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Published: January 13th 2013
Waking very early after my extremely long sleep I decided to do a bit of reading and have found out a bit about the area of South America I've flown into. The region is called Tierra del Fuego which translates as Land of Fire and the name was coined by the explorer Ferdinand Magellen who, when he arrived in 1520, saw smoke rising from camp fires along the shore. Land of Smoke evolved into the better sounding Land of Fire.
For years after this Tierra del Fuego was feared by sailors for its frequent storms and freezing rains and rounding Cape Horn became a sailor's vision of hell! When Darwin visited the region on the Beagle in the 1830s he said of the native people: I never saw such miserable creatures, stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint and quite naked. Their red skins filthy and greasy, their voices discordent, their gesticulation violent and without any dignity. Safe to say Darwin wasn't too impressed!
What followed over the ensuing 100 years is pretty appalling really. Both Chile and Argentina laid claim to the area after they realised its potential for sheep farming and what followed was mass genocide of the indigenous people, the Onas, the Haush, the Yaghans and the Alacalufes. Those who weren't gunned down died of European diseases that they had no immunity for. The culture and language of these four indigenous groups was therefore lost forever. So in their honour I will from now on refer to my wrinkles as 'mussels out of season', one of the Yaghan's many metaphores recorded by the Christian missionary Thomas Bridges - missionaries did SOME good things apart from inflicting their religion on the world then!
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