In Ushauia – we found out all about the Yamana people and the Selknam people. They lived at the bottom of the world in Tierra del Fuego in South America. The Selknam lived inland and hunted guanaco. The Yamana lived along the coast.
The Yamana lived further south than any other people in the world and although it was cold they didn’t wear clothes but always had a fire burning even in their canoes and put animal grease on their skin to help stay warm. They sometimes put an animal skin around them like a cloak. The women were the fishers and paddled the canoes, and were the only ones who could swim as they had to swim out to the canoes that were tied up in the reeds!
The women fished and collected mussels but sometimes they went out as a family to hunt seals. The women paddled, the men threw the spear at the seals and the children kept the fire alight in the canoe all the time. The canoes were made of a single piece of tree bark and wood.
They lived in small houses made from branches and huddled together around the fire to stay warm!
When the Europeans came and discovered them, they saw all the fires burning along the water’s edges and that’s when they called it Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) It is very sad because in the 1800s , just over 100 years ago, the Europeans tried to make them ‘civilised’ by setting up missions, giving them clothes and food and different houses and they brought diseases that the Yamana didn’t have immunity to. So the Yamana people and their languages and traditions have died out – there is just one old lady left from the Yamana, who was born in 1928 and is now in her 90’s. She is the last speaker of the Yamana language.
The Selknams also died out after the Europeans tried to make them ‘civilised’
We went to the Tierra del Fuego National park and found thousands of mussels and walked around in the wild places, imagining how life was for the Yamana.
When we saw the beautiful beach and water of the Lago Roca at sunset, I decided to see what it was like to have to swim in that water – well, my Dad dared me to go skinny dipping and this is what happened!