views updated


Yamana (also called Yaghanes), maritime inhabitants of the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn, the so-called nomads of the seas. Their society is thought to have consisted of about 3,500 individuals who lived in a simple social organization recognizing no chiefs or superior authorities. The Yamana believed in Watauinéiwa, a supreme god, invisible and omnipotent, who was accompanied by secondary deities. The Yamana hunted sea mammals, fished, and collected mollusks. They lived in huts made with boughs and tree branches, which they regularly abandoned in search of better hunting. Related prehistorically and linguistically to the Alakaluf (Kawashkar) to the north, the Yamana occupied the coasts of the Beagle Channel and the islands that extend south to Cape Horn. As with the Alakaluf, some argue that the maritime peoples first appeared in these southern waters 5,200 to 6,400 years ago, although others claim a Paleolithic (11,000 b.c.) past.

The material culture, including bone implements, harpoons, and canoes made of tree bark for hunting sea mammals, as well as remains of coastal sites with abundant shell deposits, contrasts with the nearly exclusively terrestrial orientation in the material culture of the Selk'nam (ona) to the north and east of the Yamana. Like their neighbors the Alakaluf, the Yamana survived sporadic encounters with European expeditioners in southern waters but were quickly decimated as a result of more intensive encounters with nineteenth-century whalers and early twentieth-century colonists. Today the few Yamana who survive continue to fish but also cultivate small gardens and live in prefabricated houses in the small community of Ukika, near Port Williams, on the north coast of Navarino Island on the southern tip of Chile.


Julian H. Steward, ed., Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 1 (1946), pp. 17-24.

Richard Shutler, Jr., ed., South America: Early Man in the New World (1983), pp. 37-146.

Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino, Hombres del sur: Aonikenk, Selknam, Yamana, Kaweshkar (1987).

                                     Kristine L. Jones

                          JosÉ Antonio PÉrez GollÁn