The Selk'Nam U Onas
The Selk'nam inhabited the inner part of the island of Tierra del Fuego. Their
physical aspect is the result of the cross breeding of the Pampidos, who are
tall and robust, and the Fueguidos, who are short and of a delicate bone structure.
Of the two groups, the first one was dominating.
They distributed over the territory in three subgroups: the Northern part of
R¡o Grande, the river Hurr, an area of prairies and pasturelands.
- the Southern part of R¡o Grande, a wooded mountaineous area.
- the South East end of the island, an area of prairies, bushes and woods. There
lived the Haush, who maintained contact with the Yamanas and had similar haits.
They were organized in groups of families related to each other. They lived
in their own territories (HARRUWEN) and migrated through them in search for
They did not have a permanent chief, but they maintained hierarchies:
-Chamans (XO'ON) had the capacity to heal. They exercised power in war and took
part in every ritual and ceremony.
-Wise Men (LAILUKA) had no supernatural power. They knew all mythological traditions
and were prophets.
-Warriors (K'MAL) were respected for their old age and their advise, which was
supported by their experience and knowledge of traditions. They were the closest
to a chief and there was one K'mal in every extended family.
DRESS AND ORNAMENTS
Garment was almost exclusively made of guanaco fur and leather. Women wore a
fur coat or cape with the hair out tied on the chest . Men fastened it to the
body and grabbed it under the right arm. Both men and women wore a loincloth
and leather shoes. Men wore a triangular leather ornament on the forehead, the
KOCHIL, tied around the head.
They liked to wear necklaces, bracelets and wrist straps made of bird bone,
shell and braids made of guanaco tendons. Both men and women painted their bodies
in red, black, white and yellow with simple drawings.
They were typical of nomadic people. The tent was made of sticks and covered
with guanaco furs sewed to each other. It was transportable. The conical hut
was made of thin logs and branches and covered with guanaco blankets. Its diameter
was about three meters and it was generally used in winter.
BOW AND ARROW
The fundamental weapon was the wooden bow, made of ¤ire (Notophagus antartica),
lenga (Notophagus pumilia) or mait‚n (Maitenus boaria). The arrow head was made
of stone. The stick was made with the wood of calafate (Berveris darwini). It
was carved and polished with a stone tool. A notch was made at one end to fasten
the bow tendon and tie a piece of feather from an Upland Goose. On the other
end, they introduced a sharp stone arrow and tied it up with humid tendons.
With a variety of stones, they made arrows, spears, hammers, mortars, axes,
drills and harpoons. These harpoons were sometimes made of bone and wood.
They made baskets with rush. Guanaco nerves, tendons and membranes were used
as sewing threads and also to tie and braid fishing nets.
In the Selk'nam religion, there was a Supreme Being called TEMANKEL and a servant
or minister, KENOS, creator of all the things in the world. They were followed
by spirits related to the Hain and the dead.
The Hain was the main ceremony of the Selk'nam. It was a rite of initiation
for boys and an educative experience based on the belief that in the old days
there was a predominance of women, which later passed on to men. It was aimed
to maintain and justify masculine hegemony. A special hut was built for this
ceremony to give lodging to novices, called KLOKETEN, and to summon the spirits.
Fearing the presence of SHOOT (the spirit), the adolescent was instructed about
the origin of the world and trained intensively on hunting and surviving.
Spirits were performed by actors dressed in disguise to hide their identity
and create a permanent atmosphere. Somehow they felt possessed by the spirits
they believed to be supernatural. This could be appreciated in the way they
dealt with masks as objects of power, and with body paintings and ornaments.
WHEN THE GODS LIVED ON THE EARTH
The Moon was SHO'ON TAM, daughter of the Sky. Her brother was Snow. Her husband,
the Sky, was the Wind's brother. Snow married the Rain's sister.
KREEB (the Moon) and HOSLP ( the Snow) belong to the South.
KREEN (the Sun) and SHENU (the Wind) belong to the West.
CHALU (the Rain), KOX (the Sea) and her sister O'OKE (the Tempest) are from
The East, the slippery part of the cordillera, is the center of the Universe
and the see of the Chamanic power. There lives PEMAULK, (the Word), the most
In the mythical era (HO'OWIN), all these strengths and some stars lived on the
Earth and were powerful chamans. The people from this era were also called HO'OWIN.
During the origin of the present world and human society, most Ho'owin men and
women were transformed into animals, hills, cliffs, pampas, valleys, lakes and
lagoons in the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego.
All of them, as well as the Selk'nam, belonged to one of the four skies by paternal
One of these Ho'owin turned into a rainbow.