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The A贸nikenk

The A贸nikenk is one of the principal indigenous nations in Argentine and Chilean Patagonia. Originally they were a nomadic people, wandering the central Patagonian plains from Atlantic coast to Pacific, as far north as modern-day Chubut Province and south to the Magellan Strait. They are also called Tehuelche, coming from Mapudungen (the Mapuche language), meaning brave people. The A贸nikenks鈥 language, Aonek'o 'a'jen, is of the Tshonk linguistical group, which also includes Selk鈥檔am.

Guanaco was a major part of their diet, and provided skins for clothing, tents (toldas, kan) that could be broke down to travel and other necessities. They lived in small groups composed of several related families, headed by caciques who lead hunting parties and organized activities. Elders, who often lived to be 80 or 90 years, were highly esteemed for their worldly wisdom.

The A贸nikenks鈥 first contact with Europeans was when Magellan anchored in Bah铆a San Juli谩n in 1520. Their height (men reaching almost two meters / 6.5 ft) and their large footprint from the guanaco-fur moccasins they wore, earned them the name Patagonian Giants.

With the expansion of the Mapuche into their territory, the A贸nikenk assumed that language, weaving and some customs. In the 18th century, the nomadic nation adopted the horse, allowing them to roam and hunt faster. Disease and alcoholism took a heavy toll on the population. They were also hunted down like game in Roca鈥檚 Desert Campaign (called The Wars of Extermination by Argentine indigenous nations) and by European estancia owners.

According to the 2004-2005 indigenous census, fewer than 11,000 Argentines considered themselves to be A贸nikenk. In 1991, only two could speak Aonek'o 'a'jen. Another 18% were bilingual in Spanish and Mapundungen. The rest only speak Spanish. Many are mestizo or A贸nikenk-Mapuche. The majority of communities are in Santa Cruz and Chubut Provinces. Near Esquel is Nahuel Pan.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

04 Oct 2010

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