DER Documentary

Homage to the Yaghans: The Last Indians of Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn

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by Anne Chapman
color, 40 min, 1990
DVD contains both English and Spanish language versions

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Homage to the Yaghans was filmed with 16mm cameras in Tierra del Fuego and the Cape Horn area (Chile and Argentina) during the summer of 1987 and the winter of 1988. It was first presented in the United States at the New York Academy of Sciences in early 1990.

The video's purpose is twofold. The first is to achieve an understanding of certain episodes of western expansion, beginning in the early seventeenth century, which finally led to the extinction of the Yaghan people. The second is to gain an appreciation of the courage and fortitude of a people who had survived for thousands of years in one of the most inhospitable regions of the planet, but who had been judged by many Europeans as the most degraded human beings in the entire world.

Homage focuses on the personality and life of a Yaghan called "Jemmy Button" who was taken to England in 1831 by Captain Fitz-Roy and returned to his homeland two years later during Fitz-Roy's second expedition, in the company of Charles Darwin. Jemmy Button died in 1864, a victim of the first in a series of epidemics which decimated his people.

The video ends with scenes of the four women who still speak Yaghan (as well as Spanish) and who live on Navarino Island, on the south shore of Beagle Channel in Chile. One of the four Yaghan-speaking women vividly remembers witnessing the last enactment of the great initiation ceremony, the Chiexaus, held on Navarino Island circa 1932.

"A flagship testament for anthropology is Anne Chapman's profoundly moving and brilliant film on the destruction of one of the earth's most interesting cultures, the Yaghan of the antipodes. Working with broken remnants of these people and with documents and engravings of the period, including those of Darwin's prejudiced views, but above all with magnificent shots of the unfamiliar landscape of Tierra del Fuego, Anne Chapman has made a melancholy tone poem which sets forth the tragic crime of civilization - the destruction of human cultures on this planet. This film should arouse all humanists and especially anthropologists to go and do likewise." — Alan Lomax

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International Film and TV Festival of New York Finalist

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts