“A wild man is indeed a miserable animal, but one well worth seeing!”
“The Fuegians are in a more miserable state of barbarism than I had expected ever to have seen a human being…..they are absolutely naked….I do not think any spectacle can be more interesting than the first sight of man in his primitive wildness.”
“The language of these people (the Fuegians), according to our notions, scarcely deserves to be called articulate. Captain Cook has compared it to a man clearing his throat, but certainly no European ever cleared his throat with so many hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds.”
“The different tribes when at war are cannibals…when pressed in winter by hunger they kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs….”
“The different tribes have no government or chief, yet each is surrounded by other hostile tribes….”
“Whilst beholding these savages, one asks, Whence have they come?”
“The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind–such were our ancestors…..their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful. They possessed hardly any arts, and like wild animals lived on what they could catch.”
These Fuegians are a very different race from the stunted, miserable wretches farther westward, and they seem closely allied to the famous Patagonians of the Strait of Magellan…Their skin is of a dirty coppery-red colour….the other two men were ornamented by streaks of black powder made of charcoal….”
“They (the Fuegians) sometimes bury their dead in caves, and sometimes in mountain forests….they are unwilling to even mention their dead friends. Jemmy (one of the Fuegians) believed in dreams…”
These where the first impressions of Charles Darwin as he first encountered the Fuegians and Patagonians of South America. The Fuegians are one of three tribes in the area and these people are somewhat of an enigma.
The Fuegians inhabit an area at the far end of South America known as Tierra del Fuego which in Spanish means “Land of Fire.” It is an archipelago off of the southernmost tip of the continent across the Strait of Magellan. The main island is known as Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (Grand Island of the Land of Fire). The region is also composed of several other islands which include the Diego Ramirez Islands and Cape Horn. This is a land divided, politically, as part of it is ruled by Argentina and the other part by Chile.
The name “Fuegians” originally referred to the Yaghan people but the Spanish used the term “Fueguino” to refer to any indigenous people from the area. Sadly, as was seen over and over again, these people had no resistance to diseases brought by the Europeans and in the late 1800s the Fuegians were decimated by smallpox. Between 1881-1883 the population of the Yahgan tribe was reduced by about 1/3 by small pox and measles epidemics.
All of the Fuegian tribes were nomads and lacked permanent shelters. The coastal Yamana and Alacaluf tribes used birch bark canoes when they moved around. Interestingly, the Yamana and Selk’nam tribes say that the women used to rule over th men long ago but the men revolted and today the men rule over the women often ruthlessly.
Some researchers consider the Fuegians to be physically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from other Native Americans. They assert that the Fuegians may be descendants of Australian aboriginal people or Melanesian people who colonized the area PRIOR TO THE ARRIVAL OF mongoloid Amerindians. Actually, this theory is somewhat credible because research has suggested the existence of an ethnically distinct population elsewhere in South America. Further, the Tehuelches tribe and the Selk’nams practice body painting and rock art which is, in fact, similar to what is seen in Aboriginal people of Australia. Further, the Fuegians tended to be much taller than most Europeans and Amerindians! However, the Yaghan people were actually quite short and had fat bodies with skinny limbs. This may have been an adaptation to cold climate.
The people of this area are sometimes called the “Patagones” or “Patagonian Giants.” Early European accounts began to appear describing these people as a race of giants living along the coastlines of Patagonia. Many of those accounts claimed these people were at least twice as tall as normal humans and some accounts note that these people sometimes reached heights of up to 12-15 feet or more!!
The first accounts of the Fuegians comes from the explorations of Ferdinand Magellan who claimed to have seen them and described them as being twice as tall as normal people. He and his crew said they were naked and “of giant stature.” Further, an account by Magellan’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, says of one of these native men, “He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned…”.
Ironically, the exact meaning of why Magellan chose to call these people Patagonians is uncertain. The assumption has long been “Patagonia” means “LAND OF THE BIGFEET”!! In addition, early maps also labelled the area as “Regio Gigantum” meaning “region of giants.” Hmmmm……Land of the Bigfoot…………:)
In 1766 the crew of the HMS Dolphin under command of Commodore John Byron claimed they’d seen a tribe of people 9 feet tall in Patagonia but when a “revised” account of the voyage came out in 1773 the Patagonians were said to have stood 6.6 feet. Tall but not really giants! Most likely these were people from the tribe called the Tehuelches. Later writers deemed these kind of reports to be a hoax or exaggerations. However, among the Ona people of the area there is an actual photo of a Ona male standing 7 FEET TALL in the US Library of Congress!!
I think it rather obvious that Darwin was shocked by the appearance and habits of the Fuegians to say the least. Their imposing size and their rather crude ways confused Darwin the “civilized” European. He’d never seen any people like them and it was this encounter than made Darwin think man had to have come from some lower animal (ape).
Returning to the theory that the Fuegians may have come from Australia in 2015 a STUNNING DISCOVERY was made by US and Brazilian geneticists. In fact, that discovery was definitive proof that the Siberian ancestors of modern Native Americans WERE NOT he first people to colonize the Americas!!
Led by Dr. David Reich of Harvard Medial School’s Dept of Genetics his team found that members of some of the native people in the Amazon (Surui, Karitiana, & Xavante) carry distinctive DNA that identifies them as descendants of an earlier wave of colonists known as the “Australoids.” The Australoid people are thought to have left Africa 50 kya and some theorize they are related to the aboriginal people of Australia (others do not believe this is so), the Onge people of India’s Andaman Islands and Papua New Guineans. Reich and his team also found the same DNA in the Mixe people of the eastern highlands of Mexico’s Oaxaca state.
Reich and his team said they are not suggesting Amazonian and Oaxaca people are the direct descendants of Australoids but they are suggesting later Amerindians interbred with descendants of an earlier wave of Australoid colonists they called “Population Y.” However, they are unable to determine just when Population Y colonized the Americas!
Up until Reich’s discovery most genetic studies indicated modern Native Americans (both North and South) came from a founding population of ancient Siberians related to the later Chukchi people of eastern Siberia. However, studies of linguistics and morphology have suggested the colonization of the Americas was much more complex. For example, in 1973 a French and Brazilian team found one of the most distinctive skulls to date from the Americas in Vermelho Cave which is near Belo Horizonte in SE Brazil. This skull is from a young woman dubbed “Luzia.” It gave a C14 date of about 10,030 years old. The skull is narrow and oval shaped with a projecting face and lower chin. It does, in fact, resemble the skulls of modern Australoid people such as Aborigines, Melanesian, and other people of SE Asia.
The almost extinct people of Tierra del Fuego may offer the most promise to unraveling this mystery. These people ARE distinctly different from other Native Americans both in terms of morphology and culture!
Returning to the language of the Fuegians it is called a “Click Language” and researchers believe that the earliest modern humans (Cro-mags) spoke Click languages similar to that of the Khoisan people of South and Eastern Africa. These Click languages are liberally sprinkled with hollow, clicking sounds like a hard “k” in English but produced further back in the throat.
We like to think that things are simple especially things of life. But, most often sooner or later we find out that very FEW things are actually simple in life! This is just one of the hard realities in life I think. Things are seldom simple and are typically a bit complicated, in fact.
The Fuegians were a very tall people and mostly went about naked. When the whether warranted, however, they would throw a fur cloak over themselves with the fur outward instead of inward and this gave them a hairy appearance to some who saw them. Thus, they were sometimes called the “hairy men.” No doubt this is where some of the reports of ancient “Bigfoot” in South America came from. Yes SA has their own tales of the man-beast as do most other areas of the world. But, the Fuegians really weren’t man-beasts at all even though Darwin may have thought so. 🙂
One thing that does strike me about the drawings and pics of the Fuegians is the low slopping forehead which is characteristic of Homo erectus! Also the broad nose which is typically found in Neanderthals. Homo erectus, some of them, were rather large with some near 6 feet that we know of. I see nothing unusual if some specimens of H. erectus even approached 6 and 1/2 feet. Also what strikes me is their crude ways as described by Darwin and many other researchers and explorers. I can envision a lot of this fitting right in with Homo erectus! What I find highly interesting too is the Fuegian tales that WOMEN once ruled over the men until the men rebelled! Makes one wonder ….was Homo erectus culture ruled by women at some point in time??? Just a thought 🙂