The natives there, then numbering about 7,000, have since died out, but because of their very simple way of life, Darwin and others believed they were far less evolved than European man. He is quoted as writing: ‘the difference between a Tierra del Fuegian and a European is greater than between a Tierra del Fuegian and a beast.’1
Darwin actually spent some time trying to talk with three such natives, and concluded that their language was so ‘primitive’ that it had only about a hundred sounds.
However, after the 1920s, missionaries began to live among them. They found them to have a high standard of morality, believed in (and prayed to) a Supreme Creator Being and were generally kind and sociable, with respect for family life. Eventually a partial list of words in their language was compiled which ran to more than 32,000 words. They had a rich and complex grammar and vocabulary.
Concerning all this, the author of a 1984 book, from which this item has been taken, concluded:
‘They were true men as much as he [Darwin] was, with full intellectual faculties and spiritual qualities that they did not show to casual passers-by. If Darwin could misjudge a living ‘specimen’ with whom he could communicate, what trammels are there to restrain the speculation of an ardent evolutionist (and his artist associate) over a few broken bones?’2
- Quoted in: V. Barclay, Darwin is not for Children, Herbert Jenkins, 1950.
- Michael Pitman, Adam and Evolution, Hutchinson, 1984, p. 241.