Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Tehuelche

Social organization

Before the introduction of the horse, Tehuelche society was based on the nuclear family unit, with a dozen of these forming a band. This voluntary multi-family grouping dwelt in villages, where they performed tasks to complement hunting activities. During those pre-equestrian times, each band had a leader or chief called a Gownok or Yank, whose main task was to choose and organize the location of the camp. Although Tehuelche society was matrilocal, the males held the power within each group. However, the Tehuelche were extremely independent in general, lacking a formal command structure. The introduction of the horse revolutionized virtually all aspects of Tehuelche life. The groups grew in size and horses became a trade good as well as a sign of social standing that determined one’s place in the group.