Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Selk’nam


The Selk`nam were masters in the arts of singing and body painting; however, much of our knowledge of them relies on their attire. The people wore only animal hides and skins, usually guanaco, although they preferred fox for their capes. They also used the skins of rodents, birds, otters and sea lions. Every member of the group wore a cape, with the fur side out. These also served as sleeping blankets and as shields. Sometimes they decorated the fur with ákel (ochre mixed with animal fat). The women wore necklaces and bracelets, while the men wore impressive feathered headdresses called ohn or oon. As a symbol of adulthood, the men were given a triangular headdress called a kochel, which they wore across their foreheads on every hunt. All members of the group wore their hair long, with bangs across the forehead. Body paint was a central element of Selk’nam cultural expression, and the people had special designs for different occasions—hunting, combat, peacetime, tournaments, duels, and so on. They painted themselves every day for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. In regard to color, red was considered the most attractive. Each individual a personal supply of ákel, which was also used for bartering. The designs they used for ceremonies were highly sophisticated.