Mocha Island

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Mocha Island
Native name: Isla Mocha
Isla Mocha 1.jpg
Aerial view of Mocha Island
Location South-central Chile
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Area 48 km2 (19 sq mi)
Highest elevation 300 m (1,000 ft)
Region Bío Bío
Province Arauco
Comuna Lebu
Population ~800
Ethnic groups Chileans, Mapuches

Mocha (Spanish: Isla Mocha) is a small Chilean island located west of the coast of Arauco Province in the Pacific Ocean. The island is approximately 48 km2 (19 sq mi) in area, with a small chain of mountains running roughly in north-south direction. In Mapuche mythology, the souls of dead people travel west to visit this island. The island today is home to the Mocha Island National Reserve, a nature reserve that covers approximately 45% of the island's surface. The island is noted as the location of numerous historic shipwrecks. The waters off the island are a popular place for recreational sea fishing.


File:Van spilberger in mocha 1616.jpg
Depiction of Isla Mocha during an incursion by a Dutch pirate fleet in 1616. From the book that narrates the adventures of Dutch pirate Joris van Spilbergen.

The island was historically inhabited by an indigenous coastal population of Mapuches known as the Lafkenches. It was discovered by Juan Bautista Pastene September 10, 1544, and named Isla de San Nicolas de Tolentino.

According to Juan Ignacio Molina, the Dutch captain Joris van Spilbergen observed the use of chilihueques (a South American camelid) by native Mapuches of Mocha Island as plough animals in 1614.[1]

Mocha Island was regularly visited by pirates from the Netherlands and England. Francis Drake and Olivier van Noort are known to have used the island as a supply base. When Drake was visiting it during his circumnavigation of the globe he was seriously hurt by hostile Mapuches that inhabited the island. Eventually the Mapuche on the island were transported in 1685, from Mocha Island by Governor José de Garro to a reducción on the plain on the right bank of the Bio Bio River called the Valley of Mocha that later became the location of the modern city of Concepcion, Chile.

The waters off the island are also noted as the home to a famous 19th century sperm whale, Mocha Dick[citation needed]. American explorer and author Jeremiah N. Reynolds published an account, "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" in May, 1839 in The Knickerbocker magazine in New York. Mocha Dick was the inspiration for the fictional whale Moby Dick in the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville[citation needed].

File:Carahue sector costero lafquenche.JPG
Carahue coastal area with Mocha Island in the distance

Polynesian contact

In recent years, considerable evidence has emerged suggesting pre-Columbian contact between the Mapuche and Polynesians. In December 2007, several human skulls with Polynesian features, such as a pentagonal shape when viewed from behind, were found lying on a shelf in a museum in Concepción. These skulls originated from Mocha Island. Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago and José Miguel Ramírez Aliaga of the University of Valparaíso hope to win agreement soon with the locals of Mocha Island to begin an excavation search for Polynesian remains on the island.[2]


  1. The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of Chili, Pages 15 and 16, Volume II
  2. Lawler, Andrew (2010) "Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America?", Science, June 11: 1344–1347.


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