If you want to know Patagonia in depth, you can't forego its culture and history.
Learning how life was and is in this wild corner of the world will make your trip an experience second to none.
How did its first inhabitants live by? What’s the history of its colonization? What traditions persist until today?
Here are 3 facts about the cultural heritage Patagonia that you must learn before getting there:
1. Indigenous peoples of Patagonia
Given the wild and inhospitable climate of Patagonia, the lifestyle of its aboriginal peoples raises interest.
Between Chiloé and Cape Horn lived several groups of indigenous peoples rich in culture, which gradually disappeared during the 19th century due to the impact of Western civilization.
The natives that inhabited this area can be divided into two broad groups, mainly based on their location and features.
Between the archipelagos and channels there lived small groups of hunter-gatherers who traveled on canoes in search of food.
Their food sources were mainly sea lions, birds, fish and seafood. They spent their daily lives mostly in the water, surrounded by dense vegetation and heavy rain.
This group includes the Chonos, located on the islands between the archipelago of Chiloe and the Taitao peninsula; the Kawéskar, between the Penas gulf and the Strait of Magellan; and the Yaganes, between the islands south of Tierra del Fuego.
Meanwhile, in the extensive plains between the Strait of Magallanes and Tierra del Fuego lived indigenous people “twice as high as any man, robust and with large feet,” as Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan first described them in the 1520s. In fact, the term Patagon comes from the fabled feet size of these natives.
Between the Santa Cruz River and the Strait of Magellan lived the Aónikenk, who lived of hunting of guanacos and ñandúes. However, the introduction of Western customs altered their way of life.
Then, in the plains of Tierra del Fuego lived the Selk’nam or Onas, known for their rich culture and rituals.
Although they had a simple social organization, their religious beliefs ran deep, and their rites were very elaborate. Traits by which this indigenous group still draws the attention of the Western world.
The Selk’nam, for example, had an exceptional resistance to cold. In fact, they only wore furs as clothing. They are also recognized by the body paintings they used in rituals; by mixing guanaco grease with clay.
If you want to learn more about the culture and traditions of the first peoples of Patagonia, make sure to visit the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum in the town of Puerto Williams, the Municipal Historical Museum in the city of Puerto Natales, or the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum in the city of Punta Arenas.
2. The Chilean gaucho
It is said that the gaucho, a skillful horseman dedicated mainly to raising livestock, is characteristic of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. However, records of the Chilean gaucho in the Magallanes Region date back to the end of the 19th century.
In Chilean Patagonia, the Andes mountain range is not an impediment for the transference of cultural influences between one country and the other. Therefore, the Chilean gaucho is a fusion between the indigenous people living in the area and the Argentinean gauchos.
Indeed, in this southernmost region, the relationship with the Argentinean gaucho was stronger and closer than with the Chilean “huaso” or countryman, characteristic of the central zone of Chile.
The settlement of Chilean Patagonia was led mainly by inhabitants of the island of Chiloé, who were more used to develop the local resources. Also, this area has a significant livestock potential, so settlers from Chiloé used to work in Argentinean ranches or estancias. Thus, they developed their own equestrian customs and conditions.
Regardless of nationality, a typical gaucho wears leather boots, a neck scarf, a clock or poncho with geometric designs, and boleadoras or a hunting weapon, which is legacy of the Aónikenk. They are also known for their somewhat uncouth personality although they are very hospitable.
Another gaucho custom is drinking mate, an herb infusion served in small containers with a metal bulb. Drinking mate is a real ritual, with strict rules. For example, only one person is responsible for preparing the mate for the entire group; the flask is passed just to the right; and, if someone gives thanks, it means it doesn’t want more.
Food is an essential part of the Patagonian culture. A classic preparation is the lamb roast on a stick. It is also a tradition in the south of Argentina that was integrated into the customs of Chilean Patagonia.
Climatic and geographical conditions in this area help breeding lambs of superior quality, with the meat of tender texture and delicious taste.
The cooking is usually outdoors, takes several hours, and using salt as the only seasoning. Besides being a signature dish, the Roast Lamb on a Stick is an excellent opportunity to share a lovely time with family and friends; at the usual slow pace characteristic of the south of Chile.
These are just some of the things that you must know of the Patagonian culture. Through its flavors, traditions, and peoples, you will be able to recreate the history of one of the wildest places in the world.
If you travel to Chilean Patagonia, make sure to learn about their fascinating culture and heritage while you enjoy its breathtaking landscapes.