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Populated first by the Chono, and subsequently by the Huilliche people, Chiloé’s indigenous past was met head-on by European colonialism after an indigenous rebellion on the mainland in 1598 caused the Spanish to send settlers to the islands. Chiloé’s geographic isolation from the rest of Chile, as well as its notoriously wet weather, dependence on the sea, and particular brand of indigenous-European contact, creayed a local culture wholly different from the mainland.

Chilotes incorporated Catholicism and native beliefs into a local faith systemthat had a pre-existent rich and persistent mythology—including magical warlocks and a forest-dwelling gnome who impregnates young virgins. As Chile broke free from the shackles of colonial rule, Spanish leaders took refuge in Chiloé, and it was here that Spain had its last base in all of South America, which it did not abandon until 1826.


Though now linked to the continent by frequent ferries (but still not a bridge, a subject of some controversy), and is visited by many domestic and foreign travelers alike, Chiloé and its more than 155,000 inhabitants still strike visitors with a unique local flavor, that’s insular if not exactly isolated. Valparaíso aside, if the main Chilean cities and towns strike you as unimaginative, a visit to Chiloé should be enough to convince you that, if you venture far enough from the country’s urban centers, there are indeed strong regional identities within the country that greatly enrich its overall cultural mélange.

By Kevin Funk
Originally from the U.S., and now living in wondrously unique Valparaíso, Chile, I've traveled extensively in Latin...
21 Aug 2009

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