Tiny man-like creatures crop up as a common feature of almost all human cultures; the Patagonian natives were no exception to this rule and they also believed in tiny mannikins or dwarves; but these were not kind smiling fellows, they were fierce, lecherous, aggressive and even murderous elves.
In this post we will take a look at the Fuegian dwarf called Yosi (also spelt Yóshil, Joshil and even Joši).
The Selk’nam natives of Tierra del Fuego Island believed that it was a very dangerous creature.
Yosi lived deep inside the thickest woods, never leaving them. It was nimble and ran away when the natives shot arrows at it. It had a shrilly shout like that of a lion, and would throw stones or sticks at men to fend them off.
Mostly a loner, it sometimes appeared in groups of three or even four individuals, ready to cause trouble.
Lucas Bridges, whom we have already mentioned as the first “European” to be born and bred on the island, described Yosi as a “material spirit” implying that it was not ethereal but real. It was man-like and even had a wife and children, yet possessed a vicious nature:
He cuts and gathers straw and wood for a fire he can never light. He appears with most frequency to the lonely hunter who spends his night by the fire […] cases have been mentioned of lonely vagabonds that were found dead and mutilated by “Yosi”.
Bridges also noted its rapid disappearance in the early years of the XXth century when faced with the encroaching white men and vanishing Selk’nam natives:
For some unknown reason their number has decreased greatly in a few generations, and now there are rarely found, except of the most miserable and nearly impenetrable places.
He had an encounter with one while traveling with three natives; the group had camped in the forest when suddenly:
The creaking of the tiny branches in the frozen air convinced my companions that “Yosi” was out there somewhere. They seemed very nervous, and when irreflexively I made fun of their superstitions, one of them scolded me saying that “if I was alone and met a ‘Yosi’ sitting on the other side of the fire, I would not be such a braggart”.
At the turn of the XIXth century, the Salesian Order had built a mission in Tierra del Fuego and unsuccessfully tried to save the few remaining Selk’nam from white men’s alcohol and illnesses. In the process they learnt the native’s language and beliefs, recording their lore about Yosi. One of them, Argentine Salesian priest Manuel Jesús Molina (1905-1979), was convinced that Yosi was a real creature and not just a myth.
He held the unorthodox view that Yosi was a species of ape, which he named “Fuegian monkey”; he believed that they were still alive somewhere in southern Patagonia, having shared their habitat with the native Fuegians since their arrival at Tierra del Fuego twelve thousand years ago.
Molina described “Yóshil” (as he called it) as an “antropomorph monkey species, tail-less, with a lichen-like yellow-green color, about 80 cm (31 in.) tall […] bipedal”. He added that it carried a knotty stick or a stone and could be found during the day sitting on tree forks.
As proof of their existence, he mentions a place name close to Estancia Catalina, known as “Yohyaltal”, which in Haush language meant “Yosi forest”.
He made out depictions of these monkeys in the humanoid figures painted by the Paleo-Indians on the rocks of Gualichu cave at Lake Argentino (50°17’ S, 72°10’ W) and at the Cueva de las manos (Cave of Hands - 47°09’ S, 70°39’ W) by the Pinturas River. Among these paintings are some depicting four legged beings with a bulky body and long thin fingers -or sharp claws-; they are shown in different positions, perhaps to suggest nimbleness and quick ape-like movements.
Molina published a paper and gave it a scientific name: Fuegopithecus paakensis inspired on that of his Haush informant named “Pa:ka”. He also recorded Yosi’s particular behavior, and in agreement with Bridges noted that “these apes, imitating man, gathered dry wood, piling it up and sitting beside it, without setting it ablaze”.
This lack of fire building ability points at a creature that is definitively non-human and reinforces the “ape” hypothesis.
Another Salesian priest, Antonio Tonelli, who had lived with the Selk’nam at the Mission (1910), recorded a frightening encounter between a native youth named Čikiól and a (as he spells it) Joši who had been stalking him during his sleep until Čikiól awoke and saw it:
The Joši then threw a stick at him but missed and ran away. The Indian then arranged his guanaco skin blanket on the ground so as to simulate a sleeping man, and hid behind a tree trunk. The Joši returned and […] when he reached close to the guanaco skin, the Indian shot an arrow at it piercing its chest. The Joši dropped what it carried in its hand, screamed like a seal and dropped dead.
Unlike Molina father Tonelli did not believe that Yosi was as a real creature, he considered them murderous incorporeal spirits. He penned the Selk’nam’s description of Joši:
Joši Spirits have a face like an Indian […] they dress in guanaco or fox skins like Indians and hold sticks or stones in their hands. They are many bad ones because they try to kill men, and the Indians fear them a lot.
He too noted their gradual disappearance and offered the natives’ explanation “In ancient times there were many Joši, but recently there are many less because they fear gunshots”.
According to Tonelli a young native boy named Kaukokiól had told him that Yosi used to visit his tribe’s encampment near Lake Fagnano (54°36’ S, 67°16’ W) and that in the past there were also many Yosi in the region of Cape María, by the sea. However “the ancient Indians killed nearly all of them. Those now wandering through the forests by Lake Fagnano […] are the sons of the Joši of Cape María”. Suggesting that they moved away from the coast, inland to the secluded forests by Lake Fagnano (see our post on Fagnano’s lake creature Fañanito).
Their relative abundance at Cape María was also noted by Father Molina who added that in times of hunger “the ancient Aus [Haush] had to kill many Yoshil, the Fuegian monkey, to feed themselves”.
Continues tomorrow. See next post (Part 2) Here.
 Colombres, A., and Scafati, L., (2000). Seres mitológicos argentinos. B. Aires: Emecé. pp. 284.
 Keller, C., (1947). Dios en Tierra del Fuego; Mitos y cuentos de los Sélcnam. Santiago: Zig-Zag. pp. 79+
 Bridges, L., (2008). Op. Cit. pp. 398.
 Molina, M., (1976). Patagónica: Prehistoria, tradiciones y mitologías. Roma: Ed. LAS. pp. 193.
 Molina, M., (1973). El yóshil o mono fueguino. Karukinká. B. Aires. v.1:10-14.
 Molina, M., (1976). Ibid. pp. 43.
 Tonelli, A., (1926). Grammatica e Glossario della Lingua Degli Ona- Selknam della Terra Del Fuoco. Šelkám Čan K’ar-Mán. Torino: Societá Editrice Internazionale. Parte Seconda, Religione.
Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©