Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Chango


The Changos were specialized fishermen and sea hunters who sailed extensively in sea lion skin rafts, agile vessels that could withstand fishing trips on the open ocean. The rafts were made from the skins of four male sea lions, softened in fresh water, sewn together and inflated, to produce floats up to 3 meters (10 feet) in length. A small tube of bone was used to inflate them and the seams were sealed and waterproofed with oil and sea lion blubber, and sometimes covered with ochre pigment. The raft was formed of two floats bound together at their ends and tied to a central wooden deck upon which the fishermen could sit or kneel. They were propelled with double-ended wooden paddles.
Historical sources dating back to the early colonial period describe such craft being used as far south as Chile’s central coast. Engravings and more detailed accounts of these were left by nineteenth century travelers.
Smaller than the sea lion skin raft was the “three trunk raft”, which is mentioned by only a few sources. Indeed, most knowledge of these vessels comes from miniature models left as grave goods by fishermen of the late Arica culture. The models show three pieces of wood, the central one beam than the others, all tied together and decorated with transverse red lines. These models tend to be accompanied by a scale model of a double-bladed paddle. The craft themselves apparently were used for longer journeys and were more popular among the seafaring peoples of far Northern Chile and Southern Peru, whereas the sea lion skin raft was used more by tribes living south of Tocopilla, where wood was scarce and the region’s plentiful sea lions provided a ready alternative.
The Changos fished for tuna, cusk eels, smooth hound, flathead mullet, kingfish, jack mackerel, catfish and octopus – seafood species still commonly consumed in Chile. They hunted pinnipeds and cetaceans, including whales, which they are said to have approached by imitating the bark of the sea lion. In general, large sea animals were hunted by harpooning and then allowing them to drag the boat while they bled to death. Once dead, they were hauled aboard the rafts.
Men hunted whales alone, using a harpoon to spear them under the fin nearest the heart. Meanwhile, others watched from the shore, tracking the movement of the dying whale and consuming it wherever it landed.
The Chango people practiced a complex system of division of labor. Different groups would fish for different kinds of fish or mammal. Some only hunted sea lions, mainly to supply skins for raft making. They would then either use the rafts themselves or barter them for other goods.
The Changos also traded with groups from the valleys and oases of the Atacama Desert. The goods they traded most often included fresh and salted fish, marine mammal pelts and leather, seashells, and guano for use as a fertilizer—all highly prized items among the inlanders. In exchange, the Chango received llama and alpaca wool, as well as fruit, maize, and coca, food products that were lacking in their own diet. The Chango themselves may have practiced small-scale farming when sufficient fresh water was available.