THE END OF THE WORLD
"L'ombre de Chistophe Colomb turne elle-même
sur la Terre de Feu..."
Breton and Paul Eluard L'Immaculée Conception, Paris,
My prolonged adventure in Tierra del Fuego began
one evening in Paris (1964) thanks to Annette Laming-Emperaire,
a well-known archaeologist. She told me about her many years working
in Tierra del Fuego, and mentioned "Lola" whom she had
heard was the one of the very few surviving Indians there. She also
commented that she needed another person for her next field trip
the following year. She was of course aware that I was not an archaeologist
but thought I could be helpful working with her assistant. As I
was already in the CNRS (Centre National de la Recheche Scientifique),
I obtained permission from my director, then Claude Lévi-Strauss,
to interrupt my field work in Honduras, and join her team in Tierra
del Fuego for the three months' (November 1964 to February 1965)
survey in the Chilean sector of the Isla Grande, Tierra del Fuego.
During Christmas vacation, in the Argentine part of the island,
I went on horseback with Enriqueta Varelas son and daughter
as guides and met Lola on the reservation near Lago Fagnano, where
she was living alone in a small cottage.
At the end of the winter of 1966 in Tierra del
Fuego, Argentina, Kiepja, known as Lola, died. Her group is often
called Ona, even though Selk'nam is their real name. Their mode
of life is the most ancient of humanity, that of the Paleolithic
Era, of hunters, gatherers and fishers. With Kiepja all direct testimony
of the Selknam culture disappeared. Of the few surveyors of
her group, she was oldest (approximately ninety) and the only one
who had lived as a Selk'nam. Born in a tent made of guanaco skin,
throughout her childhood and youth she dressed in guanaco fur, camped
with her family on the beaches, in the forests, along the shores
of lagoons and participated in the traditional ceremonies. A photograph
of her was taken about 1905 by an Argentine author, Carlos R. Gallardo,
when she still dressed in guanaco fur.
Almost at the end of her life, when I knew her,
she seemed really happy to relive the ancient way of her youth,
through her stories and her chants. But she knew that her world
had disappeared forever.
She still identified with her culture and, though
she could express herself in Spanish, she preferred to speak her
own language. She was a person of exception richness, passionate
and sensitive. She possessed a profound knowledge of the mysticism
and mythology of her people. She was a shaman, a xo'on, the
last Selk'nam shaman. N.1 For years she had practiced to acquire the
concentration necessary to enter the world of the supernatural,
to which only the shamans had access. Her maternal uncle passed
on his waiuwen, his power, to her in a dream
During the greater part of the prehistory, humanity
lived in small semi-nomad communities, scattered throughout the
world, until the invention of agriculture made sedentary life possible.
But due to diverse circumstances some groups never became sedentary
and remained attached to their tradition of hunters, gatherers and
fishers until the nineteenth century , in certain parts of the world,
among them Tierra del Fuego. According to the archaeologists, people
first arrived on the island some ten thousand years ago.
The population of the Selk'nam numbered approximately
3,500 to 4,000 individuals, when the men of Euopean descent began
to occupy their territory, the island called Isla Grande in Tierra
del Fuego (Argentina and Chile). N.3
Since the late sixteenth century, their
ancestors had had sporadic contacts with crews of ships and castaways.
But they did not know where they had come from. According to their
prophets ("fathers of the word"), strange men, like those their
forefathers had seen, would finally destroy them. During the last
decades of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth,
the Selk'nam were decimated by the Whites. Many more succumbed from
the diseases they transmitted, others were sent on ships to the
mainland. Certain paid "Indian hunters", committed atrocities on
their own before killing their victims. Other Selk'nam were killed
in intercede battles, which had increased after the arrival of the
Whites, as their hunting grounds were being fenced in by the colonizers,
the remaining land was disputed among the Selk'nam themselves. The
last combat which occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century
was the most deadly. Then , for the first time, women and children
were among the victims. This was the first and only time they fought
one another with firearms. This was a period of intense anguish,
despite the well-intentioned efforts of the Salesian missionaries
and some other Whites to alleviate their distress. In the beginning
the Selk'nam attempted to defend themselves and their land, with
bows and arrows but it soon became evident that their only defense
when attacked was to flee. But they had to flee by running, with
their families, from men who were armed and on horseback. The Selk'nam
were not always passive victims. Their offensive tactics was to
undermine the enemy: steal from him, pillage his belongings, including
their sheep, and kill him when possible. But the conditions were
such that they were not able to acquire a clear consciousness of
their situation. Most of the offensive actions were motivated to
take vengeance on the enemy or to take advantage of some carelessness
on their part. They lacked a coherent solidarity to confront their
aggressors. Later a few of the women voluntarily went to live with
Whitemen who had been among the professional killers of their people.
And even into the twentieth century (as mentioned above) certain
groups of Selk'nam continued their fratricide combats. Their offensive
against the strangers was undeclared war against an overpowering
enemy who was a friend at times, but who possessed a weapon, that
was not really a weapon but was the most deadly of all - the imported
very contagious diseases, against which the Selknam had no
natural immunity and no medicine.
The occupation of the territory began about 1880
in the northwestern part of their island where the future owners
of the land they acquired from the two governments which had claimed
the Isla Grande in 1881 (Chile and Argentine) and gold prospectors
who arrived from Punta Arenas (Chile) and from the Falkland Islands.
Several years later (in 1886), from the northeastern section of
their island, others arrived: namely an engineer by the name of
Julio Popper and his aids to work the gold-bearing sand on a large
scale. That same year a scientific-military expedition arrived,
under the command of Ramon Lista. The Selk'nam who survived their
attacks took refuge further the south. Even if they had wanted to
flee to a safer place, to the mainland, this was impossible as they
did not know how to navigate, to cross the Strait of Magellan.
They had to move to find food, mainly to hunt
the guanaco, which was an arduous task even in normal times. North
of the river Río Grande (which transverses the island from
east to west), when the colonizers and gold prospectors had arrived,
the movement men on horseback, and herds of sheep frighten the guanacos.
They became disoriented and scarce. They too were being shot (to
feed the new owner's dogs) and they too tried to flee to unoccupied
terrain. The Selk'nam saw that though the guanaco was scarce, the
sheep were not, nor were the horses. The theft of sheep, in particular,
outraged the sheep-owners who did not agree to cease their genocide
tactics until the Salesian missionaries began taking the "sheep
robbers" to the mission established near in the area N.4
Some were forced into the missions, others
went voluntarily to escape the genocide, but within twenty years
the great majority had died of diseases they had caught the in the
missions: namely measles, influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhea,
small pox, flue and even alcoholism. These diseases spread to the
country-side and decimated those who had taken refuge there or had
tried to remain there. N.5
Referring again to Gusinde's figures of
the original population ( 3,500 to 4,000) at approximately 1880,
forty years later, in 1919 Gusinde noted the number 279 for the
Selk'nam. There were probably a hundred or so more in the remote
areas. Ten years hence the number was reduced to 100. In this interlude
there had been two more epidemics (probably measles) near Lago Fagnano,
where most of Selknam were living. In 1966 there were about
thirteen adults, including the Mestizos whose fathers were White.
All were over fifty and born shortly before or after their culture
had been destroyed and spoke Spanish, and a few also spoke Selk'nam.
The one exception was Lola Kiepja, who much older.
Despite the annihilation of her people by the
Whites and epidemics brought to the island by them, Lola did not
resent them, nor did she resent me. Sometimes she would call me
her daughter, other times, when I would tie her apron, she would
look over her shoulder at me and laugh while rocking from one foot
to the other, saying ala ala, meaning that I was treating
her like a baby.
I had first met Lola toward the end of 1964 as
mentioned above. N.6 As
an ethnologist, I hoped to be able to work with her, and was relieved
to discover that contact was easy. On my first visit, she sang a
lament, mourning the death of her mother. I returned the following
day with a tape recorder and later spent the three weeks with her
and a friend, Angela Loij, also a Selk'nam, in Rio Grande (a town
on the Atlantic coast of the Isla Grande). Thanks to Angela's help
as an interpreter, I realized that Lola had a great fund of knowledge
concerning her culture. I checked her memory by asking her the names
of Indians mentioned in the book entitled Uttermost Part of the
Earth by Lucas Bridges, the son of the missionary Thomas Bridges.
Some of those whom she remembered had died shortly after the turn
of the century. As I was committed that year to other field work
(in Honduras) I was obliged to leave toward the end of March.
Upon returning to Paris at the end of 1965 I played
the tapes for Gilbert Rouget, the head of the ethno-musicology department
of the Musée de l'Homme. He advised me to return to Tierra
del Fuego to record again what I had brought and attempt to record
other chants. There were only two known collections, both recorded
on cylinders, containing a few Selk'nam chants: one dated from 1907-08,
by Furlong, and the other by Gusinde.N.7
Also Claude Lévi-Strauss believed that this might be the
last opportunity to obtain new data concerning a group which for
decades had been considered extinct.N.8
In March, 1966, I returned to Tierra del Fuego.N.9
This time the main problem was the language
barrier. Although adequate for her everyday needs, Lola's Spanish
was rudimentary. While speaking it, she gave the impression of an
almost childlike mentality, thus concealing her passionate temperament
and complex nature, her bewilderment and profound sorrow. Her world
had slowly sunk into non-existence as those around he had died strange
deaths. Gradually she internalized the realities of her existence
and feelings, while to strangers she became la reliquia (the
The only place I could work with Lola was on the
reservation and given the situation, it was not possible to bring
another Selk'nam there to act as an interpreter. it was difficult
for me to learn Selk'nam, partly because Lola could only translate
isolated words. Moreover, Selk'nam is a tonal and glottal-stop language.
Often was I was endeavoring to pronounce a word, Lola would frown,
looking intently at my mouth, her lips moving soundlessly to help
me along, and when my version finally came out, sometimes she would
sigh in relief and laugh, saying eso es (that's it), as if
we had won a battle against great odds.
From March to June I lived mostly on the reservation,
on a sheep farm belonging to Luis Garibaldi Honte, of Haush descent,
who offered me hospitality in his house, a few steps from Lola's
cottage. He instructed his farm worker, a puestero, to supply
Lola with lamb meat and other necessities. During the time I was
there, there were just the three of us, though the puestero
was usually away, working in the barn or riding horseback the fields.
Every week or two I went to the town of Río Grande, for several
days to study my notes and purchase supplies to take back to the
Lola had twelve children, seven with her Indian
husband Anik (a Haush), and after his death, five more from her
union with a Chilean worker. All of the children had died, most
of them as adults. Her grandchildren, excepting one who live on
the continent, had also died. She had one living descent in Tierra
del Fuego, a great grandson, who had been adopted by Garibaldi and
Until she was
in her early twenties, Lola had had little contact with Europeans.
About 1900 she and her first husband, Anik, went to work at Harberton,
a sheep farm on Beagle Channel, the south coast of the island. An
Englishman Thomas Bridges, who had been a missionary among the neighbouring
Yámana (Yahgan), founded the Harberton farm in1886. He and
his sons , especially Lucas, were among the rare farm owners who
befriended the Indians. At the beginning of the twentieth century
and for several decades afterward, Lola and her family, like the
other Indians, worked on the sheep farms during the Summer months
and during the Winter they reverted to their former way of life
hunting guanacos and periodically performing their great ceremony,
called the Hain, which included rites of initiation for the young
men, the kloketens.
During these years her mother and her maternal
uncles (all shamans) trained her to become a shaman, a xo'on.
One night, sometime during the year 1926, she dreamed that the spirit
(waiuwin) of one of her deceased maternal uncles visited
her and transmitted his power (his spirit) to her by means of his
chant. His spirit had flown over Lake Fagnano (called Kami by the
Indians) to seek her. This uncle had died on the opposite side of
the lake from where she was then living. In her dream she heard
his spirit singing: "Where are you, my daughter?" When she heard
his call, she repeated it, thus awakening herself. At that precise
moment, she said, his power (waiuwin) penetrated her "like
the cutting edge of a knife". It was then that, in the traditional
manner, she became a shaman, she had acquired his waiuwin,
his supernatural power.
When I met Lola she had been living along on the
reservation for many years, most of the time in a one-room cottage.
She cooked her meals, gathered firewood, fetched water, and did
other chores. She also wove baskets, and woolen socks which she
sometimes sold. She had owned some sheep and a few horses, inherited
from some of her children and from other Indians. But she told me
that all of her animals had been stolen, some by two of the Indians,
and the rest by White neighbours. But what she missed most of all
was a favourite horse. Until about 196l, she would take long rides
to visit friends or buy maté (herb tea) or food. But
after she fell off the horse several times, Luis Garibaldi thought
it wise not to allow her to ride. She never got over what seemed
to her a gross affront.
Lola was aware that she was much more Selknam
than the others. The difference between her and the others was accentuated
because she was a shaman and was deeply influenced by the mystical
and mythological traditions of her culture. Although some of the
older Indians secretly admired her shamanistic power, they had no
fear of her since she was not a full-fledged shaman. As was usually
the case with a woman shaman, she did not have the power to kill.
Over the years she had treated a few of the Indians, including Garibaldi,
and even some Whites in shamanistic seances. But she did not always
use her "power" when curing. Once I was frying potatoes and the
grease splattered, burning my hand. Taking mine in hers, she rubbed
cold water on the burn then blew on it for several minutes until
the pain disappeared . When I complained of a backache she told
me to lie face down on her bed. I did so and she pressed the aching
part hard with the palms of both hands and blew on it with quick
puffs. This treatment also relieved me.
She had several friends among her people, including
Angela Loij, but did not see them often. She knew that most of the
non-Indians on the island had little or no respect for her. But
she was very responsive to those who liked her and joked with them
in her broken Spanish.
When rain threatened, she often went outside
"to cut the sky," as she would say in Selk'nam, to bring good weather.
One day I called her attention to the cloudy sky, instead of taking
her usual broomstick or cane to clear the sky, she took her meat
knife, saying a knife was better. She insulted the clouds by sputtering,
chanting and shouting at them (in Selk'nam) while making large sweeping
movements, usually with a stick. Her purpose was to push the clouds
away, toward the north, the sky of rain. On a cloudy or rainy day
she would clear the sky several times if necessary, until finally
that day or the next, the sun would reappear. When the effect was
not immediate she would sometimes laugh, saying that the clouds,
no quieren, meaning that they did not want
to leave. When she insisted upon "cutting the sky" long enough,
it would either rain or the clouds would disappear. Clearing the
weather was one of the attributes of the shamans.
She was not very neat. She knew how to
use a fork, but preferred to eat (meat) with her fingers. Although
she disliked the idea of taking a bath, upon arising she would wash
her hands and face. She swept her hut when she knew I was coming,
but I have the impression that, when alone, she would not bother
to do so very often. Without thinking, she would drop refuse on
the floor or throw it out of the door for the dogs and cats. She
had the habit of piling things pell-mell in the corners of her hut
and on her bed. It followed that she spent a great deal of time
searching for things, particularly her meat knife. These habits
were largely culturally determined. She had been brought up to change
campsites every few days or so, to dress in guanaco skins, to clean
herself with dry clay or moss, and to possess only the necessities
for existence, no more, no clutter.
In her later years she was given many useless
things, particularly an excess of old clothes. She had a favourite
man's suit jacket. As she had less ragged jackets, I asked her why
she was so fond of it. "For the pockets," she replied. It had ten
pockets, inside and out. This pleased her a great deal.
Lola was not concerned about the appearance of
what she wore, as long as her clothes were more or less clean, warm
enough, and had pockets. She was sensitive to the beauty of her
face. Sometimes when I was combing her hair, she would look in the
mirror laughing, saying (in Spanish and Selk'nam) yo olichen
( I pretty) or frown and say yippen, yo vieja ( ugly, I old
Although she ate meat three or four times a day
with remarkable appetite, she would often ask if I could bring her
fish and guanaco meat. I could not find either in Río Grande.
But I did bring her two other items she asked for: butter and sweet
vermouth. She ate butter as if it were candy and we usually had
a an apéritif before dinner. Sometimes while I was
away, she walked out to the side of the road to wait for me, even
though she knew I was not due that day. When I asked her why, she
said that she simply wanted to wait for me there.
She delighted to sing for the tape recorder, la
máquina, (the machine) as she called it. One of the chants,
we especially liked concerned an old guanaco. "Ra ra ra ra ra ",
Lola would sing imitating the old guanaco.
The old guanaco (when he was still a man) said
to his two daughters:
I am about to die. Bury me in the white earth (where the guanacos
often sleep and rub their backs to rid themselves of vermin) but
do not bury me deep in the earth, leave my head and shoulders
free. After I die you must perform tachira (the mourning
rite) and as you are going away singing of your grief, a man will
approach you. He will look exactly like me but he will not be
me. He will ask to make love to you, do as he says.
When he died the daughters did just as their father
had ordered. As they walked away, while they were still singing
the lament, the father jumped out of his grave, hot with desire
to make love to his daughters. He sniffed their tracks and chased
wildly after them, urinating as he ran (as if he had already been
metamorphosed into a guanaco). When he caught up to them he said:
"I am the one your father told you about. Come let us make love."
One of his daughters ran on. When he made love to the other both
became transformed into guanacos.
Lola almost invariable insisted that I immediately
play back the tape when she had stopped singing. While listening
she would often laugh, appear very pleased, and comment, olichen
or ulichen (lovely or beautiful), saying that she wanted
to record the chant again, right away. Often she asked that the
tapes be replayed for the pure pleasure of hearing them repeated.
She sang two of the laments so frequently (one dedicated to her
mother and the other to her last two sons) that sometimes I would
not record them, especially during the last few weeks when I was
low on tapes and it was so cold that the batteries had to be taken
out of the recorder every minute or so to be heated on the stove.
But she wanted to be recorded each time she sang, and when I did
not do so she was displeased.
Quite often when I greeted her in the morning,
she would smile widely saying: "I found another", meaning that during
the night she had recalled a chant she had heard many years earlier
and she always remembered the name of the owner of the chant. She
would ask me excitedly to hurry and get the machine ready lest the
chant disappear from her memory before we could record it. Once
recorded and we heard it played back, we were relieved. The chant
had been saved from oblivion. She did not always want to repeat
a chant. When I insisted, she would laugh and ask me why I wanted
to record it again, in view of the fact that it was yippen (ugly)
as she thought some were. At other times, however, she understood
that her voice was being recorded to preserve the chants. She
would say that she was recording for the Indians to the north
(north of Magellan Strait). Of the ninty-two chants recorded that
year, eighty-seven (the guanaco chant twice) were issued on four
records in 1972 and 1978 .
Occasionally tourists would come to the reservation
while I was there, and invariably, wanted to photograph her. Flanked
by several strangers she would stand rigid, scowling into the camera.
If not given anything for being thus bothered, she would become
indignant. But she never showed her feelings to the tourists.
Twice in the last few years her hut had burned
down. The memory of these fires terrified her, although she had
not been burned. She was especially sorry for her pet cat who had
survived the fire. Her last hut had been built on close to Garibaldi's
main house so that she would not be as isolated as she had been.
As winter set in, during the last year of her life, we spent more
and more time huddled over the stove. Often she would overload it
and burning logs would fall out. Exclaiming excitedly she would
try to shove them back into the stove. Every night before I left
I would say, hauk (fire) chon (water), reminding her
to pour water over the stove before she went to bed.
Behind her hut there was a tepee-shaped, open-fronted
structure made of logs, and covered with rags. Here, weather permitting,
she would build a fire and sit beside it, weaving a basket. She
told me that when alone she would go there, just to sit by the fire.
Perhaps she felt closer to her old way of life there.
She frequently proposed that we go to certain
places many kilometers away, confident that she could walk great
distances. But we did take short walks to gather firewood or to
visit places where she had lived or where her friends had camped.
She made me promise never to play the tapes for
anyone on the island except Angela and one other friend. In January,
1965, during the three weeks we had recorded in Angela's house (on
the outskirts of Río Grande), whenever anyone approached
the house she became nervous and asked me to hide the recorder.
The following year, on the reservation, we had very few visitors
and she seemed less timid. She explained to me that the "others"
(the Whites as well as some of the other Indians) would laugh if
they heard her singing, that they did not understand.
In addition to chants we recorded basic vocabulary
(which bored her), kin terms and proper and place names. At times
she seemed to be secretly amused at me, as when, I recorded her
imitations of birds. These interested me because many of the names
of birds in Selk'nam are onomatopoetic.
What she really enjoyed were the chants. When
singing those of the Hain, she would pantomime he dance steps and
gestures of the spirit ( a man disguised with a mask and body paint)
to whom the chant was being sung and especially of a spirit called
Shoort, who during the ceremony frightened the women by chasing
them and throwing things at them. Sometimes while imitating his
rhythmic steps, she would stab me gently in the ribs with her cane,
saying in a half-joking tone: "Shoort was very mean to the women."
When telling me about certain Hain spirits and
the pranks the Indians played on one another during the ceremony,
she would laugh until tears came to her eyes and then look at me
still laughing and say qué salvajes (what savages).
A favourite account was one her maternal grandfather (Alaken)
had told her mother. It concerned two xo'on (shamans) who
were great liars. It all happened on the east coast of the island,
near Cabo de Peñas, on a very cold winter day when everyone
was hungry. The two impostors, Koin-xoon (shaman from Koin, the
name for Cabo de Peñas) and Haipenu-xoon pretended they were
ochen-maten, a xo'on alleged to have sufficient
shamanistic power to kill a whale and bring it ashore. That day
no one went hunting, as everyone expected a whale to arrive any
minute. They all stood along the beach shivering. The two impostors
pointed to the sea, saying they saw a flock of gulls, a sure sign
that a whale was nearing. They leapt in the air singing the chant
of the whale, while making believe they were tugging a cord, dragging
a tremendous whale ashore. But it was all a great lie. There was
no whale at all. The xo'on were making fools of everyone.
The brother of Koin-xoon finally became angry and said:
Here I am wasting my time. I am hungry but instead of hunting
with my teix [a snare used to trap certain birds], here
I am hanging around the beach all because of these liars.
During my stay the first year, Angela sometimes
pretended she was tugging an invisible cord, hauling the whale ashore,
and Lola would become nearly helpless with laughter.
Toward the end of my stay Lola thought I understood
a great deal more of her language than was the case. I endeavoured
to grasp at least enough to make a few short comments so that she
would continue talking. One of the words she repeated most often
was koliot, (red cape), the word of alarm referring to the
first policemen to arrive on the island who wore red flannel capes.
An Indian would shout koliot when he sighted an armed rider
on the horizon; the entire camp would scatter as best it could.
She remembered the victims of the professional killers, especially
on called Red Pig (Chancho Colorado) , who had been hired by one
of the first European colonizers, José Menéndez, "
Bad Christians - to kill the Indians," she would say.
She spoke time and again of her maternal grandfather,
Alaken, who was renowned on the island as a great prophet (chan-ain).
Other Selk'nam, with whom I spoke, confirmed that Alaken was highly
esteemed because of his knowledge of the legendary past and his
ability to predict the future by means of visions. He had been killed
when quite an old man, along with two of his brothers, in retaliation
for having stolen metal tools from the shack of some newcomers.
The epidemic of measles in 1924-25 had impressed
Dead-dead-dead. How many dead? Look at the cemetery - it is full.
So many died, every day. Trucks would go by full of the dead.
They all died of koliot-kwaki [Whiteman's sickness] - babies
with their mothers, the poor things. They suffered - young girls
not yet married, young men. The cemetery is large.
As if it had happened the day before, she described
how certain men had been wounded or killed during the last combats
( usually skirmishes lasting a few hours). She spoke of one in which
she had participated and which had provoked the one of the last
combats among the Selk'nam.
During the late 1890s she and her family were
camping near a hill called Teis, to the east of Cape Irigoyen (on
the Atlantic coast of the island). She was a short distance from
the camp when the enemy attacked. She was altered because her dogs
began to bark and ran back to the camp where she saw her husband,
Anik, wounded in the temple by an arrows. Pobrecito (poor
fellow) she would comment, "his face got all swollen." Then a certain
Asherton tried to abduct her. She resisted, attempting to escape
from him. He became furious and ran after her, arrow in hand, shouting:
"I'll kill you if you don't come with me!" Meanwhile Anik was about
to be finished off when his cousin, Paachek, on the enemy side,
intervened, shouting: "Don't kill him! He's my cousin." Paachek
also saved her from being abducted. This battle took place when
Lola , her kinsmen and others, (about twenty-six adults) were celebrating
a Hain. Some thirty men from five different territories, determined
to revenge the death of a certain Yehun-xo'on (a shaman and champion
hunter), attacked them. Lola's uncle, Tael, had killed him with
a bow and arrow. Tael, his son and one of Lola's brothers were among
the six killed during this battle. Eight women were abducted, but
five escaped afterward and returned to their group.
She had great admiration for certain shamans, particularly
for one named Mai-ich, who several times had performed the most
difficult of all the xo'on ordeals, which were demonstration
of the shaman's power, his waiuwin. Mai-ich would insert
a wooden-tipped arrow just below his collarbone and somehow pull
it diagonally across his chest, withdrawing it at his waist. She
would make gestures of terrible pain while telling about it. She
often sang he chant he had sung while performing and once she repeated
some of his words: " My body is in darkness. I am myself to pierce
it with an arrow" This was the time when he had not sufficiently
"prepared" the "channel" through which the arrow was to pass. He
bled afterward, which should not have happened, had he been in complete
Once she became annoyed with me. I was showing
her copies of the photographs that accompany Martin Gusinde's volume
on the Selk'nam. Included among them are photographs of the "spirits"
of the Hain, actually men disguised by paint and masks. When she
saw the first of these, she pushed it aside, refused to look at
the others. Scowling at me and said: "No es para los civilizados"
meaning Whites should not see them.
The last weeks before I was to leave I wanted
to take her out for a ride. The administrator of a large hotel recently
built on the shore of Lake Fagnano had shown sympathy for Lola,
so I told him of my wish. One day he came for us in his station
wagon as he had promised. Lola dressed in her new clothes, took
all of her money with her for fear that her hut might be robbed
during her absence, which was very unlikely. We spent two days and
a night in the luxurious hotel where, as winter was nearing, we
were the only guests. Before each meal the administrator asked Lola
what she would most like to eat. She invariably replied - fish.
She sat for hours in front of the large fireplace chatting with
us, with the men who were working in the hotel and with occasional
neighbors who passed by. From the immense dining room, which overlooked
the lake, she pointed out the hunting grounds of her grandfather,
As the date of my departure drew near, she began
asking me when I was to return. I told her I would come the following
year if I could manage it. From what I tried to explain to her she
surmised that I lived on a big sheep farm near Buenos Aires and
that my "patron" had sent me to record voice because he knew a great
deal about the Indians and liked them. She had never left the island
but she knew that beyond there was a "big town" called Buenos Aires.
She inquired time and again about my patron, asking if I were sure
that he would send me back again. The more she inquired, the more
I reassured her that I would return. My patron become "our" patron.
On the day of my departure she gave me a basket she had recently
finish. Previously I had offered to buy it from her, but she had
always refused to sell it, saying she had promised it to someone
else long before I came. Now she put the basket in my hands, saying
that I was to give it to our patron.
When I returned to Paris I gave it to Lévi-Strauss,
telling him it was from Lola. He put it carefully under a glass
in his office.
That winter Lola refused to leave the reservation.
Because of her age and failing health she had been taken to Río
Grande the year before. But there she had passed the days sitting
near a stove, drowsing when she was not being scolded by the mistress
of the house for being sullen, lazy and dirty. This winter she was
determined to stay in her country (it has been part of Alaken territory)
and never leave again. I tried to persuade her to spend the winter
with a very nice woman, Enriqueta de Santin, (whose mother was Indian).
She was very fond of her and lived nearby. Lola refused. The last
time I went to see her I took Angela Loij with me and she remained
with her ten days after my departure. Then Lola was alone except
for the daily visits of the puestero who brought her firewood,
water and meat. The winter of that year, 1966, was unusually severe
with temperatures of thirty degrees below zero and Lola was virtually
snowed in from July until several days before her death in October.
When she became ill, the puestero went on horseback to notify
the Rural Police officer at a small lake called Kami (near Lake
Fagnano). Using a tractor, they transported her to the main road
and from there she was taken by car to Río Grande where she
died in the government hospital a few days later. It was the end
of the winter in Tierra del Fuego, 9 October, 1966.
1. Although "shaman" is
a word derived from a Siberian language, it has become a generic
term for a person who is gifted and trained to achieve contact with
supernatural powers. Usually a trance is required to achieve this
mental state. Here shaman is employed as synonymous to the Selk'nam
word xo'on. Back
2. Laming-Emperaire, Annette,
et. al. "Le site Marazzi en Terre de Feu." Objets et Mondes
: 225-44.1972; Massone M., Mauricio, et al Perspectiva
Arqueologica de los Selknam. Santiago, Chile,1993. Back
3. Martin Gusinde Die
Feuerland Indianer, Band I. Die Selk'nam, Mödling bei Wein,
1931: 147. This first volume of 1,176 pages is the most important
study of the Selk'nam. The complete work of Gusinde, on the three
main groups of Tierra del Fuego, has been translated into Spanish
in eight volumes and published by the Centro Argentino de Etnología
Americana , Buenos Aires, from 1982 to 1991. Back
4. Especially the Salesian
mission on Dawson Island (San Rafael), in the Strait of Magellan,
established in 1889 . Their other mission, (La Candelaria) near
the town of Río Grande on the Atlantic coast of the Isla
Grande, was founded in 1897. Back
5. Important sources for
the extinction of the Selk'nam are E.Lucas Bridges, Uttermost
Part of the Earth,1987; Ramon Lista, Viaje al pais de los
onas, Tierra del Fuego, 1887; Mateo Martinic "Panorama
de la colonización en Tierra del Fuego entre 1881 y 1900"
in Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia, vol. 4: 5-69,1973,
and by the same author "El genocidia selk'nam: nuevos antecidentes."
ibid, vol. 19: 23-28. 1989-90; Julio Popper, "Exploración
de la Tierra del Fuego" in Boletin del Instituto Geográfico
Argentino, vol. 8: 74-115, 1887 and by the same author "Apuntes
Geográficos. Etnólogicos, Estadísticos e industrials
sobre la Tierra del Fuego" in ibid, vol. 12: 130-70,
1891, The Bulletins of the Salesian Mission, published in Spanish,
are also important references. Back
6. La Mission Archeologique
Française au Chili Austral was directed by the late Annette
7. For the Selk'nam chants
see the two articles by French musicologists Gilbert Rouget and
"Transcrire ou décrire? Chant soudanais
et chant fuégien." in Echanges et Communications. Mélanges
offerts à Claude Lévi-Strauss à l'ocassion
de son 60 anniversaire." eds. J. Pouillon and P. Maranda, vol.
1, Paris : 677-706,1970 and the same authors "Chant fuégien,
consonance, mélodie de voyelles." in Revue de Musicologie,
vol. 63, no.l: 5-23,1976. An Argentine anthropologists, R. Casamiquela
also recorded Selknam chants sung by Santiago Rupatini. Back
8. For example as early
as 1928 the American archeologist Samuel K. Lothrop "The Indians
of Tierra del Fuego" in Contributions from the Museum of
the American Indian, vol. 10, 1928) wrote on p.25, "With the
exception of a few mixed-bloods the Indians of Tierra del Fuego
are probably extinct." Back
9. This field work was
funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research,
New York in collaboration with the Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Sociale.
Paris and the Département de musique of the Musée
de l'Homme , Paris. Back
POEM: MEMORY OF KIEPJA
Whenever I sight a full Moon I see the face of Kiepja.
Kiepja the oldest of the last Selk'nam.
The Selk'nam, the far gone, disappeared, died and killed off people
since a hundred years past in Tierra del Fuego.
I hear Kiepja chanting to the Moon, "Kreeh", imitating the call
of an eagle while her spirit soars into the night to pay homage
Moon, the potent, fearful matriarch of old, vanquished by the men,
Sun and his allies.
Struck down and beaten by Sun, she escaped into the nocturnal void.
Moon, ally of women.
Moon furious and vengeful in eclipse.
Moon waxing, pregnant with the force of cosmic gravitation, mistress
of the roaring tides.
Moon full of the glorious beauty of the nocturnal heavens, drenching
the earth wit her gentle soothing brilliance.
Moon waning, humble and fugitive, drawing in her ocean boundaries.
Moon retreating to her secret abode only to suddenly reappear, a
slim furtive provocation.
Kiepja whose life was like, so very like, the cycle of the Moon:
timid, growing in passion, full of the magnetism of impulse, desire
and intellect, then slowly waning, though ever symmetrically harmonious.