Chinchorreros, the most ancient fishermen in the world

Their genes have always been connected to this part of the country. They are the heirs of the men of Chinchorro culture, whose way of fishing has been unchanged for 7,000 years.

Photo: Jorge Rosenthal

Their way of fishing is ancient custom. Old fishermen build fragile boats to fish with nets, and each day they throw their nets into the sea facing Chinchorro beach. It’s a sight that is not to be missed.

North of Arica, on Las Machas beach, at least three crews of fishermen work aboard two simple canoes made of magué wood, which they bring to Chile especially from the Peruvian jungle.

The canoes are made of this wood, their parts lashed together with agave twine and ropes. No nails are used.

The canoes are identical except that one of them, the patache, carries the nets, and the other, la balsa or raft, carries the ropes, which drag powerful nets up to 100 meters (328 ft) long and capable of hauling up to 10 tons of catch.

Each vessel is manned by two fishermen who use bamboo paddles for rowing. However, the entire crew is really made up of 20 people, counting children and adults, all of them relatives and friends.

The technique is to go out to sea separately, around 100 meters (328 ft) apart, riding the powerful currents or “roads” between the waves. Later they join the ropes and nets using a complex and extremely efficient system that has been passed on for a thousand years.

Chinchorrero fishermen catch bream between October and February, and pichibuenos, stingrays and, occasionally, turtles.