Primary Source

Ona Family Group of Tierra del Fuego

  • photograph of Ona Family Group of Tierra del Fuego


Father Alberto Maria De Agostini, a missionary, took this postcard image on Isla Grande, Tierra del Fuego, on the southernmost tip of South America. The photograph, taken circa 1930, shows a man, woman, and two children walking through a clearing surrounded by thickets. The man and boy are carrying bows and arrows, and the younger child walks close to his or her mother, who is carrying bundles on a frame on her back. The family members wear robes made of guanaco hide, a South American animal similar to a llama. The woman and children are barefoot. The man wears shoes of fur-covered hide and a cone-shaped hat.

This family belongs to the Ona tribe, or Selk'nam, whose existence in the area near the Strait of Magellan can be traced back at least 9,000 years. The Ona, one of several distinct tribes in the region, lived as hunter-gatherers. Europeans have known of this group since Magellan named the land after their fires, which he saw burning on the coast. Charles Darwin described them in the journal of his voyage on the Beagle. Since then, missionaries have visited and lived among them, settlers have displaced and even hunted them, and anthropologists have attempted to study them to understand life in the Stone Age. Death from diseases brought a sharp drop in their population, which had numbered in the thousands. According to the last census of native populations in 1965, only 300 Onas remained. The last full-blooded Ona person died in 1995 in Argentina.

Father Alberto Maria De Agostini, Familia Ona de viage, 1930, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.


Annotated by Susan Douglass.

How to Cite This Source
Ona Family Group of Tierra del Fuego in World History Commons,