Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Chono


The Chonos belonged to the southern canoeist culture and were nomadic seafarers. Their vessels, called dalcas, were central to their way of life and were made of three planks that were bent with fire then formed into a boat shape, with two side planks fitted alongside a longer central plank to form a long, narrow canoe. The planks were sewn together with twisted string made of crushed bark from the bamboo-like culeu plant. The joints were caulked with leaves from the fiaca or mepoa tree and the vessel was them covered with maque bark. Their anchors were made of stone and wood. A dalca could hold loads up to 200 quintal (1 quintal= 100 kgs) and up to 10 crew members, most of them rowers. Sails were used on the boats when the wind was favorable. Early chroniclers and writers mentioned these vessels, admiring their design and the prowess of their crews.

The Chonos divided tasks by sex, with the men being responsible for fishing and for hunting sea lions, which were valued not only for their meat but also for their fat and oil, from which the Chonos made a special beverage. The men also were responsible for building the group’s huts on land. The younger males hunted birds at night, blinding them in their nests until they fell into the canoes, where they were knocked senseless. Chono women collected shellfish, both by hand from the seaside rocks and by diving in the ocean.

Women divers began their training early, as young as 3 or 4 years old. They collected shellfish in a basket as they swam, holding the handles in their mouths or around their necks. The women also collected seaweed, fungi, eggs and firewood. In the Guaitecas region, the Chonos grew corn (which they used to make a fermented beverage), potatoes and barley, and raised “wooly dogs” (probably guanacos), whose hair they used to make their clothing. The Chonos were also known to have used dogs to help obtain food: some were specially trained to dive for fish and chase them into nets held by two women. When a whale beached along the coast, the Chonos made use of the meat, skin and baleen. They also manufactured spears, clubs and daggers from bone, axes and knives from stone, hooks from wood and nets from the fiber of a tree they called quantu, the same fiber they used to make blankets and baskets. Historical records mention the occasional use of bows and arrows.