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