The Native American tribe known as the Tehuelches inhabited the Patagonian plateau, their lands spread from the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Andes and reached almost as far north as the Pampas.
According to fossil remains found in the region, their origins would seem to go as far back as 9000 BC.
The name TEHUELCHE was first given to them by the Mapuches, a native Indian tribe that lived in southern Chile. TEHUEL: meaning BRAVE and CHE: meaning PEOPLE.
We pay homage to this race of Native Americans, which we consider to be amongst the noblest of South America.
The Tehuelches were generally taller than most Native Americas, the men were often taller than 1.80 m. The women were somewhat smaller, averaging 1.60 m, they were well formed and strong.
They were lightly tanned, with strong facial features which included a prominent chin, they had thin lips and long straight black hair that they parted in the middle and tied with a cloth known as a “huincha”, protecting their hair from the strong Patagonian winds. The women plaited their hair, which rested on their shoulders. They decorated the plaits with coloured ribbons and jewellery.
SOCIETY, HOMES AND CUSTOMS
They lived in family clans. They recognised the authority of the Chief who governed over the region where they lived. They lived in large tents made of between 50 and 60 animal skins, joined together to form a wigwam of 6 to 7 m in diameter, where they carried out family life.
They did not eat fish, even though they sometimes lived by the sea, however, they did eat shell fish, oysters and mussels. They were particularly fond of horse meat and saved it for important celebrations, eating it roasted or boiled. They drank the horse’s blood during a type of ritual which they believed gave them the vitality of the sacrificed horse.
They used several types of weapons, amongst them the most important ones being two balls connected by a chain (bolas) and spears. With the arrival of the Spanish, came horses, which helped make their work easier.
Horses bred in the wild areas of the Pampa and the TEHUELCHES learned how to tame them by using a system by which the horses were gently stroked until the trust of the animal was gained. This system has now been rediscovered.
RELIGION AND MYTHS
They believed in life after death, it is understood that they buried their dead by binding them up in a foetal position and burying them with personal effects they might need for their journey to the after life, including food, utensils and weapons. They would even kill the dead man’s dog, burying it together with the dead man.
They said that “the heavens are peopled by their purified ancestors, where pain, pity and exhaustion do not exist”.
Their Gods were cosmic spirits known as Gnechen. The spirit of evil was appeased by offering horses and other sacrifices of lesser value.
The Machis were shaman women who used herbal medicines and natural remedies as well as connecting with the spiritual world of the Gnechen and Gualichu.
They dressed mainly with skins of foxes and guanacos that were finely cut and prepared. The women used a tunic that covered their entire body, down to their ankles. Men had a robe and an animal skin tied to their waist that went down to their knees. They also used ponchos made of animal fur during the Patagonian winters.