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Fuegians are the indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. In English, the term originally referred to the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego. In Spanish, the term fueguino can refer to any person from the archipelago.
The indigenous Fuegians belonged to several tribes including the Ona (Selk'nam), Haush (Manek'enk), Yaghan (Yámana), and Alacaluf (Kawésqar). All of these tribes except the Selk'nam lived exclusively in coastal areas. The Yaghans and the Alacaluf traveled by canoes around the islands of the archipelago, while the coast dwelling Haush did not. The Selk'nam lived in the interior of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and lived mainly by hunting guanacos. The Fuegian peoples spoke several distinct languages: both the Kawésqar language and the Yaghan language are considered language isolates, while the Selk'nams spoke a Chon language like the Tehuelches on the mainland.
When Europeans, Chileans and Argentines studied and settled on the islands in the mid-19th century, they brought with them diseases such as measles and smallpox for which the Fuegians had no immunity. The Fuegian population was devastated by the diseases, and their numbers were reduced from several thousand in the 19th century to hundreds in the 20th century. There are no full-blooded native Fuegians today; the last died in 1999.
Although the Fuegians were all hunter-gatherers, their material culture was not homogeneous: the big island and the archipelago made two different adaptations possible. Some of the cultures were coast-dwelling, while others were land-oriented. Neither was restricted to Tierra del Fuego:
* The coast provided fish, sea birds, seals, and sometimes also whales. Yaghans got their sustenance this way. Alacalufs (living in the Strait of Magellan and some islands), and Chonos (living further to the north, on Chilean coasts and archipelagos) were similar.
* Selk'nams lived on the inland plain of the big island of Tierra del Fuego, hunting herds of guanaco. The material culture had some similarities to that of the (also linguistically related) Tehuelches living outside Tierra del Fuego in the southern plains of Argentina.
All Fuegian tribes had a nomadic lifestyle, and lacked permanent shelters. The guanaco-hunting Selk'nam made their huts out of stakes, dry sticks, and leather. They broke camp and carried their things with them, and wandered following the hunting and gathering possibilities. The coastal Yamana and Alacaluf also changed their camping places, traveling by canoes.
Picture of a Fuegian (possibly a Yaghan) by ship's artist Conrad Martens during a visit of HMS Beagle.
FONTE IMMAGINE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fuegian_BeagleVoyage.jpg
There are some correspondences or putative borrowings between the Yámana and Selknam mythologies. The hummingbird was an animal revered by the Yámanas, and the Taiyin creation myth explaining the creation of the archipelago's water system, the culture hero "Taiyin" is portrayed in the guise of a hummingbird. A Yámana myth, "The egoist fox", features a hummingbird as a helper and has some similarities to the Taiyin-myth of the Selk'nam. Similar remarks apply to the myth about the big albatross: it shares identical variants for both tribes. Some examples of myths having shared or similar versions in both tribes:
* the myth about a sea lion and his [human] wife;
* the myth about the origin of death.
All three Fuegian tribes had myths about culture heros. Yámanas have dualistic myths about the two yoalox-brothers (IPA: [joalox]). They act as culture heroes, and sometimes stand in an antagonistic relation to each other, introducing opposite laws. Their figures can be compared to the Selk'nam Kwanyip-brothers. In general, the presence of dualistic myths in two compared cultures does not necessaily imply relatedness or diffusion.
Some myths also feature shaman-like figures with similarities in the Yámana and Selk'nam tribes.Shamanism
Both Selk'nam and Yámana had persons filling in shaman-like roles. The Selk'nams believed their xon (IPA: [xon]) to have supernatural capabilities, e.g. to control weather and to heal. The figure of xon appeared in myths, too. The Yámana yekamush ([jekamuʃ]) corresponds to the Selk'nam xon.
There are myths in both Yámána and Selk'nam tribes about a shaman using his power manifested as a whale. In both examples, the shaman was "dreaming" while achieving this. For example, the body of the Selk'nam xon lay undisturbed while it was believed that he travelled and achieved wonderful deeds (e.g. taking revenge on a whole group of peoples). The Yámana yekamush made similar achievements while dreaming: he killed a whale and lead the dead body to arbitrary places, and transformed himself into a whale as well. In another Selk'nam myth, the xon could use his power also for transporting whale meat. He could exercise this capability from great distances and see everything that happened during the transport.
There is a belief in both the Selk'nam and Yámana tribes that women used to rule over men in ancient times, Yámana attribute the present situation to a successful revolt of men. There are man festivals associated with this belief in both tribes.