, it’s good luck for the fishermen because it means that there would be an abundance of fish. But, if she dances, facing towards the shore, then it is a bad omen as it will make the fishes go away. However, even the bad omen can bring good fortune to some people who are in need. La Pincoya is attracted by joy. That is why the people at Chiloe sing and dance in hope that she will see their happiness and grant them wishes. 

Relevance of Chilean Folklore in Modern Chiloe

Chiloe is situated a short ferry ride away from the mainland, which has increased the amount of centuries-old Chilean folklore about the sea and the surrounding island. In spite of the presence of contemporary, Spanish-brought religions, folklore is widely believed and relevant to the people around the islands in modern-day.  

The Male Witches

Chiloe has probably the most well-known and disturbing folklore regarding a coven full of male witches called the brujos that has had a dark influence over the islands for a long time. From the confessions of the members of the cult in the 1880s, we know about the brujos.

The willing men who want to be a member of this coven called “the Righteous Province’ have to go through a horrifying process where they have to wash away baptism for forty days under a waterfall, sign a deal with the devil and kill a loved one to use their skin as a purse to carry a book of a spell. The members can be transformed into dogs and dark birds and capable of sorcery and spells.

Imbunche in Chilean Folklore
Imbunche
Credit: Wikipedia

The mythologies of Chiloe have influenced the literature of Patagonia as well. In his renowned travelogue, “In Patagonia,” the writer Bruce Chatwin has referred to the coven of male witches and the Imbunche. “The Obscene Bird of Night” by Jose Donoso was inspired by the dark myth of Imbunche. Researchers even debate that the character of Caliban in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was inspired by the fabled giants of Tierra del Fuego. 

Here we are at the end! Hope you are as fascinated by this journey via Chilean folklore as I am today. During my research, I came across this article. If you’re interested, please visit. Until then, travel well and be well.

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