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Satellite image of southern Chile. Chiloé Archipelago is marked with red, Guaitecas Archipelago with light blue and Chonos Archipelago with dark blue.

Chiloé Archipelago (Spanish: Archipiélago de Chiloé) consists of several islands lying off the coast of Chile. It is separed from mainland Chile by Chacao Channel in the north, the Chilotan Sea in the east and Gulf of Corcovado to the southeast. All of the archipelago except Desertores Islands that are part of Palena Province forms the Chiloé Province. The main island is Chiloé Island (Spanish: Isla Grande de Chiloé). Chiloé is widely known for its distinctive folklore, mythology and unique architecture. The variety of potato which is most widely grown throughout the world is indigenous to the islands.

Contents

Geography

Chiloé Province includes all the Chiloé Archipelago except the Grupo Desertores islands, plus the Isla Guafo. The area of Chiloé province is 9181 km² (3546 sq mi). The administrative center of the province is Castro, while the episcopal see of the Roman Catholic bishopric is Ancud. Chiloé province is part of the Los Lagos Region (Región de los Lagos), which mainly includes the Chilean lakes region on the mainland north of Chiloé. The administrative center of the region is Puerto Montt.

Potato

Evidence ranging from historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses strongly supports the hypothesis that the most widely cultivated variety of potato worldwide, Solanum tuberosum tuberosum, is indigenous to Chiloe Island and has been cultivated by the local indigenous people since before the coming of the Spanish. [1][2]

History

Chiloé's first known inhabitants were the Chonos, a nomadic people. Later the Huilliche (a part of the Mapuche) came from the mainland and settled on the eastern shore, practicing agriculture and fishing.

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Spanish colony

In 1567 the island was first claimed for Spain by Martín Ruiz de Gamboa, who was exploring and claiming the southern part of Chile and many neighbouring islands. Captain Gamboa established a settlement at Castro in 1567, which later became the seat of a Jesuit mission, and was capital of the province until the founding of Ancud in 1768. In 1784 Chiloé Island was made a direct dependency of the colonial viceroyalty of Peru as consequence of the Bourbon reforms, while continental Chile was a captaincy-general within the viceroyalty.

The shift of capital and on administration dependency corresponded to a new strategic view on Chiloé Archipelago. While initially Chiloé was viewed by Spaniards as a colony rich enough to conquer, it later became a problematic region due to its isolation from mainland Chile due to geography and the War of Arauco in the mainland. Chiloé Island was largely exempt from the turmoil that affected the Chilean mainland due to conflicts with Huilliches and Mapuches, but was notably affected in 1720 by a large Huilliche rebellion.

Chilean War of Independence

Unlike the central region of Chile where a long war of independence resumed after a Spanish reoccupation, Chiloe never joined the Patria Vieja (Old Republic). In December 1817 the island became the last stronghold of Spanish loyalists (together with Valdivia) fleeing from the Chilean mainland. A Chilean expedition led by Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald failed to conquer it. On 15 January 1826, after another unsuccessful attempt in 1824, the Spanish forces surrendered to a military expedition led by Ramon Freire, and the island was fully incorporated into the independent republic of Chile, although Spain did not recognize it until 1844.

The last Spanish Military governors were :

Chilean republic

Charles Darwin visited Chiloé during the summer of 1834–1835, writing about his impressions of southern Chile in his diaries.[3] While being a defesive stronghold during colonial times the Republic of Chile used Chiloé as startpoint for its territorial expansion into southern territories. The expedition to the Straits of Magellan that founded Fuerte Bulnes in 1843 was assembled in Chiloé. In the 1850s Chiloé was again instrumental in the loggistical support of the colonization of Llanquihue Lake where German settlers where given land. The last major portion of Patagonia to be incorporated into Chile, Aysén was also explored and settled from Chiloé. In the colonization process of Patagonia Chilotes immigrants constituted large part of the working force of the livestock enterprises that established in Patagonia between 1890 and 1950.

During the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century Chiloé lost economical and political importance to Puerto Montt on the mainland, so that by 1863 Puerto Montt was made capital of its own province and in 1927 Chiloé Archipelago was incorporated into a new province headed by Puerto Montt.

The cathedral in Ancud was totally destroyed and Castro was badly damaged by the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, widely considered to be the most powerful ever recorded. In 1982, the provincial capital, after over 200 years, was returned to Castro.

Culture

A small church near Chacao

In part because of its physical isolation from the rest of Chile, Chiloé has a very special architecture and local culture.

Architecture

Roof shingles in a house of Dalcahue.

Chilotan architecture is a unique architectural style that is mainly restricted to Chiloe Island and nearby areas. In part because of its physical isolation from the rest of Chile, and access to different materials, Chiloé has a very special architecture that differs greatly from the typical Spanish colonial architecture. The Spanish who arrived in the 16th century, and Jesuit missionaries who followed, constructed hundreds of small wooden churches in an attempt to bring Christianity to a pagan land; the result was a mixing of Catholicism and pagan beliefs. These unique buildings have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nearly all the houses and buildings in colonial Chiloe were built with wood, and roof shingles were extensively employed. Roof shingles of Fitzroya came to be used as money and called "Real de Alerce". In the late XIX century many palafitos (stilt houses) were built in cities like Castro and Chonchi.

Mythology

Chiloé have a rich folklore with many mythological animals and spirits (the Caleuche, the Trauco, the Pincoya, the Invunche, etc.). Chilota mythology is based on a mixture of indigenous religions (the Chonos and Huilliches) that live in the Archipelago of Chiloé, and the legends and superstitions brought by the Spanish Conquistadores, who in 1567 began the process of conquest in Chiloé and with it the fusion of elements that would form a separate mythology. Chilota mythology flourished, isolated from other beliefs and myths in Chile, due to the separation of the archipelago from the rest of the Spanish occupation in Chile, when the Mapuches occupied or destroyed by all the Spanish settlements between the Bío-Bío River and the Chacao channel following the disaster of Curalaba in 1598.

According to Chilotan mythology the origin of the archipelago lies in a fierce battle between two serpents, Ten Ten-Vilu (ten="earth", vilu="snake") and Coi Coi-Vilu (Co="water", vilu="snake").

Demographics and economy

The population of the province with its ten municipalities according to the 2002 census was 154,775; of this, 44% lived in rural areas, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (INE). Chiloé's people are known as Chilotes.

Salmon aquaculture, tourism, agriculture and timber are the mainstays of the island economy.

Tourism

Having evolved for centuries isolated from mainland Chile, the "Chilotes" developed a strong, self-reliant culture, rich in folklore, mythology and tradition. This very identity is what constitutes the island's major attraction for domestic tourists in Chile and increasingly, for international tourists. As in the Calakmul case above, tourism to Chiloé is very strongly based on the island's cultural heritage, predominantly consisting of crafts markets, appreciation of cultural landscapes, museum exhibitions, seafood cuisine and architectural heritage (Chiloé's old churches). However, the average tourist to the island will have little opportunity to see Chilotes involved in their living cultural activities, such as the elaborate preparation of the islands famous "curanto" meal, rich in shellfish, meat and potatoes, the management practices of their farm and forest lands, boat building and more.

In order to overcome the cultural and organizational barriers that keep suppliers of living cultural heritage and tour operators apart, the Chiloé diocese of Ancud established a private foundation called "Fundación con Todos" (One for All Foundation). Among other activities, the Foundation has played a key role in helping a number of Chilote households organize themselves into an "agrotourism" network. The Foundation helped Chilote households make the preparation required to accommodate tourists (including training in sanitation and maintenance of facilities, the provision of basic infrastructure) and complemented this effort with a professional marketing campaign. These works were undertaken with the financial support of other agencies.

Again, in cooperation with the EOMF and the Chiloé Model Forest, a cultural and natural heritage tour was organized to Argentina and Chile, including a three-day visit to Chiloé, permitting some of the Chilote households to host a group of cultural heritage tourists for the first time. The visits were very successful and should be the first of more to come, helping establish the credibility of Chiloé's agrotourism network among other tour operators.[4]

References


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