Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Kawashkar


Social organization

The basic unit of Kawésqar society was the family. There was also a chief, who took charge of hunting expeditions. The individual chosen was normally the strongest man in the group or inherited the title as the son or friend of a former chief.

Marriage was allowed after coming of age, and at the same time a Kawésqar also built his first canoe, acquired his first dogs, and constructed his first home, which was a symbol of independence. These occasions were celebrated with other families, and accompanied by the consumption of a large quantity of food. Marriage was forbidden between brother and sister and between cousins, both maternal and paternal.

Kawésqar women carried their youngest children tied to their backs, making no distinction between boys and girls until the age of four. Children were not given names until they could speak and move around unassisted.

Women were in charge of raising the children and handling the canoe, while the men were responsible for building dwellings. The people had a system known as tchás, in which families camping at the same site exchanged gifts; in general, however, families lived independently, only coming together for ceremonies or other special events, such as the beaching of a whale, which provided enough food for a number of families. Their high degree of isolation is a crucial factor in understanding this culture’s homogeneity.