While browsing souvenir shops recently, I spotted a few seemingly out of place dolls decorated in a style that definitely didn’t match the more familiar Mapuche.
The bizarre costumes and striking body paint belonged to the Selk’nam people, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe who inhabited the southern archipelago of Patagonia in pre-European times.
These Amerindian people (also known as the Ona) dressed up as part of a ritual (‘Hain’) to teach their tribes’ youth that evil spirits would set upon them if they misbehaved. Their history and culture is only scarcely recorded as their fate was sealed upon the arrival of permanent European settlements in the 1800s.
The Selk’nam who first sighted the astonishing craft moving silently along the shore of their island probably built bonfires to signal their neighbours further along the coast and island that something alarming was occurring. Because of the fires seen by Magellan and his crew, the Great Island and all the islands south of the straight were later named ‘Land of the Fire’ (Tierra del Fuego)
Drama and Power in a Hunting Society: The Selk’Nam of Tierra Del Fuego - Anne MacKaye Chapman
From 1880, the Selk’nam were hunted to extinction by sheep-farmers and gold seekers who were rewarded financially upon presentation of a pair of hands or ears, or later a complete skull. The last descendant, Angela Loij, died in 1974.