Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Tehuelche


Painting was a key element in Tehuelche art and was practiced on different media. Facial and body paints were applied daily as protection from the elements and for special ceremonies. The people made different colors of paint, all using a base of animal fat. The Tehuelche also bore tattoos, which they produced by incising the skin. The outside of their guanaco skin capes, called kais or quillangos, were richly decorated with colorful geometric motifs. It took three or four guanaco skins, preferably of young animals (chulengos), to make a single quillango. The people also made and wore leather boots, initially using guanaco skin and later young horse skin. The painting style used on these media varied, and consisted of simple, primarily geometric motifs (points, lines, circles and keys), but also incorporated naturalist figures, usually hand imprints.

The Tehuelche also made playing cards, which they used for a game called berrica or birk, which they probably learned from sailors on passing ships or from other foreigners they encountered within the extended range the horses afforded them. The Spanish and English style cards measured around 8 x 5 cm and were made of guanaco skin decorated with their own motifs. The Tehuelche also made dice from the bones of huemul.