Ilque and Huelmo (Chile)
Two traditional artisanal techniques are mainly used in Los Lagos region, specifically on the commune of Puerto Montt: basket making and loom weaving, both with pre-Hispanic origins.
In basket making highlights the junquillo works from families on Ilque and Huelmo, and in loom weaving artisans from the coastal zone of the Carretera Austral. In both cases the forefathers come from the area of Chiloé island and Calbuco.
Both production centers are part of territory of Regional Museum of Ancud (National Service of Cultural Patrimony - Ministry of the Cultures, Arts and Patrimony) called Historic Chiloé, a territory with a common cultural substrate held together -in this case- from native cultures techniques which were adapted by Spaniards and teach to its descendants.
In the localities of Ilque, Huelmo and Copahue we can still find basket making artisans that keep alive this traditional trade present in the area for over 100 years. According to ethnohistoric and archaeological records this area was occupied by indigenous settlements mainly huilliches and cuncos who practiced agriculture, livestock, fishing and harvesting, as well as canoe populations that traverse from the Reloncaví Sound to Cape Horn.
After the arrival of Spaniards, these cultures suffered several events that decimated their population in few decades until only small settlements remained.
Causes: The handover of indigenous lands to encomenderos of the zone, frontal attacks with the Spanish army, European diseases, and slavery in the central and northern of our country. Most of the huilliche families left where they live and migrated to faraway areas such as the Chilean Coastal Range, the plains, and the Trans-Andean pampas.
Afterwards, until the beginning of the XIX century, this area was just visited by larch lumberjacks from Chiloé and occasional groups that crossed the mountains. There are records of 1842 of larch lumberjack activity mainly on summertime on the Reloncaví Sound which consisted in men parties who exploited the larch and took it to Chiloé island usually in tiles and the bark of the larch was used as caulk too. In colonial times this was the main economical activity of Chiloé island, and the area was slowly populated by inhabitants from Chiloé (Indigenous and Spanish) and Calbuco. These inhabitants, along with the lumberjacks worked as agriculture labor for the German families brought for colonization policies.
In this context the villages of Puerto Montt and Calbuco emerged. No roads existed at that time, so people travelled in boats to get supplies and sale their goods in Puerto Montt. Basket making during most of the XX century occupied a major role in commerce and meant.
the main source of income for families and places such Ilque and Huelmo were basket making villages.
The plant fiber that families use for basket making is the junquillo (juncus procerus) which is quite old in the area as there are findings with a data of 12.500 BP found in the Monte Verde Archaeological site4.
Artisans’ testimonies say in the 50’s and 60’s traveled once a week to Angelmó with boats loaded with junquillo baskets and entrance rugs to sale them and buy supplies for their families. This made all the family members involve in the trade (gathering, whitening, warping, weave, sale). Currently, all the inhabitants of the area over 50 years know how to weave the junquillo since they learned the trade at young age.
The manila (Phormium tenax) during the 90’s starts to be used for basket making since is more abundant, easier to gather and prepared, so artisans reluctantly began to change the junquillo for manila, since the junquillo can only be gather in summertime and requires a complex preparation for craft making.
The construction of roads and the settlement of salmon aquacultures in the area have affected the traditional lifestyle of the rural inhabitants in such way there are few who keep the tradition of basket making. The opportunity to have steady jobs and better paid have made many forfeit the trade. The ones who keep alive the trade value their independence or lack the required scholarity to apply a job, and some have received help from public institutions who buy their products at fair prices.
Junquillo (juncus procerus)
Manila (phormium tenax)
Junquillo Weaving on Ilque And Huelmo
Junquillo knots appeared 12.500 BP ago in the archeological site of Monte Verde located near Puerto Montt5. Later and even though, the Spaniards didn’t care to register the way of life on the inhabitants of the zone, some depictions of plant fiber basket appear in descriptions made by religious, sailors and explorers of the XVII century. The cultural elements described focus on sea and agricultural products, some of them used to date.
Considering the common cultural substrate, it is worth mentioning that the Chiloé Basket Making was named Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2018 (SIGPA, Artesanía Chilota en Fibra Vegetal y sus Diferentes Tradiciones, htp://www.sigpa.cl/fcha-elemento/artesania-chilota-en-fbra-vegetal-y-sus-diferentes-tradiciones).
The junquillo weaving tradition on Ilque and Huelmo will be treated from the research made by Carla Loayza Charad, Un legado tejido en fibras vegetales, patrimonio de la comuna de Puerto Montt, del año 2019.
In the beginning, the weaving was used to create domestic and utilitarian products, and then to generate a precarious source of income.
The knowledge about how to gather and weave the junquillo was passed from generation to generation. It was worked as a family, the children learned from young since they had to help the elders.
Children usually started weaving small pieces and helped doing the bases of the baskets while the elders do the most visible of the craft: lift the piece and make the lids. When more help was needed, they asked for help in others outside the family in the modality of day changed.
Junquillo Working Stages
Gathering: From end of October to end of February the plant fibers are gathered in humid places like swamps. There the junquillo is just grown and soft, no tools are needed, just pull it. The harvest is done during waning moon when the fibers are tough and hard to weave. If they are harvested during new moon the fiber breaks.
The junquillo used for warping can be gathered during whole year and placed above the kitchen stove to soften it.
Roasting: The whitening of fibers gives flexibility and softness.
This was previously made with hot sand, now grass and dirt is used to make a bonfire and the fibers pass through the ashes.
Whitening: The junquillo is placed in line on the field, exposed to dew and sun light and rotating it for 5 or 6 days.
Storage: Once dray, the junquillo is stored in a cellar or anywhere there is not moisture to avoid fungus.
Dyed: The dye used to dye the junquillo were bought in Angelmó, preferably greens, purples or magentas and reds.
The junquillo is twined in packages and introduced in a pot of boiling water with dye and salt for a bit. Other similar option is to Paint the junquillo with an impregned rag of dye.
The use of this colors embellishes and tinge the pieces, creating a bouquet shapes or checkered shapes (like in the loom).
Weaving: To weave the junquillo must be moisture one day prior weaving, otherwise it will break. The usual place to weave was the floor inside the house or outside with all the family.
To make a basket the first piece to make is the bottom, the fibers then are crossed, and the “lifting” begins giving its characteristic shape. A wooden punch is used to twine the warp in the edge of the basket, and the last step is to cut the remaining protruding warp.
Types of Pieces
There are two types of baskets, with one or two hoops, each of them with different weight.
Openwork baskets: To go out shellfish or to gather.
Cross stitched or checkered baskets: More durable.
Baskets called tupios: Baskets with lid and hoops, not used on daily life, just for sale.
Rugs: More used in times past. Now only made for sale and measure by meter. There are rounded and oval. To make a 2-meter round rug it is required the help of more than one artisan.
In the past corridor rugs were also made and could measure more than 5 meters.
The weavings of Ilque and Huelmo were originally sold on Calbuco until a fire took place in 1943 and many of the artisans moved to Angelmó.
Until the earthquake of 1960 all the production was transported in ships to Las Papas dock where the crafts were sold to shop owners, among which stood up was Lidia Reimilla. When the road was constructed, the products were transported by bus and shop owners continued to buy crafts to artisans and as usual they gave the price and re-sell it mostly to tourists.
There are crafts that have a traditional design while others have managed to adapt to market requirements. Currently, public, and private institutions are the ones in charge of commercialize traditional crafts through fairs and acquisition of crafts as well (INDAP, Artesanías de Chile Foundation, among others).
Why has it decreased the importance of this tradition?
For over 50 years basket making was the economic center of the coastal area of the commune of Puerto Montt until the arrival of aquaculture centers in the 90’s were people preferred a steady salary over the income generated from crafts.
Besides, due to the extraction of the pompón the junquillo is becoming scarcer.
Another factor to take in mind is the introduction of the manila, a fiber from Oceania which is desired for its durability even used on sea work. It began to be used on junquillo crafts in the hoops for its strength and resistance. The manila requires less time of gathering and preparation, plus artisans have the plants on their own homes.