The colonization of South America, the so-called “ conquest of the desert ” and the state expansion to the south of today's Argentine territory have ravaged, like a bulldozer, the names originals that those who inhabited these lands gave to the places. But, in the Argentinean province of Tierra del Fuego , many places retain their original name . We tell you about seven toponymies where the case occurs, what they mean and in which language they are.
Cerro Aklecoyen is located northeast of Lake Fagnano. Its name was given in the haush language , the language of the village that is considered the oldest in Tierra del Fuego and occupied the eastern tip of the Mitre peninsula. Currently, the haush language is considered extinct. We know, however, where toponymy Aklekoyen comes from. It comes from various derivatives such as Akelkoin, Aklekojen and Aklem . The name conjugates the word Akel, “red clay”, and Koin,“mountain”. The akel was a word that the haush used to name the red powder with which the body was anointed.
Mount Am Kiuarn
In the department of Rio Grande, east of Amalia lagoon and east of the Almirante O'Connor lagoon, stands the Mount Am Kiuarn, which owes its name to the Mapuche language . Amki means “backs” and Uarn , “hill”: it is a hill with his back .
Lake Chepelmut is a transparent water lake located in the center of Tierra del Fuego province. It is frequented by those who practice sport fishing and trekking . The lake owes its name to the Selk'nam language, and its name is a variant of the original Ceepelmot , which derives from Ce: pelmo: pl. In our tongue it has been translated as “ urticating lepidopteran caterpillar ” (very complex!). The Selk'nam lived in the north and center of the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego. They are also known as Onas , which is what they were called by the yaganes.
Kashem Hill is northeast of Lake Fagnano, next to National Route No. 3. There are two meanings that are attributed to this place name, of the Haush language. It is believed to mean “silence” or “manantial boca guanaco ” (it fills me with intrigue to know what will be the definition by mouth of a Haush, or whether they were the two used).
Lapataia is a bay located about twenty kilometers from Ushuaia , within the Beagle Channel. This is a narrow and deep accident. It is a historic place, where in 1896 a coal company began to operate in order to supply the ships of the National Navy. This coal was also intended to supply some expeditions that went to Antarctica. Lapataia finds the origin of its name in the Yagan language. Lapatai means “wood” or “forest” and waia means “cove” or “bay” . Lapataia combines these meanings in what would be called a “Boscosa Bay” or “bay of good wood”.
The Lasifashak River runs south of the Alvear mountain range and flows into the southern coast of the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego off Gable Island. In its lower course it takes the name of river “Tierra Mayor”. But its name Lasifashaj is of Yagan origin and derives from lasix or látscic, which means “swallow” or “swift”, and asaga, which refers to “channel.” This would be the “canal of the swallows.”
The city of Ushuaia finally takes its name from the name of the bay. The word comes from Ushu, which means “at the bottom”, and waia,which again means “bay” or “cove” . Thomas Bridges, who settled with his family in Ushuaia in 1871, said that in Yagan language Ushuaia meant “inner port towards the west”.
One of the most interesting things when writing this note was that, along the way, I found many original names of places that today maintain another toponymy , imposed by the state or by who came to colonize or undertake missions in the region. I thought, not without melancholy, how much more would our dialect and perspectives be enriched if we knew more, if we were to better understand the peoples from whom we have only rescued some names and who have, in return, remained in a very unequal situation. Maybe, on another note, I can delve into these forgotten names a little bit.
In the meantime, if you are interested to know more, on the Encuentro channel they released a chapter of the series Guardians of the Language , about Yagán. The chapter visits a community that still maintains its language on Navarino Island, south of Ushuaia, in what is now known as Chile. And it's beautiful, at the same time sad, because you hear the yagan tongue from the mouth of one of the last people who speak it.
We suggest you continue reading the following notes:
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Patagónica ante todo. Licenciada en Ciencias de la Comunicación y, próximamente, Doctora en Historia. Profesora. Mamá. Estudiante por vocación. De sangre húngara pero de cepa argentina. La Patagonia me fascina. Estoy enamorada de sus colores surreales. Del ripio estridente de sus caminos. De sus paisajes infinitos. De la inmensidad del mar. Estoy enganchada de su historia como si fuese una novela adictiva. Y te lo quiero contar todo.