Chile: the last native speaker of the Yagán people died of covid

At the age of 93, the last Yagán speaker, Cristina Calderón, passed away

No one else will speak Yagan. This Wednesday morning, the death of Cristina Calderón, the last native speaker of the Yagán language, at the age of 93, was reported. “Grandma Cristina”, as she was also known, was an Illustrious Daughter of the Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica.

Cristina Calderón was born in 1928 on Isla Navarino, located in Tierra del Fuego, where he lived with his family maintaining the customs and beliefs of his Yagan ancestors, who inhabited the continent approximately six thousand years ago.

The Yagán people were recognized for their skills navigating the stormy channels of the extreme south of the country, where to protect themselves from the cold, they used wolf skins and fat to maintain temperature. In addition, its technique used for making reed baskets is recognized to this day, a technique that Calderón would maintain.

Cristina Calderón had been declared a Living Treasure of Humanity by the Chilean Government and UNESCO. She left behind seven children and 14 grandchildren, but none of them speak her language like she does. One of her daughters, Lidia González Calderón, is one of the indigenous legislators who are currently drafting the new Chilean Constitution.

“My mother, Cristina Calderón, has passed away at the age of 93. I have a deep sorrow for not being with her at the time of leaving. This is sad news for the Yagan. Everything I do in the job that I’m in, it will be in your name. And in it, your people will also be reflected ”wrote her daughter Lidia González, who officiates as deputy vice president of the Constitutional Convention, through her social networks.

The conventional Lidia González, communicated the death of her mother Cristina Calderón
The conventional Lidia González, communicated the death of her mother Cristina Calderón

Until her last years, Calderón was committed to preserving and transmitting everything related to the Yagán culture. Thus, together with her granddaughter, Cristina Zárraga, she created a dictionary from Yámana to Spanish, accompanied by playful images of animals and a CD where the repetition of words in this native language such as wind, dog or soul is heard. In addition, together they published a book of original legends and stories called Hai Kur Mamašu Shis (I want to tell you a story).

When my sister Úrsula passed away, I was left alone, with no one to talk to,” Cristina Calderón said in 2016, in an extensive report published by THE COUNTRY. “I learned Spanish when I was nine years old. The father of a niece was a gringo, and they taught me little, ”she recalled in her house in Villa Ukika, in Puerto Williams, with a view of the Beagle Channel. “So everyone spoke Yagán, but later they began to die, and I was left alone. the buses [niños] they did not want to learn. They were ashamed. White people laughed at them.” The Yagan had 32,400 words, an enormous amount when compared to the 5,000 words that any of us usually handles.

Before the announcement of the daughter, several of her peers in the constituent body, sent their condolences to Lidia González through the same medium, lamenting the loss of the last Yagán who lived very closely the customs of her people, in Villa Ukika from Puerto Williams.

The conventional Jorge Baradit, sent all his love to González and his family. “Today Elisa said goodbye to her with some beautiful words in Mapudungun in our commission and we had a very heartfelt minute of silence,” he said in his retweet.

Similarly, the constituent elected by the Mapuche people, Rosa Catrileo, joined, commenting that “today is also a sad day for those of us who are part of the indigenous peoples, your mother will continue to be a symbol of cultural resistance forever.”

For her part, Beatriz Sánchez sent her condolences: “Dearest Lidia, a huge hug for you. And what you say is true, in your work for a multinational, intercultural and multilingual state; you continue working with the memory of your mother. Much love to you and your whole family.”


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