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Funeral Rituals

Abuela centenaria Aonikenk

The Aonikenks believed that the old people were reincarnated into children. When a young person died, his or her soul wandered with no destiny, prisoner on earth, until completing the necessary time to grow old.

Due to this animist worldview, they buried their dead with personal objects, weapons and food. They believed that, to reach the other world, the dead would ride their mares, thus, upon their death, their animals were sacrificed.

The deceased person was introduce by their relatives into a quillango or guanaco cape, along with his or her silver objects and favorite weapons. It was then sealed, sewing the edges together. The person was buried in the fetal position, facing east and covered with heavy rocks.

The Aonikenk preferred to bury their dead far away from the community, on the hilltops or tchengue.

Initiation ceremonies II

Guanaco y cria. Pintura Rupestre Aonikenk

Each transition in the life cycle of the Aonikenk people was celebrated with a passage rite.

During gestation, to avoid sexual contact, the pregnant woman was separated from her husband: it was believed that semen enlarged the fetus, making labor more difficult. She then ate dry meat, avoiding liquids as much as possible. Her mother and grandmother assisted the woman in the birthing process.

The newborn was painted white, and then was named based on its physical features, place of birth, or a dead family member. At the age of four, children attended the Earring Ceremony; girls had both ears perforated and the boys had only one. A needle and horsehair were the instruments used for piercing.

At the end of the ritual a mare was sacrificed, while men danced the Ostrich Dance.

Initiation ceremonies I

Muchachos con sus capas de piel de guanaco

Virginity was valued, for which reason young women were taught not to have sexual relations before marriage.

The ceremony included the sacrifice of horses and dances. However, for these occasions, dogs were not fed with meat because it was considered a bad omen.

Before the beginning of the married life, the bride was initiated in the Pretty House ceremony.

Other common ritual practices included shedding blood to propiciate the spirits incarnated in nature. Another ceremony consisting in prayers to the new moon, and in dancing with their ancestral spirits in an emotional event that lasted long into the cold Patagonian night.

The Pretty House

Toldo Aonikek Grupo Aonikenk junto a su vivienda

The Pretty House was similar to the shelter of the Aonikenk, but instead of being covered with a guanaco skin it was decorated with new ponchos, cushions, ostrich feathers, rattles and bells with blue, red and yellow beads.

Inside they restricted the bride's food, limiting her fat consumption. Generally the maternal grandmother or grandfather accompanied her, educating and advising her in her new adult role. The bride learned the moral codes of her community and the daily activities, such as washing, cooking, weaving and caring for children.

The Ostrich Dance

Along with the rhythmic sound of drums, flutes, musical bows and Aonikenk songs, the Ostrich Dance began.

The men who participated in the ceremony came out in a line from under a tarp. With their bodies covered with animal skins and wearing ostrich feathers on their heads, they started walking around the fire, closing in until touching each other, and then backing up with movements that imitated the ostrich and guanaco.

Collective songs and shouts conjured up the powers and forces of evil. The rhythm of the dance rose until they were transformed into hunted animals, the men shedding their animal skins and showing off their strong painted bodies. They danced only with a belt made of ostrich feathers, seashells and bird beaks.