There are a large number small tribes south of the Amazon in South America. Estimates vary because it was often difficult to tell whether related bands were separate tribes or not. The Alacaluf (Halakwulup, Kawésqar, or Kaweskar) was a small tribe living at the tip of South America along and around the Strait of Magellan, including the Brunswick Peninsula, and Wellington, Santa Inés, and Desolación islands). They were a seagoing people which had a society based on fishing and hunting marime mammals.
There are a large number small tribes south of the Amazon in South America. Estimates vary because it was often difficult to tell whether related bands were separate tribes or not. The Alacaluf were one of these small groups. Tribes described as the Halakwulup, Kawésqar, or Kaweskar lived in the same area. Kawésqar or Kawésqar Alacaluf are commonly used. Some say that Alacaluf is a derogative meaning mussle eaters. It is difficult to tell if these were actually different tribes or to what extent they were related. Many of these small tribes are poorly studied.
Aa a result, it is difficult to diferente small tribal groups from related nearby groups. Some of the southern tribes like the Otway were not even discovered until the 19th century. Many Europeans did not differentiate the canoe going people in the South. The largest group was the Chonos located a liitle north. Small groups like the Alacaluf until fairly late were believed to be members of the Chono tribe. ThebKawésqar Alacaluf appear to have been the largest tribal group in Tierra del Fuego.
The Alacaluf lived at the tip of South America north and south of the Strait of Magellan, including the Brunswick Peninsula, and Wellington, Santa Inés, and Desolación islands). The Alakalufes appear to have dominated to the south of Magallanes and the Kawésqar to the north.
Archeological work estimates that the Alacaluf or related people arrived in the area about 6000 BC. That is quite a bit later than sites found to the north in more temperate areas. [Legoupil] The Spanish encountered Native American fishermen along the Magellan Straits, but were not impressed with them (1557). [Ladrillo] The Spanish described than as small in stature and as tactiturn and sad people. Spanish missionaries considered them untrustworthy.
The Alacaluf were a seagoing people which had a society based on fishing and hunting marime mammals. They might be compared to the Eskimoes in North America, although the climate in southern Chile is warmer than that of Alaska and Canada. They fished from canoes with harpoons. The women and children dove for shellfish which theu collected in baskets caried by their teeth. They were said to spend a great deal of times in their canoes and then encamped on beaches at dusk in crude huts. They did not practice agriculture. They used 1-3 stone boleadora to hunt game on land. Some had bows and arrows, but they were not widely used. The women often rowed the cnoes with the man standing sentry ready with the the harpoon.
The language spoken by the Kawésqar Alacaluf was Kawésqar.
The Alacaluf practiced an animist religion, believing in a competing good and evil spirit. [Emperaire] Their owurkan was a medince man or shamán. [Gusinde]
We are not sure about the clothing produced and worn by the Alacaluf. It appears very basic. The children commonly weent naked despite the cold climate. We do not note the warm clothing that Eskimoes developed. The warmer climate may be a facgtor. Another factor may be the animals available in Tierra del Fuego.
Some Native Americans adapted to the enviroment with phisilogical changes. The Andean peoples developed expanded lung capacity. The adaptations to cold weather, however, were primarily cultural (diet, housing, and clothing). The Alacaluf seafood diet provided needed protein, but does not appear as high in fat as the Eslimoes. And the Alacaluf did mot develop the warm shelters and clothing of the Eskimoes and othef northern peoples. We see Alacaluf children naked in what looks to be chilly, although of course not freezing conditions. This appeaers to be just that the children become used to cold weather.
Emperaire, José. The Nomads of the Sea.
Ladrillo, Juan. (1557)
Legoupil, Dominique. (Punta Baja: étude ethnologique (CNRS, France).
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