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These sober, non-committal people (writes C. W. Furlong in "Harper's Magazine" referring to the Tierra del Fuegians), reflect tne sombre land in which they dwell, but, like that land, are sometimes given to wild outbursts of laughter or of rage; yet they are a fighting, not a quarrelsome people. They often show humane feelings, and with me, as a friend, were honest and generous. They had many admirable qualities, some of which many a white man would do well to adopt. Yes, the Onas go naked in a cold climate, save for guanaco-skin — but this they wear fur outward — but they are warm enough and they thrive. Ask an Ona why he does not wear the fur next his body, and he will reply, "A guanaco doesn't." Try it yourself in that wet climate, and you will see his reasons — the fur sheds the water.

He rubs ochre over his body to keep out the cold, which bedaubing misled even the keen-eyed Darwin to record the colour of a few he met on the shores of Beagle Channel as a dirty, coppery red. It was not until I had associated with Onas some two weeks that, through some of the ochre being accidentally washed off, I discovered that their true colour, on that part of their bodies aud arms not exposed to the weather, was about the tone of the back of my tanned hand, or of the colour of cinnamon, but lighter in value. Strong and well built, the Onas may be considered tall people, a little over five feet nine inches being the average of eleven men I measured; Pupup, standing six feet one inch, was tho tallest Ona I saw. Many of them have cleancut, aquiline noses, and remind one of our own red men; also of the Mongols.

Each family group occupies a certain territory into which intrusion is resented to the death. Exceptions are made, the most important being when a man seeks a wife; for among the Onas marriage between blood-relations is not sanctioned. A wife may be sought from a neighbouring group or obtained through warfare. In the former case an aspirant goes alone and dwells with her people pending negotiations. An unfavourable reply from the woman is expressed by the return to him of his bow, which he has presented to her, otherwise she goes with him. During this primitive wooing a truce is observed until a certain time has elapsed after the couple depart. They take up their abode in the man's country. Perhaps she enters his wigwam the lone mistress, perhaps to share it with another wife or two. But while she may divide the advantages of a provider and protector, so does she also the duties of the wigwam and the heavy burdens of the march; and while the man is away on the hunt or on the war path, instead of a lone vigil in the darksome forest, she has tho company of the other wife, and as is not infrequently the case, a help in need. An Ona often takes wives who are sisters.

Upon the Onas has been saddled the ignominy of habitual treachery, the torturing of captives, the use of poisoned arrows, and cannibalism. To the aggressive white man of Tierra del Fuego the sharp pain of an arrow fired from ambush, the sudden onslaught in the dark of the long winter nights, the driving from his range of flocks of sheep from the land the white men have taken, and the blood revenge, are treachery. To the Ona, fighting against his extinction, it is strategy.

Treachery there undoubtedly is among them. Not so very long ago they surprised and killed the members of a surveying party near Useless Bay within sight of their own vessel, and on the east coast fell upon a party of adventurous miners, crushing their tent down upon them in the night and stabbing them to death. How many crews wrecked in the vicinity of the Strait of Le Maire, reaching the coast have perished at their hands it will never be known. Many of these episodes were in retaliation for white men's atrocities. Shooting the "chunkies" on sight for a bounty as one might clear the land of ground-rats was the order of the day. Poisoning the blubber of stranded whale and stealing Ona women red-handed were not the worst of deeds committed by the rangers who crowded tho Ona from the north, the miners who pitched their tents on the shores of his few good harbours, and those irresponsible nomads of the sea who happened along his coasts — the whaler, sailor, and adventurer. But the innocent unfortunately often pay the price for the guilty.

A. very remarkable Ona custom, efficient as it is severe, is K'lo'kt'n — the initiation into manhood, through which every Ona lad at the age of adolescence must pass creditably to prove himself a man. Some day the Ona boy is summoned to him — a council wigwam, off in the woods. So, leaving his games and his play-arrows, he enters, perhaps to find another boy or two in chargeof a man. First he is impressed with the necessity of endurance, self-protection, and stoicism then sent out to prove its application. Long journeys and longer sojourns must be made in the lonely unknown forests, a hound only allowed him for a companion. real arrows now, and the twang of his bow-string must mean a shot, sure, straight and strong — or starvation. His quarry must be brought back to the camp. Often an Ona man returns from the hunt, having killed a guanaco several days' journey off perhaps; it lies among the bush or far up on a steep, quaggy mountain side. Two boys undergoing "K'lo'kt'n" are sent to bring it home. Unerringly they go to the spot where the guanaco lies, and stumbling through bogs, half dragging, half carrying the tremendous burden, they struggle back to camp — no, to the outskirts, for during "K'lo'kt'n" they are allowed no association with the women.

Source: "Colonist" (Nelson, NZ), 6 April 1910
Clipped: 22-IX-2012
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