The Yamana Or Yaghanes
The Yamanas were excellent artisans who adapted to their environment. In spite
of the scarse material resources, they developed a great variety of tools and
utensils. Everyone manufactured his own goods. They appreciated the talent and
skill for work, but they hardly ever made things for barter. Objects were made
mainly of wood, bone and valves. They also weaved rush basketry. Basketry was
the activity of women during their spare time. They weaved green rush after
a heating and softening process. There were three different types of braiding.
Baskets were used to collect valves, berries and fruits.
The main occupation of the aborigines was to get food. Sea wolves were always
a very important supplement for the Yamanas. When they hunted on the beach,
they attacked the animal with a big club or a stone. In the water, they used
a dismountable harpoon thrown from the canoe. They attacked whales when they
were beached or from their canoes with all the weapons at their disposal until
they bled to death.
Birds were abundant in that region and the Yamanas prefered penguins and cormorants,
wild ducks and geese. They used to hunt them with slings, bows, arrows, darts,
spears and traps.
When searching for food, they prefered the canoe to travel along the shores
or from one island to another. Travelling was indispensible. That is the reason
why they spent half the year sailing.
The canoe was built with three pieces of tree bark sewed and strenthened by
a light structure of wooden rods. It was manufactured by the man of the group,
but it belonged to the woman, who was in charge of it. During navigation, the
man curled up at the front of the canoe with his weapons, fishing nets and harpoons.
In the central deepest part were the children, who took care of the fire that
burned on rough sand and dust. The woman sat on the stern. She propelled and
commanded the boat while carrying the paddle with both hands.
They depended mostly on seals and sea wolves found on rocks, islands and channels.
For hunting them, they used harpoons. These throwing weapons were long and very
heavy. The small harpoon had a sharp point made of whale rib bone. To assemble
it, they made a notch in the wooden handle to hold the harpoon head and tie't
with a 70 centimeter long leather strip. When the point penetrated the animal's
skin, the leather cord prevented the victim from escaping. The big harpoon worked
like the small one. It was used for larger animals like whales or sea wolves,
which have a very thick fat layer.
The javelin was similar to the harpoon. It was used for birds and fish. It was
about three meters long and had a fixed end with indentations. It was a light
weapon with a double end for fish and a single end for birds.
SETTLEMETS AND DWELLINGS
As their economy was based on hunting and gathering, the family was in constant
movement and settled only for a few days in every place. Because of these habits,
lodging was limited to temporary shelter for them and the indispensible fire.
According to the area, they put up two different types of dwellings: the conical
hut and the vaulted hut. -The conical hut was used in dry open areas. The structure
was made of ten to twelve dug in logs bent towards the center. This shape allowed
the smoke to escape quickly though the top opening. Lateral holes were covered
with mud, roots, bunches of dry algae and tree bark. -The vaulted hut was used
in damp wooded areas. It was easily heated and dried. The structure was made
of a braiding of very thin logs dug into the ground and covered with furs in
winter and leaves and earth in summer.
DRESS AND BODY ORNAMENTS
In spite of the hard cold weather, these aborigines wore scarse clothing. The
essential garment consisted of a cape, a short piece of guanaco or seal fur,
tied around the neck by a short rope. It was called TUWEAKI and it was waterproof.
Both men and women wore a triangular loincloth tied around the waist by a belt.
It was called MASAKANA.
They always greased their bodies with fish or animal fat to protect themselves
from the cold weather.
In spite of the scarse clothing, both men and women wore abundant ornaments.
In the Yamana society we can notice an extreme social dispersion, because the
group was formed by a few isolated families. They did not have chiefs, but old
people and sorcerers had a great influence on them.
They believed in a Supreme Being, WATAUINEWA, the Old, creator of everything
known, as well as in numerous gods and spirits.
Rites of initiation for boys and girls were of fundamental importance. They
were sacred, compulsory and only accessible to members of the tribe. It consisted
of training and a severe education for the young and it was immensely enjoyed
by the adults. During this celebration, the young acquired the same rights as
the adults, such as getting married and forming a new family. It was very important
for the survival of the social order.
Later, boys received special training on the spiritual and imaginative heritage
of the tribe. It was obtained through the KINA, a secret ceremony where women
were reminded of men's superiority. They used disguise and dramatization of
their myths and beliefs. It was similar to the ceremony of the Hain performed
by the Onas or Selk'nam in Tierra del Fuego