Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blue-Egg Mapuche Chickens

The old stories speak of a pact between the hens and the people of the land [the Mapuche].  The hens would give the people blue eggs and the people of the land would care for them and honor them in ceremonies of thanks and prayer. The bodies of the colloncas and ketros [chicken varieties] remember the pact and pass on the message of the blue eggs when the pact is respected.  Agélica Celis Salamero[1] 

Blue-egg chickens, gallinas Mapuches, or “Araucanas” to poultry enthusiasts, first came to outside attention in 1921 when Spanish poultry specialist Professor Salvador Castelló, announced their existence at the first international poultry conference in The Hague. 

Castelló explained that on 6 August 1914, he had landed at the Chilean port of Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan and had immediately noticed several hampers of blue-shelled eggs.  His first thought was that they were ducks’ eggs. But the local people assured him that they were, indeed, hens’ eggs and that many hens in southern Chile laid eggs of the same color.  This utterly astonished him, because as he said ‘neither in Europe not in North America had he seen eggs of this colour.’  Later in the company of Chilean poultry breeders, Castelló toured a region of Chile where blue-egg chickens were especially common. This was the rugged lake district of the south-central part of the country, the homeland of the warlike Araucanian or Mapuche Indians.[2]

What was their origin?  The chickens’ wild ancestor, the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus gallus), was found from northeasterner India east to Indonesia, and seems to have been domesticated by 4,000 years ago.  In the ensuing centuries it spread west to Europe and Africa and east to the Oceania.  By 1492 domesticated chickens (G. g. domesticus) had been introduced from Iceland, the westernmost outpost of European society, to Easter Island, the eastern most landfall of the Polynesians.[3] 

And perhaps they were in South America too. In1532, when Spanish conquistador Pizarro reached Peru, “he found that chickens were already an integral part of Incan economy and culture, suggesting at least some history of chickens in the region.”[4]  In 1590 Jesuit Fr. José de Acosta, in The Natural & Moral History of the Indies, wrote:
….let us now speake of tame fowle; I wondered that hennes, seeing there were some in the Indes before the Spanish came there, the which is well approved for they have a proper name of the country, and they call a henne a Hualpa, and the egge Ronto[5].
Others disagreed.  “El Inca,” Garcilaso de la Vega, son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, whose accounts of Inca history, culture and society are widely accepted, contradicted de Acosta’s arguments and concluded “I have clearly proved that there were no Cocks or Hens in Peru before the conquest…”[6]  And when authoritative German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt agreed in 1811that there were no pre-Colombian chickens in the Americas, that put an end to the debate for a hundred years or so.[7]

But not forever.  In 1888, a newly graduated English engineer, 19 year old Richard (Ricardo) Latcham arrived in Chile to build roads in the recently pacified Mapuche homeland near today’s city of Temuco.  He lived there among the Mapuche for the next five years, making many friends, learning the language and developing a fascination and respect for Mapuche culture.  Moving to Santiago, he began to read anthropology, develop his anthropological library and to publish technical articles on the Mapuche and on Chilean archaeology—while still working as an engineer and teacher of English.[8]

In 1921, while finishing his Domesticated Animals of Pre-Columbian America he learned of Castelló’s report, which coincided with his view that there were chickens in South America before the conquest:
It is thought that in [pre-Colombian] America there were no true chickens, but this is only partially true.  It may be that in North America there were none, but in South America there were several species, distinct from those of the old world.  Not all these species have been classified, but in Chile, Bolivia and Peru [there are] no fewer than three indigenous varieties or species, domesticated by the native people…

 Photo: Juan Osvaldo

In Chile these are called the trintri, with “curly feathers as thought they were put on in reverse,”

…the collonca, which are small and tailless;

…and the francolina [or ketro], which Lacham thought to be a variety of the collonanas, “that carry a tuft of feathers on their heads that fall on all sides to the level of their eyes.  The country people call them ‘hens with ear rings.’ Like those above they lay blue eggs.”[9]

So if chickens were in Chile before the Spanish, where might they have come from? 


Maybe. The earliest recorded introduction of Chickens to the Americas was in 1500, when Pedro Álvares Cabral gave a single hen to a Brazilian Indian.  But whether her offspring could have been carried to Argentina, where they were reported by 1515[10] or to Peru by 1532, when Pizarro arrived and they were already supposed “an integral part of Incan economy and culture,” seems unlikely.


If chickens were in western South America before the Spanish, a Pacific origin seems more likely than a European one.  Prehistoric Polynesians spread chickens throughout the Pacific to Easter Island, the eastern most Polynesian outpost, by the 1300s.  Since sweet potatoes – a South American plant domesticated in Peru by around 2,000 BC – were in the central Polynesia by 1000 to 1100 AD it is very likely that there was prehistoric contact between South Americans and Polynesians.[11] And if sweet potatoes went west, chickens could have come east.

The Evidence

Archeological evidence shows domesticated chickens to have been in China before 5000 BC, in India by 2000 BC, and in Polynesia as early as 1000 BC. But of all the thousand’s of archaeological excavations that have taken place in Peru, not one has reported finding a pre-Columbian chicken bone. 

But they found 83 in Chile…. maybe. 

In 2007 archaeologist Alice A. Storey and her colleagues published an article on El Arenal-1, an archaeological site near the central Chilean coast, about 530 Km south of Santiago and 100 Km south of Concepcíon.  There they had found chicken bones radiocarbon dated to between 1321 and 1407 AD, well before Columbus and more than 100 years before chickens came to Chile with Pedro de Valdivia in 1540.  Genetic analysis of the bones “produced an identical [mtDNA] sequence to chicken bones from two prehistoric archaeological sites in the Pacific.”[12]

But of course their conclusions were not universally accepted.  Jaime Gongora and his colleagues responded, arguing that the mtDNA sequence of the Chilean finds also matched chickens from Europe and “all over the world,” contradicting the view that they were of specifically pacific origins. They also questioned the dating, arguing that the site’s location near the coast suggested that the chickens’ diet might have included shells or fish scraps which would have introduced carbon from marine sources into their bones, yielding inaccurately old radiocarbon dates.[13]

Storey and her colleagues replied, arguing that “Ultimately, the question rests on the antiquity of the El Arenal chickens,” and that chemical analysis of the bones demonstrated that the chickens “did not derive protein from marine sources and thus did not require a marine offset correction to their radiocarbon ages.” Further, they argued that the bone dates were consistent with dates on other material from the site, and that no post Colombian artifacts were found on the site. 

So, what to conclude?  Storey and her colleagues make a good case for pre-Colombian dates on the El Arenal-1 chickens, but if there were chickens in South America before the Spanish, and especially if they were “an integral part of Incan economy and culture,” it is difficult to explain why chicken bones have not been found at any other Peruvian or Chilean sites. 

But perhaps some were.  Storey and her colleagues suggest that archaeologists working along the Pacific coast of South America re-examine the faunal collections from their sites. “Remains such as bones of chickens or pigs which may have been classified as intrusive previously may provide evidence of other points of contact between Polynesia and the Americas.”

And what of the Blue-egg Mapuche Chickens?

As part of their examination of the origins of chickens in South America Storey and her colleagues considered the possibility that the blue-egg chickens are descendants of the El Aremal-1 birds.  They found a complicated story.  Castelló originally described the chickens as being tailless, having ear tufts and laying blue eggs, and these became the defining characteristics of the poultry fanciers’ Araucanas.  He later discovered that the birds he described had been bred recently from a cross between a blue-egg tailess hen and a rooster with ear tufts. Both the tailess trait and the trait for ear tufts are also found in European chickens, and that may be their origin. 

Of the blue egg trait, which seems to be indigenously Chilean[14], they found no mention prior to about 1880. Darwin, who was in Chile in 1834-35 and who wrote extensively about chicken varieties in The Origin made no mention of blue eggs.  As Storey says, “it seems unlikely that if blue eggs had been available in markets as they were in the early 1900s, that Darwin would have missed them.” [15]

So Mapuche blue-egg chickens appear to be a relatively recent development, the result of a mutation sometime back in chicken prehistory before 1880.  But that makes them no less Mapuche chickens, nor does it exclude the possibility that their ancestors included pre-Colombian Chilean chickens--if they existed. 

Mapuche Blue-Egg Chickens today

Beginning in the first years of the 21st century, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies, governmental and non-governmental, began programs to encourage rural Chileans, Mapuche and mestizo, to raise blue-egg chickens under artisanal and sustainable conditions and to promote their sale in local and perhaps national markets.  In the 20th century blue-eggs had become increasingly rare as breeding among many chicken varieties had resulted in a highly heterogeneous population of chickens in rural south central Chile, so the project was also designed to restore and improve the genetic characteristics of the earlier blue-egg lineages. 

While the program’s success has not been completely evaluated there seems to have been progress with the sale of 15.6 million blue eggs in the first year of the project. Today you can often find vendors selling blue eggs along with garden produce on the streets of Pucón and Villarica and the market in Temuco.[16]

But if that’s not convenient, here are some Contacts in the Valle del Itata, and Contacts in Villarrica.  Or you can Google “huevos azules en Santiago” if you live in the capitol.


Photo: Ministerio de Agricultura


Mapuche egg recipes

Once you have your blue eggs, you’ll want to prepare them traditionally (unless you plan to incubate them), so here are a few recipes:

“Flour and egg soup for breakfast: This was used long ago to give the men energy before they went to work.  Fry a little onion, garlic and vegtables add potatoes cut into pieces and boil.  Add toasted flour and allow to boil again.  At the end season and add one egg per person.  The eggs should be opened at one end with a fork and then beaten through the opening, then added to the soup in a thin stream.”  Marina Recabarren 
“Here in Tucapel a Chicken cazuela with home made noodles is very typical.  Take one egg per person and add sifted flour and water to make a soft dough and about 10 minutes before serving, drop the dough into the boiling cazuela by pushing through the tines of a fork.  They come out like little noodles, short and very pretty.” Francisca Paredes. 
“They are used a lot in deserts to sweeten the day, like Leche Asada [aka flan]. Boil a liter of milk with cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla.  Beat 6 eggs with a cup of sugar, add the milk, beat again and strain through a colander. Bake until done, about 30 minutes in a wood fired oven. Marina Recabarren.[17]

[1] Huevos Azules de Gallinas Mapuche, on line at  All translations mine unless otherwise noted.
[2] Langdon, Robert. 1989. When the Blue-Egg Chickens Come Home to Roost: New thoughts on the Prehistory of the Domestic Fowl in Asia, America and the Pacific Islands
The Journal of Pacific History Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 164-192.
[3] Chicken, Wikipedia; Icelandic Chicken, Wikipedia.
[4]  Storey A. A., et al., "Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
[5] Acosta, José de. 1880. The Natural & Moral History of the Indies. Reprinted from the English Translation of Edward Grimston, 1604. Vol 1.  London: Haklupt Society. p. 276.
[6] Garcilaso De La Vega, El Inca, 1688. The Royal Commentaries of Peru in Two Parts London: Miles Flesher. p. 386.
[7] Langon, op cit.
[8] From 1928 to his death in 1943 Latcham was Director of the Chilean National Museum of Natural History.
[9] Latcham, Ricardo E. 1922 Los animales domésticos de la América precolombiana. Santiago. p. 177.
[10] Ibid, p. 9.
[11] Montenegro, A.,C. Avis and A.J. Weaver, Modeling the pre-historic arrival of the sweet potato in Polynesia, Journal of Archaeological Science,35, 355-367 on line at
[12]  A. A. Storey et al., op. cit.
[13] Gongora J, et al. Indo-European and Asian origins for Chilean and Pacific chickens revealed by mtDNA. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2008;105:10308–10313.  On line at
[14] There is also a Chinese blue-egg chicken, the Dongxiang blueshelled, which has the same gene for shell color as the Araucana. I found no evidence concerning its relation to the Araucana, if any.  See Zhao, R, et al. 2006. A Study on Eggshell Pigmentation: Biliverdin in Blue-Shelled Chickens. Poultry Science 85:546–549. On line at
[15] Storey, A.A., et al  2008. Pre-Columbian chickens, dates, isotopes and mtDNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105(48): E99., and Storey, A.A, et al  2011. Pre-Columbian chickens of the Americas: a critical review of the hypotheses and evidence for their origins.  Rapa Nui Journal Vol. 25 (2) on line at
[16] Fundación para la Innovación Agraria, Ministerio de Agricultura. 2009. Resultados y Lecciones en Selección y Manejo de la Gallina Mapuche Productora de  Huevos Azules. Serie Experiencias De Innovación Para El Emprendimiento Agrario. On line at, and  Moya Azcárate, Rita. 2004 Gallina De Huevos Azules: contribuciones a la elaboración de un protocolo.  Línea Transversal Biodiversidad no cultivada y semidomesticada. América Latina Red CBDC.  On line at
[17] Moya A., op cit, p. 20.


  1. We have blue egg laying chickens on our farm in La Serena. They are local chickens. Here is a picture of the eggs, :)

    1. Nice photo... but are they blue? "Light" blue perhaps. ;)

  2. Los felicito por la difusión de esta caracteristica raza.
    Aqui un pequeño aporte
    Per Avic Gabriel Alvarez

    1. Gracias, Gabriel.

      The link is to Gabriel's blog on chicken breeds in Argentina.

  3. I'm a Chilean living in the US. This is by far, one of the best sites I've seen about Chilean food. This is extraordinaire. Mr. Stuart, please keep posting.

    1. Thanks, Daniel, but I've just about run out of topics. Any suggestions?

    2. Sandwiches? Merken? German influence in bakery?

    3. Good thinking... see "German-Chilean food" ( and "Chili in Chile is aji" ( :-)
      Actually I haven't done bread or sandwiches because there's so much already out there on them in other blogs. Take a look a Santiago's best blog Urbatorium ( these and lots more.

    4. mmmm Piure!!!
      Dried and smoked seafood used by mapuche people.
      Ulte (cochayuyo roots)
      Chunchules :)

    5. Chuuuta, Unknown knows from whence s/he speaks. Good suggestions! I'll see what I can do. Perhaps they'll serve serve Ñachi at the next luncheon of the club de gringos. Thanks.

  4. I love blue eggs and Im agree are light blue! Just beautiful!many timed I dont eat these eggs!! Gloria

  5. Para estar más segura de huevos azules, las gallinas negras son las que más los dan,las otras gallinas dan huevos con un color verdoso a blanco o crema.Al final todos estos huevos son buenos,mil veces mejor que los de supermercados...Gracias.

  6. Olive oil is a gift from nature.
    It's very healthy to consume it.

    Thank you for the information.

    American Directory

  7. I have been told the blue eggs have more protien than ordinary eggs. Do you know if this is correct? Thank you. Jeanette


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim