On Fire Island

Fire Island blog

On Fire Island (A5 ink on sketchbook page 2015)

What are these fellows up to? The last men standing after a boisterous stag night in Dublin? Acrobats in some ill-judged nudist circus?

Far from it. These are Selk’nam people of Tierra del Fuego, or Fire Island, drawn from a photograph taken by Austrian priest and anthropologist, Martin Gusinde, in the 1920s. A nomadic people who survived for over 11,000 years, they were no match for the European settlers who helped themselves to their land in the 19th century. Fairly soon they were being hunted down for bounty until their numbers dwindled to the low hundreds, the last full-blooded Selk’nam dying in 1974.

Martin was a keen photographer and recorded their – to our eyes – strange initiation ceremonies in a series of evocative images. He also recorded their songs and made an attempt to document their language and belief systems.

These two lads are ready for the initiation rituals, sporting some interesting headgear, oblivious not only to Martin and his camera, but also to the climate. That far south, you’d want warm sweaters and a sturdy pair of trousers rather than a thin layer of body paint. I would, anyway.

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