Tierra del Fuego

Essay by sylunaJunior High, 9th gradeA, May 2005

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Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego is a small island with a lot of history tied to it. The island, though small, is extremely interesting. Local legend, particularly stories of gold, is fascinating. With the many changes it has gone through; no wonder that it is a wonderful place for tourists, both from the "mainland" and other countries. There is a great variety of wildlife at this island as well, including the islands only agricultural pursuit, sheep herding.

The name, Tierra del Fuego, is Spanish for "land of fire". The island got its name in 1520 from the sailors of Fernando Magellan spotting the fires of the natives. The natives used the fires not only for cooking and warmth, but also for signaling. There are 9 tribes recognized: the Alacaluf, the Aush, the Chono, the Fuegians, the Haush, the Onas, the Tehuleche, the Yahgan, and the Yamana. All of these tribes are gone, either from diseases from the Spaniards, which they had no resistances to, or natural disasters.

Even so, they leave a fascinating history and heritage behind. A place where the Yamana Native Americans cooked had been discovered, called a midden. Scattered around the midden were oyster shells, mussel shells, and hundreds of bird bones. These clues tell us that the Yamana were excellent fisherman, and also knew how to trap birds. The midden was probably last used about 100 years ago, before the numbers of the Yamana people dropped due to diseases from the Spaniards. The first Native American group was the Tehuleche (referred to as "pata", Spanish for paw or foot, because of the large feet the Indians had. )

In the Museo Territorial, there is an exhibit of a "gold mine"--a crucible for melting gold, and a die press for making the gold into coins.

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