Re: Yagan: an Endangered Language of Tierra Del Fuego

Ben Garrett (
Sat, 18 Nov 1995 04:32:15 GMT

Yagan: an endangered language of Tierra Del Fuego.

At the very tip of the South American continent lie Usuaia, Argentina
and Puerto Williams, Chile, both situated on the Beagle Channel.This
area was and ancient camp ground for the now almost extinct Yagan Canoe

The Yagan Canoe Indians paddled in the surrounding area where the Andes
meet the sea. The area is called TIERRA DEL FUEGO, Fireland. It is so
named for the hundreds of fires on the beaches which were seen from
passing sailing craft. These "fogatas" made from firewood found in the
still prodigious Fuegian forests were used by the Indians to keep
themselves warm and to cook their main diet of mussels.

As late as the middle of the 18th century, an estimated 8,000 Yagan
Indians lived there. They paddled their flimsy Birch bark canoes out
as far as the treacherous islands of Cape Horn and beyond. These
nomads of the sea had lived in Tierra Del Fuego for perhaps 10,000
years. Hundreds of their shellfish middens may still be seen, some as
high as 4 meters, lining the beaches. They had no protection from the
Antarctic cold except for seal grease on their skin and a loose fur
around their shoulders.

Their women skin dived naked in these near freezing waters bringing up
king crab & sea Urchins. **It's a sad commentary that the last of the
pure Yagans remaining who speak their language are only two old women
who live in Puerto Williams Indian village of Ukika. **This race which
populated the "confines of the earth" lacked the defenses, both social
and physical, against white man's diseases, his aggression and his
vices such as the consumption of alcohol.

Charles Darwin navigated this area aboard the sailing vessel BEAGLE in
the summer of 1832 and wrote a book about it and the Yagans or Fuegians
as he called them. It's name is "the voyage of the Beagle". This can be
downloaded from


For more information on the area Tierra Del Fuego and the Yagans,
please access <>.