SANTIAGO (Reuters Life!) - The remains of five members from the nomadic Kawesqar tribe were returned to Chile on Tuesday more than a 100 years after they were kidnapped to be exhibited at European fairs.
The sea-faring Kawesqar tribesmen from southern Chile were once famed for braving the icy cold waters of Patagonia with just a sea lion pelt on their backs and their skin smothered in grease and fat.
But in 1881 a group of 11 tribal members were kidnapped by European traders who took them from South America to the “Old World” to be put on show as curiosities in circuses and fairs in France, Germany and Switzerland.
On Tuesday, the remains of five of these people were returned to Chile from Switzerland with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet receiving representatives from Chile’s various indigenous communities carrying the remains in caskets.
“We want to be returned because there are more of our people left outside and we are hoping for the support of the government ... to be able to bring back the rest of the people,” said Kawesqar descendent Haydee Aguilera.
The remains were discovered in 2008 at the University of Zurich by filmmakers of the documentary “Calafate, zoologicos humanos,” which is translated as “Calafate, human zoos.”
Bachelet said the episode was a dark page in Chile’s history.
“Reading the history of these indigenous families from southern Chile, whose remains we are receiving today, there is no doubt that this was an act of barbarity,” Bachelet said.
“The kidnapping at the end of the 19th-century of indigenous families from the southernmost part of the country, to be taken to Europe to be exhibited in human zoos or international fairs is really a dark page in our history.”
The bodies will be given a traditional burial in what could be one of the last ceremonial burials of the Kawesqar people.
There are only an estimated 12 to 20 pure-blooded members of the tribe left after outbreaks of respiratory illnesses through contact with Europeans devastated the group in the 19th century and again in the 1940s.
Reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith