Notes on Chiloé [1]

    The inhabitants of the island of Chiloé are divided into dioceses, and these into districts that are subdivided finally into parishes, as follows:

    Diocese of Castro. This includes the districts of Castro, Chonchi, Puguelón [2], Queylén [3], Achau [4], Meulín and Tenaún.

    The first is formed of 11 parishes, the second of 5, the third of 6, the fourth of 8, the fifth of 8, the sixth of 5, and the seventh of 8. It contains 10,031 Creole Spaniards and 8,750 Indians.

    The diocese of Chacao contains the districts of Chacao and Pudetu. These 14 parishes include the army camp, and 3,107 Creole Spaniards and 1,464 Indians. That of Calbuco has only the town of the same name, with 14 parishes, 1,334 Creoles and 1,403 Indians.

    At the present time the island of Chiloé produces annually 271 fanegas of broad beans, 33 of dry beans, 152 of kidney beans, 175.54 [17,554?] of wheat, 114.20 [11,420?] of barley, 65,000 of potatoes, 222 of quinine bark [tonic wine? - JAB], 109 arrobas of linen, 200 fanegas of onions, 160 of garlic, and 4,800 cabbages and 500 pumpkins are picked.

    There are [4.818] 3,480 cows, 1,024 bulls, 3,464 stallions, 3,525 mares, 936 ponies, 5,054 hogs, 3,381 sows, 86,683 ewes, 2,160 rams, 17,307 she-goats, 1,354 he-goats, 20,740 chickens, 1,200 turkeys, 800 geese. [They are able to make use of some] [5] 48,793 apple-trees, 192 quinces, 352 canoes and 472 pirogues.

    To me the inhabitants of these parts of the island seemed humble, peaceful and obliging and, going by the products of the island, more industrious than the common run of Americans, especially the Creoles, demonstrating a [?] that, although unusual, is far superior to what could be expected and well suited to their current surroundings.

    While the men are in charge of cultivation, the women [knit] [6] produce wool, linen and [a] [7] little cotton. From the former they make ponchos, blankets and a kind of coarse flannel, less finely-woven than the European, [The loom on which they manufacture] [8] and embroidered bedspreads of the same cloth. The loom on which they manufacture all these fabrics consists of a [strong rectangular wooden frame] [9] four cylindrical wooden sticks that form a rectangle, two varas high on its two longer sides [folio 19v] and a quarter that on the shorter. They use a comb to raise or lower the warp and a [baton shaped like a - JAB] sword to interweave the threads and give strength to the cloth, but [in the ponchos the ponchos require] [10] in the ponchos the complicated woven pattern of flowers or figures doesn't allow them to make use of those tools and they are required to work them by hand, albeit on the same loom.

    The staple food of the Indians consists of wheat flour, generally ground and toasted, to which they add a third-part barley similarly treated. They take it diluted with hot water, which they assured me made it the best food and very healthy. They also use roasted and boiled potatoes of several species as an essential and pleasant part of Creole stews.

    [The mountains are covered with almost impassable undergrowth up to the height of 4 or 5 varas, and above it rise muermos, oaks, lumas, cinnamon trees, which completely cover the ground.] [11]

    The intermediate terrain is composed of mountain ranges of unequal and quite considerable height. These are covered everywhere with an impenetrable undergrowth above which rise majestically muermos, oaks, and mantos that are usually from 3 to 4 feet in diameter and from 40 to 50 varas in height and spread[; - JAB] whether it is caused by the excessive [folio 20] wetness of the forest floor where the sunbeams never penetrate or just by their nature, we noticed in several trees, which had been felled by hand or broken by storms, that the centre had rotted away, leaving only a wooden circle of 8 to 10 feet.

    The indigenous people make use of these two species for the construction of their houses, and of the lumas for stakes and to sell to trading vessels from Lima which always use them instead of ballast.    

    We did not see the gigantic trees that we had been assured were there. We understood that they were unique in achieving such a size, but it seems they are indigenous to the cordillera and consequently there are none on the island.

    These notes were made in 1790.

    [folio 20v] The Indians pay 5 pesos annually to the Royal coffers, either in currency itself, in planks of [wood? - JAB], or in hams. Each village has a fixed number of taxpayers in proportion to the total number of inhabitants and the mayor is forced to present the set amount even if the population increases or diminishes[;] the amount and number are not adjusted until a new registration is conducted, which happens sporadically.

    [folio 21v] As for iron mines, it is believed that they exist in several parts of the island but no one has responsibility for them, nor do the [Guaitecos] men have any other foundation for this belief than some weak conjectures about mines that are said to contain quicksilver.

    The same priest recounts the arrival at this port of the Englishman [Palmer], the fear that it caused the inhabitants, the reconnaissance that his boat made of the whole island and his burning some time before of two trading ships [seen] in the Port of Concepción.

     In 1716, the European missionary Father Francisco Meléndez, accompanied by 21 men, undertook a journey from the island to  the cordillera. He entered the [Marilmo] [12] estuary, where the Chiloeans usually go to make planks [?], and made his way through  it  to the river [Vodudagua] and from there to the [Rereno]. Above its banks they built a hut to preserve the provisions, left there what they could not carry and followed a path that he had discovered or made during a previous journey. They arrived at a small lake at the  foot of the very high mountains after a trek of 13 days to the E and NE. They built 3 canoes and crossed it in them. They carried the  canoes overland to a second lake, bigger than the first, and by way of it they arrived at another, much bigger than both the previous  ones,  which [folio 22] they were unable to navigate all the way to its [furthest reaches] [13] end because of violent currents that finally threw the canoes on some rocks, where they were destroyed.

    They travelled by land for some leagues through barren mountains, and believed they were very near the pampas when for lack of provisions they were forced to turn back. The priest says that he saw nearby a huge cloud of smoke, but was unable to investigate further; neither could he find the fabled City of the Caesars, which he is sure was within three leagues' distance.

    One of the explorers says he found a saddle made of tanned leather with worn holes and broken buckles which, having found a lot of horse-manure there, he suggested had been used on that animal. The fire on the mountain could not have occurred much prior to this, considering that they found a burnt deer whose horns showed the ravages of time.

    [Folio 22] The island of Chiloé is divided into three dioceses, subdivided into districts, and these into parishes that contain several small villages.

    That of Castro includes seven districts, namely: Castro, Chonchi, Queilén, Puquelón, Achau, Meulín, and Tenaún. There are 11 parishes in the first, 5 in the second, 8 in the third, 6 in the fourth, 8 in the fifth and an equal number in the [blank].

    Among the papers of the Jesuit parishes of Castro itself there are two accounts. The first one contains several of a Jesuit missionary's conjectures in the year '45 about the European populations that he claims existed in the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego or the island of Inchín. His reasonings are so ill-founded as not to deserve consideration. For instance, he says that the islands called Guaitecas and those to their S which form the archipelago of Chonos are, more than 150 of them, flat, covered with grassland and extraordinarily abundant in fish. It seems that, on account of this and in accordance with an Order of the King, this fellow tried to populate them with some people, but nothing is said of their abandonment nor of the causes that produced it. He insists that in the island of Chiloé there are mines of gold, [iron] [14], and diamonds, which he says he has seen of the size of a dove-egg, although he had lost one such piece through the negligence of the Indian who found it. To all appearances the priest understood little of diamonds.

Transcription provided by Enrique J. Porrua; translated by John Black with assistance from Teresa Winthuysen Alexander.

[1] Antonio de Tova Arredondo. Noticias de Chiloé. 5 a 18 de febrero de 1790. Museo Naval de Madrid, Ms. 309. f. 18 a 22v. Words in brackets without annotation indicate doubtful words, comments or interpretation by the transcriber. Bracketed interpolations marked JAB are by the translator, John Black. As noted by María Dolores Higueras in her “Catálogo de documentos sobre la expedición Malaspina en el Museo Naval,” vol. I, p. 269, this document is introduced by a note by Espinosa that reads: “Para colocar en los papeles que tratan de la Isla de Chiloé.”
[2] Puqueldón.
[3] Queilén.
[4] Achao.
[5] Crossed out.
[6] Crossed out.
[7] Crossed out.
[8] Crossed out.
[9] Crossed out.
[10] Crossed out.
[11] Crossed out.
[12] I was unable to identify or locate Marilmo, nor the rivers Vodudagua and Rereno.
[13] Crossed out.
[14] Crossed out.



Updated: December 23, 2005