Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Kawashkar

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Settlement patterns

As one of the Southern-Chilean Canoe Tribes, the Kawésqar lived a nomadic life, paddling the archipelago’s channels in their canoes, moving from island to island in search of food. It is said that they even carried their canoes short distances over land to avoid unnecessary sea trips.
The canoe could hold a nuclear or extended family of up to ten people. The family traveled with its dogs, weapons and tools, and the leather sheet that was used as a tarp at campsites (tchelo). Contemporary sources also relate that Kawésqar families carried wooden stakes and branches that were used to assemble dwellings wherever they landed.

The dwellings made were strictly temporary, except when a whale beached on the shore. At those times families came together to build a semi-permanent encampment. Dwelling types varied across the Kawésqar range, but were generally dome-shaped with an elliptical base that measured around 3 meters (10 feet) across.

The Kawésqar built these structures by burying the ends of flexible wooden stakes and bending their tips together at the center, making an arch about 2 meters (6 feet) tall. The frame was then covered with sea lion skins, branches and tree-bark, leaving two entrances and a hole to let out smoke from the fire. The floor was insulated with leaves, which kept out the cold and damp and were vital for holding in warmth. Women slept close to the fire, men near the entrances. When a family moved on, it left the dwelling for others to use rather than dismantling it.