Photos by Karla and Ivan
Text by Karla Gachet
The island of Chiloe is in the region of Los Lagos off the southern coast of Chile. The first people who inhabited the island were the Chonos, Cuncos, and Huilliches. These people adopted Catholicism brought by the Spanish conquerors, but they didn’t forget their own beliefs and the uses of plants for medicine or as poisonous weapons. In 1880, in Ancud, there was a trial of the witches of Chiloe, in which dozens of people were declared to be a part of a secret society called the “Straight Providence”. The initiation consisted in erasing baptism by washing the head of the newcomers with the blood of a recently born baby. Then he or she would wear a vest, the Macuñ, made with the flesh of a dead virgin, and this would help the person to fly. The feast at the initiation ceremony included a special plate of fried baby flesh.
“Excuse me, how can we get to the Island of Teuquelin?” The man looked at us and mumbled, “Witches live in that island.” Boats only come to Teuquelin, an islet off the Chiloe island, once a week or when there is an emergency. The only people who live in Teuquelin are of the Peranchiguay family, who arrived about 200 years ago. Nowadays, there are only elderly people, women, and four kids. The youth left, and only eight families survive off the land, the sea, and luga, an algae that is harvested and sold to make shampoo and daipers. Under the moonlight we crossed fields and dark forests until we reached uncle Lucho’s house, he had died a few months ago. Ceci and Misha welcomed us and treated us like family. That night the witches visited us in our dreams.
The Peranchiguay family tree is so intricate it’s hard to decode all of its ramifications. Uncle David is 86, great-great-grandson of Basilio, who was one of the first ones in the island. David was married to his cousin Maria Orfelinda for 50 years. She died three years ago. Every day he lights up a candle for his wife and still asks for her permission when he goes somewhere. Lucila, his daughter, was married for 20 years but her husband was in love with alcohol and couldn’t have kids. At fourty, she had a kid on her own, and built herself a home from the money she made selling luga.
Abdon’s mother, Olivia, David’s aunt, was born in a boat that came from Punta Arena to Chiloe. The anniversary of her death was celebrated with rosary prayers, apple beer, prieta, milcao and a lot of cow, pig and chicken meat. All the family living on and outside the island was invited to come and pray. Uncle Abdon married his cousin Edna at an older age and they adopted a kid, Brian, to whom they gave everything they could. Brian never came to the celebrations. Abdon made his fortune renting rooms to the workers of the salmon farms that inhabited the island for a period of time. A few years back a desease killed all the salmon and also Abdon’s business.
El Varguita, another cousin, lives alone. They say a long time ago he fell in love with a girl and promised to marry her but didn’t. She left to live in the mountains and never came back. Because of this he drank a lot. He had two kids with another woman but never took care of them. No one visits him. A few days back he fell while he was drunk, and hasn’t been able to fish ever since. The other loner is Nolo, a second cousin. He works for everyone on the Island in exchange for food and shelter. No one asks why he lives on the island or what he is running from, he doesn’t speak much and his stare gets lost on the horizon.
Grandmother Dorila married the now deaseased Augusto Peranchiguay. She is 85 and enjoys her hot herbal mate drink in the mornings and evenings. She reacalls this costume came in the 60’s after an earthquake hit the islands. Part of the donations for the victims where sacks of herbal mate that came from Argentina. Her grandaughter, Doris, has a neighbor Andrea. They both have boys who share the same age and the same father. Andrea lives with the baby’s dad and her mother in law, Celmira. After running away from an abusive husband, Celmira got together with Manuel. At 95, Manuel is the oldest Peranchiguay. Manuel has a cronic cough and spends his days sitting next to the wooden stove that heats up his home.
Uncle Nano rows his canoe to another island to pick up his nine-year-old-daughter, Claudia, from her boarding school. On the way back, a whale swam along with them. The mom, Norma, waited by the shore with her hand on her chest praying that they would make it back safe. Aunt Norma used to work as a maid in the Island Desertores where some of the Peranchiguay kids went to school. Many years later, destiny brought her back to Nano with whom she had a girl, after doctors had told her she couldn’t because of her age. They make a living off harvesting potatoes and enjoy their girl’s love in the house by the lighthouse.
The brothers Fauri and Cito live far away from everyone else and we only met them in our dreams. They almost never come out to the light. It is said they love apple beer and they drown in its sweetness. When one crosses their property, two black devilish dogs run out to show their canines. Once in a while, you can see smoke coming out of their kitchen, as if all of the sudden they realize it’s freazing cold. Their lives and secrets, as well as everyone else’s, float in the islands of the south. Each character’s unique story is also universal to all the enchanted families of Latin America.