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The Brave of the South

What do we know about the Tehuelches? Who were they? The history of the people who met Magellan.


The expedition that made the first round the world, had its own chronicler.The texts written by the Italian Antonio Pigafetta, author of the main chronicles of the first circumnavigation of the planet, define the men of present-day South Argentina as “ patagones ”. This year marks the fifth centenary of that historic expedition. Magellan sailed from Cadiz with five ships on September 20, 1519.

But, beyond the terrible controversies caused by the expedition itself, the name given in 1520 to the inhabitants they found in today's  Santa Cruz  has caused fierce disputes between the historians. Possibly the medieval legend of the giant  Patagon , narrated in  Book II del Palmerín de Oliva , inspired Pigafetta to call the inhabitants of the area.

As today's anthropologists think, those men seen in 1520 were most likely  the ancestors of the Tehuelches .

It becomes very difficult to trace the identity of this ancient ethnic group. The most widespread idea is that it is a group of tribes or nations with different characteristics, which managed to be grouped in very large areas of the Pampean Region and  Patagonia .

In this regard, it should be added that the  Tehuelches  had not gone through the same process of  ethnogenesis  that the  Mapuche  went through. On the contrary,  it is very likely that the gaze of their neighbors was the one that identified them by giving them the generic name we know today.  

Despite the broad characteristics given to the inhabitants of the Patagonian territory by the scholars of the region, the so-called  Tehuelches  lived in a great social system that would extend far beyond what was expected. Just as there was a  pan-Mapuche area  covering territories on one side of the mountain range, the  Tehuelche  peoples faced a similar situation. Apparently there was a  pan-Tehuelche area  that was located both in Argentine territory and in part of Chilean Patagonia.

The states that encompass both countries today were not contained within the limits of the conquests and trade routes of the peoples that preceded them.

A statement issued by   CONICET   in 2017 would explain that, before establishing the current geopolitical limits, “ I hadto Mapuches in what is today Argentina, as well as there were tehuelches in what is today Chile.” It further adds that   “the marriage alliances between them and the displacement caused by the advancement of States over their territories led to the identification of many families today as  Mapuche-Tehuelche ”. 

Professors  Julio Esteban Vezub  and  Víctor Mazzalay  in  “Analysis of kinship networks and alliances between Mapuche and Tehuelche chieftains in Northern Patagonia ” (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain 2016), speak clearly on this topic highlighting various periods in which  disagreements and agreements occurred in the Patagonian geopolitics of the  peoples pre-existing to the conformation of the current limits  . Many times ruptures arose between the two entities, which inevitably highlighted their differences.

Such a situation lays its foundations on a very firm philological theory:  the name of the Tehuelches was given by the Mapuches themselves . Tax, granted or generalized, means “ untamed people ”. The ancient stories of Patagonia show, without a doubt, that the nickname they received was in honor of the truth. The different  Tehuelche  tribes tell myths and legends typical of their people, revealing the bravery and bravery of  the men of the south of the world who, one day in 1520, met  Magellan . 

Book II of the Palmerin (1512)


They lived in very diverse communities, separated by large territories. They even spoke very complex and changing languages.

Antonio Pigafetta, the man who called the Tehuelches “patagones” in 1520. He was the chronicler of Magellan's expedition.

Publication Date: 12/08/2020

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By: Jony 15 September, 2019

tengo un problema con las ilustraciones y no las puedo ver

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By: Carlos 15 September, 2019

Nuestros olvidados pueblos originarios

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