Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Tehuelche

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Beliefs and funeral rites

According to their myths, the Tehuelche descended from higher beings. Their supreme being was called Kooch, the all powerful ruler of the cosmos, creator of the sun and moon. After creating the land and water, Kooch journeyed to the East to take his rest. The Tehuelche believed in the existence of evil beings, the Gualichu, who dwelt in the underworld and were always looking for ways to do harm. Some stories suggest that the Gualichu was actually a single evil being, although this understanding may have come from the Mapuche influence in the northern reaches of Tehuelche territory. The people wore hidden amulets and talismans for both witchcraft and medicinal magic.

The Tehuelche also performed rituals to celebrate birth, death, and marriage, and rites of passage for females were especially important. When a Tehuelche man died, his property was burned and his horses and dogs were put to death. The method of horse sacrifice differed according to the age of the animal: adult horses were killed with bolas, while young horses were strangled. Under the cadaver, facing the east, the people placed a blanket with red clay. On the tomb they erected a mound of stones called a chenque and afterwards never again pronounced the deceased person’s name. In some regions, individuals have been found buried in rocky shelters and covered in red paint.