Hualaihué in its native language means “Place of Hualas” or “Place of Aquatic Birds” and was founded on September 21 in 1979, along with the Province of Palena. It belongs to the coastal territory of Patagonia Verde and is one of its larges communes. It is recognized for its history tide to the larches logging industry, for its wetlands perfect for bird watching and for the strength of its native peoples.
In Hualaihué you can see the traces of the work and sacrifice of its inhabitants. These can be found in the wooden mountain range, where the larch tiles were taken from. They are on the seeded fields and in the sea navigated by canoes and sailboats. The Commune of Hualaihué has written its history between the mountain peaks and the beaches, making its natural and cultural landscape unique.
The year it was founded as a commune, Hualaihué was changing due to the arrival of the Carretera Austral. Now, it has electricity, drinking water, health services as well as local roads. But the existing services are a result of the work of the early settlers and the people of today´s Hualaihué.
Its history began in the 16th century when the Indigenous people entrusted from Chiloé arrived at the beaches of Hualaihué to work the larch tree. The shipyards of Calbuco, the Maullín and Ancud forts as well as the churches of Chiloé needed large quantities of wood. That is why there were already some inhabitants on the coast during the 18th century.
They say that Bernardo O’Higgins gave a large piece of land to a native named Picul, and that this man divided it into four large estates, one for each of his sons: Rolecha, Hualaihué, Pichicolo and Colimahuidán. The latter was purchased by Domingo Villarroel, a Navy’s top admiral at the end of the 18th century. And with the arrival of the Villarroel family, the colonization of Hualaihué began, or at least the one that has remained morestrongly in the memory of its inhabitants.
Among the first families are the Villarroel and the Leiva, inhabitants of Hornopirén, at that time called Caleta Río Negro - Hornopirén. These surnames have a significant presence in the commune, and people speak about them with affection and respect. Together with other early families they worked the land and the forest, welcoming the new settlers with open arms at the beginning of the 20th century: the Huichaquelén, the Paillacar, the Millaquén, the Leviñanco, the Antiñirre and the Paillán in Hornopirén. In the coastal zone the Marín, the Báez, the Vargas, the Soto, the Núñez. In Huinay the Hernández and the González. In Cholgo the Maldonado and the Caipillán, mostly from Chiloé. By the Cabrera Lake the Cárdenas and the Peranchiguay. All these family names have remained in the commune, giving Hualaihué a special identity- a history that is still alive.
Although the old times are remembered as years of unity, they are also remembered as difficult times, beginning at an early age. They had the mingas, the boat loans or donations when a neighbour did not have enough, but also the isolation. In the absence of electricity, the “chonchones” were used, potatoes that turned into lamps with a waxed stick covered with lard. The trip to the nearest city, Puerto Montt was by sea, and it took more than a week in case of adverse weather conditions as they had to sail on wind-dependent boats.
The inhabitants of the commune took the tiles from the larches and carried them in backpacks on their shoulders, on horseback or with oxen that pulled the “biloche”, a wooden cart without wheels. They used the wood of the larch, tepú, ulmo, tepa, mañio, coigüe and myrtle trees. For household consumption, they planted potatoes, wheat, oats, flaxseed, and some vegetables. Women wove the clothes for the family.
The inhabitants fished in rowing boats and fish were smoked to be preserved and sold to Calbuco and Puerto Montt. They collected shellfish and owned cows, pigs, and chickens. They produced milk, butter, cheese, meat, raw and roasted flour, as well as other products that allowed them to live without hunger, but with sacrifice. Many people visit Hualaihué to get to know these activities, as many of them are still carried out today.
Over the years, the isolation in Hualaihué started to decline. During the thirties, the State Maritime Enterprise´s ships came. These were not powered by an engine, but by the tepú tree, and docked on the coasts of Hualaihué every fifteen days only. Several years later the power vessels, carrying cargo and passengers once a week, appeared. With these transport options, men and women travelled to the cities to demand the improvement of living conditions in Hualaihué, and to be heard. They were asking for roads, schools, police stations as well as increased and better connectivity.
In the sixties the “Bosques y Empresas Madereras (BIMA)” company, associated to the Simpson Timber Company from the United States, was established. BIMA exploited the larch tree at industrial scale, creating many jobs. It became so relevant that the population of Hualaihué increased, mainly in Contao, the only place with access and where the main forest complex was located. During the government of Salvador Allende, this site was transferred to CORFO. Then in 1976 the larch tree was declared a National Monument and it was prohibited to cut live specimens. Some inhabitants work in this trade to this day. Touring the commune, you can still walk the old roads of the larch trees.
The end of isolation was brought by the Carretera Austral. Its arrival in Hornopirén began in 1984, with the help of local workforce. Over the years inter-communal buses began to arrive, the first ones were made from iron. Other types of transport also arrived, allowing people to go and return to Puerto Montt in a single day. This was hard to believe thirty years ago, but today it is a reality.
All these achievements are because of the people of Hualaihué. The work done since the time of the first settlers has made the commune a wonderful place: its people, its landscape, its local identity. Today, the inhabitants of Hualaihué invite us to get to know the commune they were born in.