Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Kawashkar


The Kawésqar were nomadic seafaring canoeists with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. According to contemporary sources, their principal vessel was the tree-bark canoe (made preferably from coigüe wood), which was made of overlapping pieces of bark meshed into a seashell shape and sewn together with whale nerve fibers.

The oldest style of canoe used was the hanef, eight to nine meters (26-30 feet) in length and curved towards a point at either end. It was propelled with small paddles. The Kawésqar later adopted the dalca canoe, originally invented by the Chona people and made of wooden boards sewn together with animal tendons and caulked with a mixture of mud and plants. Dugout canoes were not used until much later, after the metal tools required to make them were introduced by the early colonists. Whatever the style, in the center of the canoe a fire was always kept lit, normally consisting of slow-burning embers that produced heat for warmth and cooking.

The Kawésqar diet was high in meat and fat. Key food sources were sea lions, otters and birds, which were hunted, and fish and shellfish, which were usually gathered. Shellfish, both raw and cooked, were a staple food and were collected by the women of the tribe, who often dove in search of the richest beds. They would cover their bodies in clay and animal fat to preserve body heat, and gather the shellfish in handmade baskets.

Kawésqar men, on the other hand, were responsible for hunting, both at sea and on shore. They also made the tribe’s tools, generally out of bone. The Kawésqar seem to have used few tools, with little variation in their basic design. Indeed, a single tool would often serve a number of different functions. Other artifacts from this culture include wooden or tree-bark boxes, as well as awls and harpoon points made from bone.

The Kawésqar hunted sea lions with harpoons or using nets made from leather thongs or animal tendons, to catch the animals alive. There is little evidence of bow and arrow use, but dogs were certainly used to hunt deer, and in later times feral cattle. Sea lion and whale meat was eaten only in an advanced stage of decay. On dry land the Kawésqar collected fungi, eggs and the small quantity of vegetables that they included in their diet.