Free Web Submission Software Directory www britain directory com education Visit Timeshares Earn free bitcoin CAPTAIN TAREK DREAM: Human zoo: "Selk’nam" Tierra del Fuego’s Last Forgotten natives Tribe

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Human zoo: "Selk’nam" Tierra del Fuego’s Last Forgotten natives Tribe

One of the last indigenous tribes to have encountered European invaders was one of the most formidable native groups to have ever inhabited South America.

Among laymen, they are mostly known for being part of the ‘human zoos’ which were all the rage in Europe during the late 1800s.

 Snatched from their native lands and exhibited as curiously rare and uncivilized creatures, this ill-starred tribe went from being the most prominent in Tierra del Fuego to being all but extinct a little over 100 years later.

Yet among historians, the Selk’nam are renowned and revered for being impressively hardy and immensely adaptable.

They inhabited Tierra del Fuego right on the Southern tip of the South American continent, only a swim stroke away from Antarctica.

The Selk’nam, or Ona as they are also known, were fit, strong, tall (the average height of an adult male was 187 cm) and seemed to have flourished in the harsh environment of southern Patagonia, wearing nothing more than a loin cloth.

Human zoo: the example of the Selk’Nam natives

Native women of the Tierra del Fugo

The Selk’Nam natives were a tribe from Chile, part of 3 or 4 tribes that were taken to Europe to be exhibited. They lived in the Pantagonian region of Chile and Argentina, including the Tierra del Fugo islands (“land of fire”).

They were actually one of the last Indigenous tribes of South America reached by the Westerners (when the government decided to explore and make use of Tierra del Fugo).

The Selk’Nams spoke a language called Chon and they were hunters and gatherers who were typically tall.

They could adapt to any harsh conditions it seems.

The Selk’Nam people were people with strong traditions.

As in many native cultures, they lived as one with the land.

“Mine” did not exist, it was ours.

They lived at peace with Mother Earth and had their own ways of life.

For example, their initiation ceremony, also called Hain, signified the passage of teenage males into adulthood (some resemblances to the Sunrise Ceremony for girls in the Apache culture).

The teenagers had to go through several mental and physical tasks over months at an end, a process that was kept secret.

They would paint their body, wear leather masks, emulating the spirits called into the ceremony.

Tierra del Fuego

Up until the late 19th century, the Selk’Nams had been left alone. But then the Spanish killed most of their games and took over the Tierra del Fugo to build large estates.

The Selk’Nams were not familiar with the Spanish way of life, they did not understand the concept of sheep herd. Therefore, they began hunting the sheep, a gesture the ranchers did not appreciate.

That led to Selk’Nams being hunted by the Spanish, who would receive their bounty when they would return with their victim’s ears.

Ultimately, the Selk’Nams became extinct over time. From a population of 3000 in 1896 to a population of 25 in 1945.

Yes you read that right, 25! The last full blooded Selk’Nam, Anjela Loij, died in 1974. So there you have it, a whole nation who disappeared over time, killed, hunted and treated like objects to be gawked at. Let’s then look at how that happened.

If you’ve visited Patagonia and experienced the at-times insanely freezing winds and unpredictable climate, you’ll understand why the Selk’nam have a reputation for being some of the toughest indigenous people who ever lived on our planet.

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Tierra del Fuego, which means ‘Land of Fire’ in Spanish, actually derives its name from the colossal Selk’nam bonfires which the first Europeans observed upon reaching the island. And still, despite being the inspiration for what is, nowadays, one of the most stunning parts in all of Latin America, the mighty Selk’nam still hide in relative obscurity.

Selk’Nams with Maurice Maitre in Paris-1889

The year was 1889

So here we are in 1889, the year when, with the agreement of the Chilean government, 11 Selk’Nams were taken to Europe to be exhibited in human zoos. This included a 8 year old boy. Carl Hagenbeck is credited as the one who made zoos as we know them now (reproducing the animal’s natural habitat).

However, Mr. Hagenbeck can also be “credited” as the one who began human zoos. It is said that he is the one who took those 11 Selk’nams to Europe to be exhibited  in a cage. How nice of him…I am sorry but I cannot help the sarcasm. But back then, the Pantagonian natives were a rarity.

The Selk’Nams along with the Tehuelche and the Kawesqar were weighted, measured and photographed and were expected to perform every day. Sometimes 6 to 8 times a day. So that Europeans could gasp at those savages from across the ocean. Can you think of something more demeaning than that? I cannot. Needless to say, the Selk’Nams did not receive the best of care.

Therefore, many of them did not make it back. Some did not even make it to Europe. Looking at the picture below, one can see that the conditions were more than sub-par. As the man in the picture basically looks like a lion tamer…Look at their faces….

The Selk’nam

Selk’nam children

Unlike other seafaring Fuegian tribes, the Selk’nam lived in the interior of Tierra del Fuego and were prolific hunter-gatherers on land. Their subsistent survival consisted mostly of guanaco (a type of llama) and fox meat. They had no concept of agriculture yet domesticated dogs.

Unlike what early European human zoos loved to portray, these native inhabitants of South America were anything but primitive. They held deep and complex spiritual beliefs which included faith in a creator and worship of one main deity.

They held initiation ceremonies for their young boys involving tests of courage, the overcoming of fear, and cunning resourcefulness. They lived communally with no concept of personal land or animal ownership (although individual ownership of clothing, weapons and tools was common) and moved around Tierra del Fuego as climate dictated hunting possibilities.

Curiously enough, the Selk’nam, as with other Fuegian natives, are not thought to share origins with northern Native American Indians. Instead, they are believed to be more closely linked to Australian Aborigines and evidence of similar rock paintings have been discovered.

It is estimated that by the time Europeans first made contact in their attempt to conquer Tierra del Fuego, the nomadic Selk’nam had been living there for thousands of years and numbered approximately 4,000. Within just a few years, there were only 100 left.

The Selk’nam Genocide, as it is now recognized, caused the complete extinction of this remarkable tribe. The last full-blooded Selk’nam tribesperson died in 1974 and, by 1990, there were no longer any Ona-language speakers left in the world. Today, only a few hundred people still identify themselves as Selk’nam descendants.

The imbalanced struggle for survival in Tierra del Fuego

Selk’nam natives to be exhibited as animals in Human Zoos.

European ranch settlers and imported diseases claimed the highest number of casualties, in equally terrifying fashion. Settlers received handsome financial rewards for each native killed, and anyone who managed to survive this threat fell victim to smallpox, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. To add to their woes, Christian missionaries forced their relocations in an attempt to convert them, aggressively disrupting the natives’ livelihood and social structure.

Although many missionaries documented what they thought to be an endearing culture, and tried in earnest to preserve their language and customs, their sheer presence still had a detrimental effect on these native tribes.

The sign in front of her exhibit read: Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa

As European settlers landed in Tierra del Fuego, they promptly set up ranches and herded wild game, a concept with Selk’nam people failed to comprehend. As they continued to hunt the now ‘owned’ wildlife, they were seen as a threat, and hunted in return by ranch owners.

Captured natives, who despite their physical prowess were no match for the armed invaders, were held in deplorable conditions and carted off to Europe for tours of the so-called Human Zoos. A great majority never even survived the trip and, once there, only a handful were ever returned to their homeland.

Local tribes museum Ushuaia

The Selk’nam were by no means the only indigenous Tierra del Fuego inhabitants who suffered greatly at the hands of foreign conquistadores, but they are among the most enigmatic.

In Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego’s most famous and fascinating city – you’ll find a small museum dedicated to the history of local tribes, particularly the Yaghan (also known as the Yamana), a seafaring tribe who scoured the Beagle Channel on canoes hunting seals, and wore even less clothing than the Selk’nam. A modest collection of photographs ought to satisfy the curiosity of ardent history-lovers.

African girl in a Belgium human zoo, 1958

The loss of these mesmerizing tribes is arguably one of most tragic part of Latin American history. Explore Tierra del Fuego on your next South American adventure and you’ll no doubt be in awe at the sheer existence of these awe-inspiring people, who lived and thrived in a place that is as spectacular as it is unforgiving.

Unfortunately, the Selk’Nams were not the only ones subjected to such humiliation. Numerous Indigenous people of the land were subjected to the same treatment. People of Africa, such as the pygmies, received the same treatment even in the 20th century.

They were kept in enclosures, recreating “natural habitats” (as though Europeans knew anything about what that looked like). People were basically used for entertainment, expected to perform tricks (e.g. making funny faces, shooting at targets with arrows). Their lives were placed on display, paraded as curiosities. Talk about degrading.

Just so the “white rich folks” could be entertained and show to their children “what savages looked like”. As an animal lover, I am not a fan of zoos to begin with, a topic that induced mixed feelings in most. But a human zoo? That is crossing a major line. Look at the picture below.

Some were taken in 1958!! And we are now left with extinct tribes that were forced (with the okay of the government) to leave their Mother Earth, their land, their traditions. For what? So that people could be entertained.

Horrifying Pictures Of Human Zoos And The People Who Were Incarcerated In Them

The zoo is the first place where many of us encounter wild animals. It’s exciting to see creatures you don’t encounter in everyday life, watch how they behave, and wonder what they might be thinking.

Whether you’re an adult or child, a zoo is a fascinating look into a world you’re not normally invited into.

But zoos haven’t always been just for animals. It sounds unbelievable, but, many decades ago, some zoos kept human beings on display.

This disgusting practice was performed on certain indigenous tribes who were kept incarcerated for the public’s entertainment.

Here are shocking pictures that reveal the dark reality of human zoos throughout history.

Members of the Selk’Nam tribe were kept on display while they were transported to Europe.

Carl Hagenbeck, the man who created the concept of zoos, captured 11 Selk’Nam natives and kept them locked in cages.

A disturbing image of a young African girl on display at a human zoo in Brussels, Belgium in 1958.

A Congolese pygmy named Ota Benga was kept in the Bronx Zoo and was photographed alongside primates.

Paris’s human zoo, called Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale.

Jardin had over a million visitors in the six months it lasted, and was built as a symbol of France’s colonial power.

This particular zoo maintained entire villages to represent life in the colonies. The villages and their incarcerated inhabitants were on display to depict all parts of colonial life; everything from the agriculture to the architecture of the time.

In 2006, it reopened as a public garden, but since the country saw it as a shameful period of their past, it rarely had visitors

This is Sarah Baartman, who was displayed exotically in tight clothing. After her death, her remains were kept in Paris’s Museum of Mankind until 2002, when Nelson Mandela asked for them to be removed.

A mother and her child being displayed in Germany’s “Negro Village.”

Another photo taken from Germany’s “Negro Village” highlights the inhumane treatment of the people on display there, with only a chainlink fence separating the village’s prisoners from the outside world.

Exhibiting captured Asian and African people in makeshift natural habitats became a popular occurrence.

The 1931 Parisian World Fair also fed into the public’s desire to see exotic cultures kept at an arm’s length.

During world exhibitions, pygmies were forced to dance for visitors.

Many other tribes suffered the same fate. Five Indians from the Kawesqar tribe were kidnapped in 1881 and brought to Europe to be put on display. 


The mere thought of a zoo using imprisoned humans for entertainment is horrifying. Thankfully, this revolting practice has been eliminated as society continues to move toward tolerance for all peoples.

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