The research seeks to account for the transformation processes on navigation modes in the area, linking the evolution of extractivist fishing activity as the main agent of change.

In order to understand a practice that has historically articulated social life in Cape Horn, researchers Gustavo Blanco and Macarena Libuy, from the Center for Dynamic Research in High Latitude Marine Ecosystems (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh), recently published in the Chilean Journal of Anthropology the study “On board of pangas, chatas y chalupas: navigations that re-create Cape Horn”.

The study, based on ethnographic field work, complemented by remote interviews and documentary review, seeks to reveal the modes of navigation from a socio-material ecological perspective that allows recreating the social life of Cape Horn and some of the transformations that take place. produced after the introduction of the crab industry from the 1970s to this day.

In this sense, both researchers emphasize that seeing navigation as a historical practice in the area is a key element in understanding how the social fabric is constituted from it, understanding that it is an identity element of the Yagans who inhabited the area in the past and who continue to live in Cape Horn.

“For this particular study, we set out to find out about the existing navigation modes in Cape Horn and some of its transformations related to the introduction of the crab industry, from the 1970s to the present. Looking at the forms of navigation into the past allows us to know the processes of change that the southern communities have experienced and understand some aspects of the present,” explains Macarena Libuy.

“Navigation as a subject of study interests us as it is a practice that has historically articulated social life in Cape Horn, being central to the different human groups that have transited and inhabited this archipelago, since in its evolution it has been connecting them with the environment nature, defining their productive activities, social relations, cultural identities, etc. For the current populations, especially for the Yagans of Cape Horn, recognizing and revitalizing their past as canoeing people and recovering navigation as an ancestral practice is one of their main demands today,” adds Gustavo Blanco.

Dealing with the past to understand the present

From the disciplines of archeology and ethnohistory, the Yagans —the first human groups to inhabit the area— developed complex and specialized systems to cope with and adapt to difficult climatic conditions. Surrounded by channels, fjords and islands where they were excellent fishermen, as well as hunters and gatherers of different resources, mainly marine.

Due to the geographical characteristics and the type of fauna present in this archipelago, fishing activity has continued to be essential, although it has undergone a series of changes in its history, in terms of the species extracted, exploitation scales and markets, among other factors.

In this sense, they highlight that the study allowed us to account for various transformation processes on the modes of navigation —and therefore on social life in general— that have occurred after the introduction of the crab industry and in parallel with other processes and agents of socio-environmental change.

“We can affirm that although in the recent past the fishing and gathering activities were managed by the local population and based on the capture of a diversity of resources, today it is concentrated in the intensive extraction of king crab and false southern king crab for export, which although it generates important monetary resources for those who exercise it, it produces dependency on a resource, with the risks that this implies in terms of sustainability,” says Macarena Libuy.

“Problematizing these transformations and highlighting the importance they have for the local population, allows us to reassess the effects of certain modernizing processes (such as the insertion of extractive activities, among others) in the territories and maritime areas, and to rethink or re-create possibilities, tracking in history and life experiences, regarding ways of navigating and inhabiting that are socio-environmentally sustainable and felt by its local population,” concludes Gustavo Blanco.

To review the complete study, you can access the Chilean Journal of Anthropology by clicking here.