History of Ushuaia

Two groups of indigenous people lived in this attractive region of Argentina: the Onas or Selk’nam and Yamanes or Yáganes.

The Selk’nam were mainly hunter-gatherers. There were two distinct groups: the northern Selk’nam who hunted guanaco and coruro while those form the south only guanaco.

Both used bows and arrows and dogs to help them pursue their prey. When bird hunting (a less common practice), they used loop traps or clubs. They also harpooned mollusks which they used as bait for fish and sea lions.

Women were responsible for gathering edible plants, weaving baskets, looking after children and tending their tents. They also organized the frequent moves of these nomadic people.

In 1580, a Spanish expedition to the Strait of Magellan led by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa ended in an armed confrontation with the Selk’nam when one of their group was captured. It was the beginning of a complex relationship between indigenous people and Europeans until colonization practically exterminated them. In 1881, their number amounted to 2500.

On the other hand, the yamanas or yáganes occupied both shores of the Beagle Channel up to Cape Horn. Inhabiting a maritime area, sea lions were their main sustenance.

This territory, also colonized in the nineteenth century, was visited by HMS Beagle, a brig after which the channel was named. They were probably the first to make contact with the yamana people. Further expeditions resulted in armed conflicts and massacres of sea lions seriously upsetting their lifestyle.

The discovery of gold in Selk’nam territory caused deaths and serious confrontations made worse by the fact that white miners kidnapped indigenous women.

In 1872, a year after the Anglican mission was established, the first white child was born in Ushuaia. However, the founding of the city was 12 October, to commemorate the arrival of Commodore Augusto Laserre, commander of the expeditionary division of the Argentinian Navy to the South Atlantic and the hoisting of the sub-prefecture flag.

On 27th of June, 1885 by presidential decree, Ushuaia became capital and seat of the Government of Tierra del Fuego. Despite great progress in the area, people found it hard to settle permanently mainly because of the great distances. In an attempt to solve this situation the national government decided to set up a prison whose workshops produced the basic needs of the population from 1911 when it opened, until 1974 when it closed. Admiral Berisso Naval Base was located there later.

The population rose sharply at the beginning of the twentieth century with the arrival of immigrants. However, it was the Industrial Promotion law and opportunities of employment which attracted large numbers from other provinces during the 1970s. Many families moved to Ushuaia and made it their permanent home and a city of perpetual change as it remains to this day.

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