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It is now some years since Carl Hagenbeck first introduced to European eyes a group of the natives of Terra del Fuego. They were members of a tribe of savages who live entirely on the seaboard of that uninviting, yet by all accounts singularly rich island. Known to be exceptionally ferocious to foreign invaders, a good deal of surmise was indulged in in relation to the means that had been employed to persuade Hagenback's Indians to leave their home. At last it transpired that a whole canoeful of the savages had been captured, and that their willingness to be conveyed to Europe had never been consulted. This was rather hard on the poor creatures, but as it is probable that they got better food and more of it, during their captivity than they ever did during their freedom, nobody made any trouble, and it is certain that they appeared while on exhibition to enjoy their position and to relish its advantages.

On Saturday afternoon a select party of representatives of the press were invited by Captain Molesworth, the chairman of the Royal Aquarium, and Mr. Showman Farini to view a family of Onas Indians from this same island. There is a great difference, however, between these last and those Hagenbeck exhibited. His came from the coast, these come from away up country. These have obtained for themselves such an unenviable reputation in the island for their predatory habits, for their persistent custom of stealing, the sheep, oxen, horses, and valuables of the few European miners, and even of killing and eating, whenever possible, the miners themselves, that the white people, constituting a sort of vigilance committee among themselves, offer and give for the head of every Onas Indian the munificent reward of £1 sterling. It is a complete family of these poor hunted savages, consisting of an old woman of sixty, her son, his three wives, and four children, besides two native dogs that Mr. Farini has now on exhibition at the Aquarium. It is not probable that the poor creatures were very much edified by the fact that among their very first audience were two such renowned aristocrats as Lady Dorothy Nevill and Lady Harberton, though the veteran animal painter, Harrison Weir, who was also present, must have felt gratified at the opportunity afforded him of depicting several specimens of a singular race.

Mr. Farini told how they were found by a couple of French pioneers prospecting for gold, which by the way they found in considerable abundance, and who persuaded Meniadura, the male Indian, to bring his mother, wives, and family to Europe. These two Frenchmen, Messrs. Maurice Maitre and Ismael, are now at the Aquarium with their protégés. The interesting foreigners were brought over from Valparaiso to Havre in the steamship Pacifique of the Chargeurs Réunis line, and were intended for exhibition at the Paris Exposition, but they were intercepted and secured by the agents of the Aquarium Company, and thus Londoners have the first opportunity of making their acquaintance.

Mr. Farini proceeded to tell his guests that, notwithstanding the rigour of the Fuegian climate, the natives live only in a small tent somewhat like one of those queer affairs affected by our own gypsies, one side of which is always open, this opening always being turned towards the sun. They keep a fire continually burning in the centre of this tent, and the entire family huddle together inside. There is, however, a place of distinction. It is to the left of the male head of the family, and is occupied by the wife who for the time being happens to be the favourite. This happy creature always gets the first share of all food, after the man, and she never carries her children, that duty being relegated to the temporarily less favoured wives. There seems to be but one animal of any size on the island, this is the guanaco, a species of llama or sheep. From the skin, bones, and entrails of this animal the Onas obtain almost everything of a domestic nature they require. Nets for catching fish are made from strips of the skin, bags, and water bottles, and the skins themselves as robes to cover their bodies withal. Moreover, the skin of the guanaco's head is used as a head-dress by the chiefs of the tribes whenever they are about to make war or go on hunting expeditions. These Indians exhibit a considerable amount of ingenuity, too, in fashioning spoons and shovels from the shoulder blades and other bones of animals, and combs from fish jaws. They have also the knowledge of producing fire from flints, their tinder being made of a species of fungus dried.

That they are cannibals goes without saying. They always eat their prisoners of war, and any white men they have the fortune to kill. Their arms are bows and arrows, but, judging from a exhibition they gave on Saturday, they are not particularly good marksmen. They manufacture a clever snare-trap for the wild geese, which abound in the island, of whalebone which is thrown in great quantities upon the seashore. Knives and arrowheads they make of glass, which they manufacture themselves. They eat no bread, only meat, which they only partly cook, preferring it in a semi-raw state. They gave a very disgusting exhibition of their powers in this direction on Saturday, and M. Maitre informed our representative that this remarkable family of nine have managed to put away daily, since he has had them in his charge, from fifty to seventy-five pounds of meat!

Their language is almost entirely monosyllabic, and while they have hitherto proved utterly impossible of civilisation they display most amiable traits, and never quarrel among themselves. Indeed, their sole occupation appears to be to sit huddled together and play quietly with their dogs, one of which is of the terrier tribe, the other somewhat like a small grey wolf, and to eat half-raw meat whenever it is offered to them. They are fearfully dirty, and it was stated that on Saturday, for the first time on their lives, they were all washed. The effect was not entirely satisfactory. A noticeable thing is the smallness and good shape of their hands, and the arms of the women might be envied by many a fair Belgravian belle. The children seem bright and intelligent and watchful, but the adults were very shy.

Source: "Pall Mall Gazette" (London), 30 September 1889
Clipped: 10-June-2014
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