Cristina Calderon, 91, is the last person to speak the millennia-old ancestral Yamana language of the indigenous Yagan community that has long inhabited the remote tip of South America.

The last woman from a tribe called Yagan and speaker of this language, Cristina Calderon, 91, speaks during an interview with Reuters at her house in Ukika village, Puerto Williams, Chile, May 17, 2019.
The last woman from a tribe called Yagan and speaker of this language, Cristina Calderon, 91, speaks during an interview with Reuters at her house in Ukika village, Puerto Williams, Chile, May 17, 2019. (Jorge Vega / Reuters)

Sitting in the warmth of a wood fire in her home in Chile’s deep south, Cristina Calderon sometimes wishes she had more people to speak to in her mother tongue as she weaves woollen socks to sell at the local market.

Calderon, 91, is the last person to speak the millennia-old ancestral Yamana language of the indigenous Yagan community that has long inhabited the remote tip of South America, areas which are now parts of Argentina and Chile.

"There used to be many Yaganes, my dad and mom were Yagan, so when they were born, they always spoke the Yagan language and that's how I was growing up," says Calderon, who did not learn Spanish until she was nine years old.

Passing it to progeny

Surrounded by photos of her family with the distinctive features of the nomadic tribe, Calderon lives in a small house in Villa Ukika, a town created by the Yagan on the outskirts of the larger Chilean settlement Puerto Williams.

Calderon recalls with nostalgia the last person with whom she could converse in Yamana, her late sister, and is excited about the interest one of her daughters has shown in the language.

"She may learn to speak it," Calderon said with a smile.

While some dozens of Yagan people still remain, Calderon said that over the generations, they had stopped learning the language. Sometimes, she herself worries about words slipping away.

"I forget things sometimes," Calderon told Reuters. "But after thinking it through, they come back to me."

Source: Reuters