Being a viviente : confusion, personhood and autochthony in Tweo Coldita (Quellón, Chiloé, Chile)

  • José Joaquín Saavedra Gómez

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis addresses notions of personhood in Tweo Coldita, an indigenous community located on Coldita island (Chiloé). It addresses relationality, selfhood and autochthony by means of the Colditan notion of “viviente”, “a person who is living” in spaces between forest and tide. These spaces or “campos”, which Colditans strive to keep open, constitute a “lived world of confusion” from where the viviente emerges. Confusion describes how moving “borders” (environmental, social, temporal and of selfhood) tend to overlap, threatening to drive the viviente and its environment towards a lack of differentiation. To be a proper viviente is a constant struggle in a mythicized world. I argue that the latter’s confusing nature, along that of the vivientes themselves, can be elicited from a “mythical schema” stemming from a Chilote version of the Treng-Treng and Kay-Kay Vilú myth. In this narration, a catastrophe makes the sea and the lands clash, and a lonely, mad man is left in a submerged world. This resembles Tweo Colditans’ notions on confusion: colliding environmental elements growing over the campos and loneliness as a limit for the viviente, a person that is constantly menaced with being turned inwards and that must strive to relate to others and reproduce a world. Because of this mythification, a doubt lingers about the viviente’s origin. This doubt is reflected in the relationship with dwelling places, the campos, in the form of a confusion within that emerges as a feeling of “uncanniness”. I propose that the haunting of the uncanny in Tweo Coldita has to do with the problem of autochthony, the impossibility to fully belong, making the constitution of vivientes an impossible task. The viviente is constantly diluting into confusing selfhood through the very mythicized structuring of the world enacted from the campos. These Colditans notions allow to discuss relationality, personhood and the self, and recent descriptions of Chiloé as defined by the tradition/modernity dyad.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorHuon Wardle (Supervisor) & Cecilia Anne McCallum (Supervisor)


  • Personhood
  • Autochthony
  • Chiloé Archipelago
  • Witchcraft
  • Myth
  • Tradition/Modernity
  • Indigenous peoples

Access Status

  • Full text open

Cite this