17 Jun 2012
The Kaweskar people represent one of Chile's most austral indigenous groups - nomads and expert canoers who inahbit the southern channels of Chilean Patagonia.
For the last 6,000 years, the Kaweskar - Alacalufes, as they are sometimes known - moved between the Golfo de Penas and the Magellan Strait, canoing through the channels and around the islands west of the Isla Grande of Tierra del Fuego, and south of the strait.
Though they covered an enormous amount of land, the culture revolved primarily around two geographic points: the southern edge of the Magellan Strait, on Clarence Island; and the southern section of the Golfo de Penas, on the Guaitecas Archipelago's Islote Solitario.
In the 16th century, the Kaweskar numbered between 2,500 and 3,000 people, but after contact with European explorers and new diseases, the population crashed. Numbers further declined when a group of Kaweskar were kidnapped and taken to Europe for scientific experiments and to be used in public exhibitions.
Further disease came as the Kaweskar began to change their ancient customs, including changing their traditional clothing - made from skins and furs - for Western clothing, which never dried in the cold, humid environment of southern Patagonia. In 2000, only an estimated 17 Kaweskar with pure indigenous heritage remained, residing in Punta Arenas and Puerto Edén. In August 2008, the last representative of this ethnic group passed away, at 79 years of age.
The Kaweskar Route
Today, you can relive the old Kaweskar route and learn more about the indigenous group's way of life, on a 10-day journey through the fjords and channels of the far south.
The route links Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas, passing along the Obstrucción y Skyring Sound. The expedition is primarily in kayak with a small supply boat, leading you on an adventure through a landscape that still retains its original mystery and beauty from the days of its first inhabitants: the Kaweskar or Alacalufes.
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