Torres del Paine Hotel Las Torres
Hotel Las Torres

Patagonians: ethnic groups at the “end of the world”

In the sixteenth century, the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan contacted with the tehuelches . This famous explorer was surprised by the physical characteristics of native people of Patagonia, mainly because of the size of their feet. This story marks the name given to the area, where word Patagonia comes from large feet or pata gau in Portuguese.
All groups who coexisted here had a special bond with the sea, because of the hard Patagonian life, where it was difficult to mobilize by land, agriculture and hunting.

Although they were not a big civilization, all the small tribes with the same beliefs and characteristics got one name in order to their easier classification.

Tehuelches:
Called by the Mapuche “brave people”. They were skilled hunters and gatherers, living as nomads. One of the interesting points was the reproduction habit through the exchange of women between clans.

Their religion was based on myths, emphasizing the creation of the world by Kóoch, a god who was overwhelmed with loneliness and were crying until he created the sea. Seeing this situation, Arrok sighed and divided the sea, creating after the Sun and the Moon.

Selknam en la playaSelk’nam (Onas):
These people had great similarities with the Tehuelches: physically, their culture, language, organization of clans and their principal deity,  called Kénos. Anyway, there were also differences in the faith in a god who punishes the evil (Temáukel).
Despite of living with nature and being great constructors of tools, they never worked in the land. We know about Selk’nam thanks to their descendants who survived colonization. Currently there is no pure race.

Kawésqar:
Various nomadic groups which were traveling in canoes through the channels of Tierra del Fuego and Magallanes. Their name means “human being”, while the nickname “alacalufes” was created as derogatory name by Yagan.
They are one of the Patagonian ethnic groups with the highest number of survivors in the country. The University of Chile made in 1999 the Kawésqar Language Revitalization Project, preventing them from disappearing with the time.
Their most treasured possessions were the canoes, in which they spent the majority of the life, hunting seals, otters and sea lions,  which they ate and wore their skins. Kawésqar believed in good and chaos spirits.

Perro YagánYamana (yaganes):
They have great similarities with Kawésqar in their way of life. Anyway, the main difference of the Yamana with other ethnic groups in Patagonia was the domestication of the red fox, (yagan dog) that probably was their pet or helped them hunting. There are plans to clone this animal and return it to its habitat.

Yamana were monotheistic people, although they believed in spirits and creatures. According to their traditions, when a Yamana dies, they wrap the body in skin and leave on the mainland, where they can never return.
Their language is still not classified and can disappear in the future. However, there are several projects to save it.