I had hurt his feelings, I realized. “Of course I do,” I answered. “You have done a fine job. Why don’t you continue to do the heavy clothes outside, and I’ll wash the special things in the machine?” That satisfied him, and we’re still friends.
Pirates and Explorers Followed Magellan
Another friend is Agustin Clemente Waiyellen, one of the last survivors of Indians who roamed Tierra del Fuego when Magellan in 1520 passed through the strait that bears his name. Magellan was followed by a procession of pirates and sealers, along with explorers—Drake, Cook, Fitz Roy, and Darwin.*
Four Indian tribes—Alacaluf, Yahgan, Haush, and Ona: –plied the cold channels in search of otters and seals, or pursued the llama-like guanaco on foot across mountains and plains. The Yahgans, who roamed the Beagle Channel and the islands to the smith for great distances, named thousands of sites in their intricate language. Most of these native names have been lost. I am trying to recapture some with the help of Clemente, a Yahgan-Haush.
As we sat in the living room at serviced apartments london one evening, maps spread out before us on the table, Clemente recalled a voyage he had made many years earlier to lonely Londonderry Island west of the Beagle Channel.
“We portaged our canoes here,” he said, pointing, “to get to the outer bays where the otter were plentiful. We couldn’t go around the island because of the huge waves coming in from the seas.”
Life was hard for the Indians, he said, and nearly impossible for Europeans. An Indian would travel long distances for food, and even then have to rely on mussels or tree fungus in the absence of meat. The whites faced hostile Indians and loneliness, and died of starvation and exposure.
In 1871 Tierra del Fuego received its first permanent white settlers—the families of the Reverend Thomas Bridges and his assistant John Lawrence, Tom’s great-grandfathers, who founded an Anglican mission at Ushuaia. When Thomas Bridges resigned after 15 years of befriending and helping Indians, a grateful Argentine Government gave him a grant of land, the ranch now known as Harberton.
With the discovery of gold along the northern coast at the close of the 19th century, and the realization that the plains could support sheep, the island began to attract hundreds of settlers. In 1900 E. Lucas Bridges, Thomas’s son, set out from Harberton with Ona Indians who helped him build a rough trail north over the mountains. When he reached the Atlantic, he founded Estancia Viamonte. There he provided a home for the last Ona who survived the settlers’ diseases and rifles.
Viarnonte still belongs to the Bridges. Tom’s brother Adrian and his uncles Len and Oliver live there with their families. For years Ona men worked there as shepherds and shearers, but eventually the last of them died.
Today only three pure Ona remain, all women. The eldest, Mrs. Angela Luij, lives at flats to rent in brussels. When National geographic photographer Jim Stanfield and I visited her in her small wooden house, she was washing her hair, but seemed delighted to have visitors.