La Pincoya: Goddess of Marine Species

14 January, 2021

Francisco Letelier's

Fran­cis­co Lete­lier’s “La Pin­coya” was com­mis­sioned by the Mon­terey Bay Aquar­i­um for its 25th anniver­sary (acrylic on Can­vas 5′ x 8′).


Francisco Letelier

La Pin­coya is a reminder of the pol­lut­ed waters left behind in the pre­vi­ous­ly pris­tine waters of Chiloe and Patag­o­nia in Chile by the salmon farm­ing indus­try. I depict Pin­coya as a marine god­dess, with Native/African fea­tures in order to counter the white­wash­ing of our nation­al cul­ture and mer­maids in general.

Francisco Letelier with the surfboard derived from

Fran­cis­co Lete­lier with the surf­board derived from “La Pincoya”.

The island of Chiloe in the south­ern part of Chile along the Pacif­ic coast has a unique cul­ture and folk­lore which is quite dif­fer­ent from that of the main­land. In this region, the South Amer­i­can con­ti­nent breaks up into count­less islands, and oth­er unique geo­graph­i­cal fea­tures where there is an abun­dance of aquat­ic life. Even in the mod­ern era, many loca­tions remain vir­tu­al­ly inac­ces­si­ble. Because of this dis­tanc­ing cul­tur­al cus­toms and prac­tices have per­se­vered. The geog­ra­phy of the region has also allowed the abun­dant kinds of marine mam­mals and oth­er species to find places where they can con­tin­ue to thrive in spite of encroach­ment on habi­tats by humankind

The peo­ple who live in the Chiloé Arch­i­pel­ago have devel­oped their own unique mythol­o­gy over the cen­turies which helps to explain their envi­ron­ment and its main­te­nance. Being islanders they rely upon the sea for much of their sus­te­nance and they have evolved a hier­ar­chy of divine fig­ures who take care of the ocean. This hier­ar­chy is made up of a Roy­al Fam­i­ly who con­sist of a king and queen, a prince and two princesses.

La Pin­coya is a god­dess, which per­son­i­fies the fer­til­i­ty of marine species. The abun­dance or scarci­ty of shell­fish near the beach­es or of the fish in canals and streams depends on her. She dwells with her hus­band El Pin­coy, fre­quent­ing iso­lat­ed loca­tions of the coast and the rocky and mys­te­ri­ous seashore.

She presents her­self to a lucky few wear­ing a mar­velous suit of Sar­gas­so. She reput­ed­ly wears a belt of sea­weed, which shines like gold in the light of the moon. She is a beau­ti­ful woman, so attrac­tive that even fish and oth­er sea life are mes­mer­ized and entranced by her. Her abun­dant hair cov­ers her back entire­ly with reflec­tions of the moon like a show­er of light­ing bugs or a cas­cade of gold dust.

When la Pin­coya and her hus­band come out of the ocean to the beach, they run along the sand radi­ant­ly hap­py. Sud­den­ly, El Pin­coy might sit upon a rock and begin a strange song. His melo­di­ous and whis­per­ing voice beck­ons la Pin­coya who fol­lows the rhythm of the song mov­ing her hips slow­ly. His voice ris­es in tonal­i­ty and the god­dess is filled with ener­gy as she lifts her arms to the heav­ens and moves her hands in search of the stars.

Soon she begins a fre­net­ic and mar­velous dance. If she dances look­ing towards the hills along the coast, the beach­es of that place will become bar­ren. There will be no shell­fish or fish there. But if she dances look­ing towards the sea, then fin­ish­es by run­ning along the sand sow­ing shell­fish, the abun­dance of these and of oth­er fish will over­flow along the rocky coast and the deep chan­nels between the islands.

La Pin­coya was bought by Jack­son Browne and giv­en to his part­ner, Dian­na Cohen’s, father. The image was repro­duced in an edi­tion of one by the Hobie Sur­board Co. for an exhib­it curat­ed by Dian­na Cohen, Lines on Water. Jack­son owns the surfboard.


Sources: Dic­cionario Eti­mo­logi­co Chilote by Nica­s­io Tan­gol, 1976, trans­la­tion Fran­cis­co Lete­lier, and Folkrealm Studies.



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