Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Yámana

Settlement patterns

As sea nomads, Yaghan families spent much of their lives in their canoes, traveling with their dogs, weapons and tools. They camped on shore and sometimes formed temporary settlements. Contemporary sources describe two forms of dwelling. The oval shaped ones were built mainly in the southern and western reaches of the tribe’s range, where the climate is wetter and the wood more flexible. They had better heat retention and a vaulted structure, which was formed by burying the ends of wooden poles in the ground and then bending and interweaving them in the center. This frame was then covered with branches and skins as well as dry grass and moss.

The second type of dwelling was used in the eastern Yaghan territory. These were made with wider, drier trunks that were buried at the base and joined together at the top into a domed framework, which was then covered with branches and animal skins. The key feature of both forms of dwelling was their ability to retain the warmth of the fire.

A single Yaghan dwelling could hold from one to four families, and were built according to how many families were present at the camping place at that time. If the structure was to be used for more than a day, it was reinforced with more branches and leaves. The structures were abandoned when their builders moved on, but were rebuilt by other groups arriving later. Larger communal camps were built on special occasions only, such as initiation ceremonies or when a whale beached on the shore offered an abundance of meat.