Traditions on Chiloé island
The Night of San Juan
It was common for families in Chiloe to have one or more members called Juan or Juana. The celebrations which take place on the night of San Juan are dedicated to them.
Relatives and friends gathered around the stove to cook roast pork, drink apple or grape chicha , tell a few jokes, make tropo using the fat from the roast and then organise and carry out the traditional San Juan`s night games ( like the potato game, the needle game).
Sometimes at midnight the braver men participating in the celebrations would go out looking for the coveted burials which, according to their beliefs, were burning at midnight.
No one talks of what happened, the owner of the house goes out after midnight and beats his fruit trees to secure an abundant harvest.
Marriage proposals used to be an actual ceremony. The groom had to approach the bride`s parents in order to ask for their permission to marry her. Once they had agreed on the marriage they chose the date that the groom would officially ask for their daughter`s hand in marriage. During this occasion, the groom would arrive with his godparents who officially asked for the daughter`s hand.
After providing food for their guests, the bride’s parents handed their daughter over to the care of the godparents who looked after her until the religious wedding ceremony. Once the wedding ceremony took place the girl became the legitimate wife, bound to her husband for the rest of her life.
Someone pretending to be dead was placed on top of a pile of straw. Two men played the role of dogs, howling and barking non stop. Meanwhile, one, two or even three warlords started jumping around the house and when the mourners were not looking the warlords would go into the house and try to take the corpse out, but in vain.
The deceased is taken to the cemetery. There, a priest wearing a special hat blesses the deceased who is buried under a pile of straw. The mourners stay in the cemetery but fall asleep, allowing the warlords to hit and kick the dead person. The game finally ends with the cries of the mourners and the howling dogs who all realize what the warlords have done.
The minga was a tradition which stood out in its era because it reflected man’s willingness to help his neighbours in terms of moving a wooden house via water, clearing land, sowing etc.
The owner of the house requested help from various neighbours to carry out a determined task during the course of just one day. The helpers were paid with plenty of food and wine; but the days were also interchangeable, meaning that they would all help each other equally. In the exceptional case of moving a house via water the owner of the house organised a dance for the helpers as a treat and a way of showing their appreciation for their work.
A fisca was a rod split into 4 equal strips at one of its ends, each of which were separated by a wedge. It was used to extract sea urchins and different types of crabs at a certain depth in the ocean. Generally the fishermen used the bongo (a log carved into a boat shape) to perform this activity.
Line fishing and pen fishing
The former was a common practice and consisted of hiding the boat in a specific place in order to catch the preferred fish with a string line, especially swordfish. This was the local people’s favourite fish and the one which was most abundant at that time.
Pen fishing mostly consisted of catching fish using Stone or wooden walls which built to enclose a specific area along the beach. The stone pens were elevated and the open sea lapped up over them. On the other hand the wooden pens were built using strong wooden bases which were set directly into the bay and were called metrenquen.
The fish that usually got caught in both types of pens were silverside, sea bass and sometimes swordfish. Sea products became an important part of the local people`s diet or they were sold for a good amount of money or exchanged for other products which were needed in homes.
The curanto (shellfish stew)
Normally when the fishing activities had ended families would get ready to prepare the traditional curanto as the best way of cooking the extracted shellfish.
The owner of the house along with his oldest sons would start digging a hole in the ground or clean out one which had been used recently. Then they would fill it with wood and stones and light it. It would burn for about an hour until the stones became a reddish color. When this happened everything was ready to cook the actual food. The stones were then spread out evenly and a circle of leaves is placed around the fire. The firmer shellfish, like clams, sea snails are added and then mussels and various other shellfish followed by potatoes, beans, fish, milcaos and chapaleles. Everything is covered with large leaves of local plants. The curanto is ready about an hour later.