Chile – country women with child

The Pincoya


One of the most popular myths among the fishermen of Chiloé Island is the one about a mermaid named “La Pincoya.” Sometimes, they say, she is accompanied by her husband, “Pincoy.” She rarely leaves the sea for the rivers and lakes. This sea nymph fertilizes the fish and shellfish beneath the water, and therefore the fishermen’s abundance or lack of food depend on her. When Pincoya appears, dancing on the beach, her arms open and looking towards the sea, it is good news for the fishermen because her dance announces that there will be abundant fishing. If she dances looking towards the coast, it is a bad omen because her dance will make the fish go away. However, the bad omen may be good for others, because Pincoya leads the abundance to those in need.

Joy, even if it comes from poverty, attracts Pincoya, and this is why chilotes, or the inhabitants of Chiloé, sing, dance and prepare curantos – their traditional way of cooking seafood in a hole in the ground, over stones and live coals covered with leaves, branches and earth – so that she will see their cheer and favor them. Part of the myth tells that Pincoya was born in beautiful Lake Huelde, near Cucao; that she is a gorgeous woman with fair, lightly-tanned skin, golden hair, and that from the waist down she has the tail of a fish. On certain nights she whistles or sings irresistibly haunting love songs.

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