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Yahgan Dictionary : Language of the Yamana people of Tierra del Fuego
Manuscript of Rev. Thomas Bridges (later annotations by Rev. John Williams), dated 1865
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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 missionaries' estimates. 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.


/1/  Different authors use different terms to refer to the language or to the human group. Here, the term "Yahgan" is used for the language and "Yamana" for the human group (plural "Yamanas").