The Chono people, or Guaiteco[1] were a nomadic indigenous people or group of peoples of the archipelagos of Chiloé, Guaitecas and Chonos.

Chono People
Reconstruction of a dalca, the boat used by the Chono people
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Chile: Chiloé Archipelago
Chono language?
Traditional tribal religion, converts to Catholicism eventually assimilated in Chiloé and Calbuco
Related ethnic groups
Payos? Alacalufe?

The Chono people lived as hunter-gatherers traveling by canoe.[2]

Both the Chono people and Alacalufes used Pilgerodendron uviferum as firewood as well as wood for rows, boats and houses.[3]

Physical appearance

Together with other canoe-faring peoples of western Patagonia, the Chono people shared the physical features of being of low stature, being long-headed (Dolichocephalic) and having a "low face".[4] In the opinion of Robert FitzRoy who saw the Chono people in the 1830s they were more muscular and with a more beautiful appearance when compared to canoe-farers further south.[5] Alberto Acachaz Walakial, himself an Alacalufe, said that the Chono people were taller and of more dark skin than his people. He also added that their noses and faces were longer.[6]


Pre-Hispanic era

Scholar Alberto Trivera consider that there is no continuity between the human culture seen in the archaeological site of Monte Verde and any historical group.[7] According to archaeologist Ricardo E. Latcham the Chono people along other sea-faring nomads may be remnants from more widespread indigenous groups that were pushed south by "successive invasions" from more northern tribes.[8]

The Chono people are believed to be Chiloé Archipelago's first ethnically identifiable inhabitants.[9] This have led to the assumption that Chonos were the people who left behind most of the abundant shell middens (chonchales) of Chiloé Archipelago, yet this claim is unverified.[4] There are various placenames in Chiloé Archipelago with Chono etymologies despite the main indigenous language of the archipelago at the arrival of the Spanish being veliche.[10] A theory postulated by chronicler José Pérez García holds the Cuncos settled in Chiloé Island in Pre-Hispanic times as consequence of a push from more northern Huilliches who in turn were being displaced by Mapuches.[11][12] As such some historians consider that places so far north as the coast of Osorno and Llanquihue Lake were once within the range of Chono nomadism.[13]

Colonial era

The Chono people met Europeans for the first time when the naval expedition of Francisco de Ulloa arrived at their lands in 1553.[14]

In the late 16th-century and early 17th-century there were various Spanish incursions aimed to bring Chonos to the Spanish dominions of Chiloé.[15][16] These incursions turned into outright slave raids following 1608 decree of King Philip III of Spain that legalized slavery of "indigenous rebels".[16] This was an abuse of the law since the Chonos, in contrast to the Mapuche that had destroyed seven Spanish cities in their 1598–1604 uprising, had never rebelled.[16] The Chono people were not the only to suffer from the slave raids organized by the Spanish from Chiloé, so did also the Huilliche of Valdivia, Osorno and indigenous groups from Nahuel Huapi Lake across the Andes.[16] Some Chono slaves may have been exported north to the Spanish settlements of Central Chile.[17] The Spanish not only obtained the Chono people as slaves during raids but also from other Chono people who sold their own people.[17] While some Chono people were turned into outright slaves other ended up in the encomienda system of servitude.[18]

As result of a corsair and pirate menace Spanish authorities ordered to depopulate the archipelagos of Chonos and Guaitecas to deprive enemies of any eventual support from native populations.[10] This the led to the transfer of population to Chiloé Archipelago in the north while some Chonos moved south of Taitao Peninsula effectively depopulating the territory.[10] The Chonos in Chiloé ended up being absorbed by the mestizo and indigenous Huilliche population there.[10]

Chonos served as maritime pilots in many of the expeditions undertaken by the Spanish to the Patagonian archipelagoes.[19] Yet it was noted by some Spanish like José de Moraleda y Montero that the Chono did not always told the truth and sometimes misled navigators.[19] Indeed, Chonos managed to keep Spanish explorers away from Presidente Ríos Lake, so efectively that it became known to Chileans only in 1945.[19]


Charles Darwin who visited the Chono people and Guaitecas archipelagoes in the 1830s explained that the islands lacked populations because "Catholics" had turned Indians into "Catholics and slaves".[20]

Historian Rodolfo Urbina Burgos argues the Chono went extinct as a distinctive group because of a chronic shortage of women.[21] This similar view was expressed in by members of cabildo of Castro in 1743 to explain the decline of the Chonos that had settled in Jesuit missions.[21] Urbina Burgos argues this meant Chonos were being married to indigenous women of Veliche, Caucahue or Payo stock. Thus the Chono miscegeneated and assimilated into the indigenous cultures of Chiloé by replacement of women.[21] Chono women were responsible for diving in cold waters for shellfish, and this may have been the cause for short life expectations among them.[22]

Writer Benjamín Subercaseaux visited Taitao Peninsula in 1946 reporting to have seen footsteps and fresh human feces he thought indicated that nomadic Chonos, as known from the historical record, still existed.[23]

Inhabitants in the island of Laitec which has strong historical links to the Chonos have an indigenous genetic admixture averaging 80%.[13] It is not known to which extent miscegeneated descendants of Chonos in this island retain aspects of Chono culture.[24]


Culturally the Chono had much in common with southern sea-farers such as the Alacalufe, yet the Chono had also influences from the Mapuche world.[25] Authors such as Harb D. et al. (1998) list the Chono people as culturally "Fuegian" in contrast to more northern Mapuche groups.[13] Urbinas Burgos (2007) mention the Chiloé Archipelago as the frontier between Mapuche culture and the culture of the "southern peoples".[20]

The putative Chono language is known only from local toponyms and from an untranslated catechism.

Men hunted marine mammals, especially sea lions, while women gathered shellfish and seaweed. The Chono used nets and spears to gather food from the sea but supplemented their catch with potatoes and other plants from small gardens. Their healing places consisted of caves or leather structures.

References and notes

  1. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 334.
  2. Reyes, Omat; Méndez, César; San Román, Manuel; Francois, Jean-Pierre (2018). "Earthquakes and coastal archaeology: Assessing shoreline shifts on the southernmost Pacific coast (Chonos Archipelago 43°50'–46°50' S, Chile, South America)". Quaternary International. 463: 161–175. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2016.10.001.
  3. Molinet, Carlos; Solari, María Eugenia; Díaz, Manuel; Marticorena, Francisca; Díaz, Patricio A.; Navarro, Magdalena; Niklitschek, Edwin (2018). "Fragmentos de la historia ambiental del sistema de fiordos y canales nor-patagónicos, Sur de Chile: Dos siglos de explotación". Magallania (in Spanish). 46 (2): 107–128. doi:10.4067/s0718-22442018000200107.
  4. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 39.
  5. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 42.
  6. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 55.
  7. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 27.
  8. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 41.
  9. Daughters, Anton. "Southern Chile's Archipelago of Chiloé: Shifting Identities in a New Economy." Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Vol. 21, No. 2, July 2016
  10. Ibar Bruce, Jorge (1960). "Ensayo sobre los indios Chonos e interpretación de sus toponimías". Anales de la Universidad de Chile. 117: 61–70.
  11. Alcamán 1997, p. 32.
  12. Alcamán 1997, p. 33.
  13. "Poblaciones costeras de Chile: marcadores genéticos en cuatro localidades". Revista médica de Chile. 1998. doi:10.4067/S0034-98871998000700002.
  14. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 44.
  15. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 327.
  16. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 328.
  17. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 329.
  18. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 330.
  19. Vásquez Caballero, Ricardo Felipe. "Aau, el secreto de los chono" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved January 24, 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 325.
  21. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 344.
  22. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 335.
  23. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 326.
  24. Urbina Burgos 2007, p. 346.
  25. Trivero Rivera 2005, p. 36.


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