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Yahgan also known as “Yámana” Pitek, Emily


The Yahgan inhabit the southernmost point of South America, on the island of Tierra del Fuego. They historically lived in small family groupings, which comprised the only form of social organization. Groups were led by family heads and religious specialists called yékamuš (functioning as medicine men and spiritual advisers). There was neither a ruler beyond the family unit, nor an official political leadership office. Religious beliefs permeated many aspects of Yahgan life, so this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with the society at large. These religious beliefs centered around a supreme high god known as Watauinewa, "master of the whole spirit world which was inhabited by a host of unseen and basically malicious beings, such as ghosts (kushpig) of dead [yékamuš], and spirits of the sea, rocks, and trees" (Beierle, 2003). Although the Yahgan have had contact with missionaries since 1871, there was minimal Christian influence on the native religious system at the time this entry focuses on. This entry focuses on the time of 1918-1924, when the principal ethnographer lived among and recorded information about the Yahgan.

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