These photos depict Selknam men in the amazing costumes they used in male initiation ceremonies. In one ceremony young males were called to a dark hut. There they would be attacked by “spirits”. As children they were taught to fear these spirits and were threatened by them in case they misbehaved. Young men they still did not know that these spirits were not real, and they were to go to them and unmask them. After finding that they were actually human beings, they were then told a story of world creation and took part in further ceremonies showing their strength in front of women by theatrically fighting spirits (who the women did not know were other men). Each spirit had its typical actions, words and typical outside looks. Therefore Selk’nam were perhaps the only Amerindian nation to have a theater tradition.
The Selknam or Onas lived on the largest island of Tierra Del Fuego in the most southern regions of South America. They lived nomadically in these harsh conditions and despite the freezing cold the men hunted almost naked. The Spaniards showed up late in the 19th century and established large sheep farms, thus depriving the natives of their ancestral hunting areas. The Selknam confusing the sheep for wild game and with no understanding of land ownership hunted the cattle and in return were hunted themselves. From a population of 3000 in 1896 only 279 remained by 1919 and the last ethnic Selknam died in the mid 20th century.