Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Music and Dance > Kawashkar

As an integral part of Kawashkar tradition, the music of these people suffered the same deterioration that the entire culture did in the 20th century. Because of this situation, this section shall refer to Kawashkar music as it stood around 1950 as the language, songs and customs surrounding their use have unfortunately been lost.

Kawashkar music enjoys many similarities with the music of neighboring groups such as the Selk’nam, the Yámana and the Tehuelche. These traditions share two basic musical repertories: Their religious music was associated with ritual and ceremony, while more mundane music focused on everyday activities and human sentiments.

Both song and dance were extremely important in Kawashkar initiation rites, with each rite having its own song and verse. At the beginning of these rituals, the initiates learned then sang the song of the whale, which was very important to the ritual. They then sang songs of the night that alluded to birds and animals.

During the funerary rites, people performed ritual mourning cries while pounding out rhythms with wooden staffs. They played simple instruments such as bird bone whistles, wooden sticks and rolled leather.

Kawashkar music included many songs dedicated to the animals that lived around them and upon which they relied for food and other items. These songs included onomatopoeic sounds and were accompanied by gestures and pantomimes of the animals symbolizing the hunter seducing and attracting his prey. Everyday songs included songs about hunting trips to catch sea lions, otters and forest birds, as well as songs about fishing expeditions and trips through the southern channels. Love songs were also popular.

The songs of the Kawashkar featured short phrases sung repeatedly using different rhythms. One person would begin the song and the rest of the group would join in melody gradually until a complete chorus was formed.