The struggle of the Yagan people to revive their language

By Iñaki Martínez Azpiroz|

Puerto Williams, Chile (BLAZETRENDS) .

In Villa Ukika, a town on the outskirts of the city of Puerto Williams, 3,600 kilometers south of Santiago, the Yagán community carefully keeps a huge map at its headquarters that shows the region with the place names used by their ancestors.

Each bay, each channel, each point of land that overlooks the sea bears his name, a reflection that the Yaganes -one of the nine indigenous peoples of Chile- have historically navigated between the dozens of islands that make up this land of winds, peaks snowfall and icy waters at the gates of Antarctica.

“With the arrival of people from the rest of Chile, the Yagan people became invisible. We grew up learning at school that our town was extinct,” David Alday told BLAZETRENDS, after introducing himself in Yagan and proudly showing the map.

“Little by little, seeing the grandmothers making indigenous crafts, you get the idea that you belong to something, but the language has been lost in our generations,” he lamented.

“Grandma Yagan”

The death in 2022 of Cristina Calderón, the last person who spoke the language fluently and known as “the yagán grandmother”, filled not only her town, but all of Puerto Williams with sadness.

His granddaughter, Cristina Zárraga, is leading the recovery of Yagan grammar and the creation of content for its learning both in the community and in the Puerta William school, which this year introduced the Yagan language subject for the first time as an elective for the students.

“I grew up far from Puerto Williams, but at 20 I began to spend long periods with my grandmother, because she asked me to write her life. I began to record everything she explained to me, and there I learned a lot about her orality, the language, the stories, and traditional medicine. There was a connection between the two,” Zárraga told BLAZETRENDS.

“The core of my work has been the knowledge of the grandmothers, the oral transfer of the last generation that spoke the language,” he added from Germany, where he lives.

Read Also:  English Language Learning and Environmental Recycling: Fun Ideas and Activities

“They called us Indians”

With nearly 2,000 inhabitants, most of whom are relatives of sailors, Puerto Williams developed from the 1960s as a naval enclave to reaffirm Chilean sovereignty over Cape Horn from Argentina, just three kilometers away on the other side of the channel. Beagle.

The naval culture “monopolized” life in Puerto Williams and the Yagan community, which numbers less than 1,700 people according to the latest census, recalls that they were stigmatized many times.

“Discrimination was total when I was little. They called us Indians, and no one wanted to practice the language as a family anymore,” explained Chinguay, 61.

Zárraga agrees: “The grandmothers stopped transmitting the yagán to protect the family. Yagan children suffered discrimination from the sailors or Chileans who came from abroad. They laughed at them.”

The language in the public space

Now, along with encouraging the learning of the language, the Yaghan community wants to promote its social use and take it out into the public space, renaming streets, bays, and canals.

“Making the vocabulary public not only makes our people visible, but also makes learning Yagan more natural for the new generations,” the president of the Yagan community, Luis Gómez, defended BLAZETRENDS.

In Villa Ukika, at the Yagán community headquarters, Alday and Chinguay review the map, riddled with ancestral names: the Beagle Channel is written “Onashaga”; Navarino Island, the largest of Cape Horn, “Wala”; and Puerto Williams, “Hupuswea”.

“Today you see the channels of this ancient archipelago and they are pure foreign names,” Chinguay lamented. It is a job that we are promoting, which will be very nice to see in the future if it goes ahead and we believe that we are going to achieve it ”.

Recent Articles

Related News

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here