The Yamanas of Tierra del Fuego
The Yamanas or Yahgans /1/
were canoe nomads who inhabited the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, to the south of the
main island, as far as Cape Horn. Although their presence in this region dates back
thousands of years, they numbered only about 3,000 individuals, by mid-19th century
Sad to say [in 2012, Ed.], there remains only one native speaker of the language: the elderly
Cristina Calderón, of Ukika (Chile), on the Beagle Channel.
As early as the sixteenth century, Europeans knew of the existence of several groups
of natives in the far
south. A stronger contact was established in 1830, when Captain Robert Fitz-Roy captured
four of these natives, from at least two different groups, took them to England,
later bringing back the three survivors to their
native land, to spread the gospel to their fellow-countrymen. On this return journey,
Charles Darwin had an opportunity to study them at close quarters and listen to their
speech. His later publications did much to draw attention to the "primitive but
improvable condition" of these Fuegians.