Everyone was there: Frank Tressler, the Ambassador of Chile to Switzerland, as well as the Minister Counselor and the Consul of Chile in Switzerland, Natalia Nahmías, the UZH Vice President Research Elisabeth Stark, other official representatives of various embassies, the Chief of Staff of the Mayor of Zurich Suzanne Naef Thalmann, but also spontaneous VIPs such as National Councillor Fabian Molina, son of an activist who fled from Chile: the auditorium at the Museum was filled to capacity at the "Official Ceremony" on Tuesday, 29 August 2023. At the heart of the event were the Kawésqar delegates, representatives of an indigenous minority from Chile and currently our guests at the Ethnolographic Museum. A delegation led by Francisco González, President of the Pueblo Kawésqar Foundation, was already present in July. This opened up a dialogue with the local population in an exhibition and during workshops, talks and guided tours. Despite the holiday season, people from Zurich and far beyond spontaneously accepted the Kawésqar's invitation; the media reported in detail and in a differentiated manner.
What brings the descendants of former seafaring nomads from southern Chile to Zurich? The story began ingloriously and remained closely linked to the city and the University of Zurich: a group of eleven Kawésqar were kidnapped in Patagonia in the 1880s and taken to Europe. They had to present themselves in so-called "Völkerschauen" (human zoos) in European cities, at the end of the tour also in Zurich. Several of them died here of diseases and as a result of the hardships. Their human remains came into the possession of the University of Zurich – they were only restituted to their descendants in 2010.
The Kawésqar's goal for the current visit is not simply to review this inglorious history. The delegates wish to continue the relationship with Zurich by opening a positive new chapter of understanding – and if possible, they would like to make Zurich understand who they actually were in 1882: Seafaring nomads with their own culture, their own knowledge of the landscape and nature, their own perspectives on the world. This is also a vital part of their hopes for the future. The attentive atmosphere during the ceremony, the touching speeches in English and Spanish and the genuinely interested conversations over Chilean wine and snacks afterwards testified to a high appreciation for this initiative.
Until Sunday, 3 September 2023, there is still time to visit the exhibition "Ko Aswál – The Next Day" and talk to the Kawésqar delegation.
Ethnographic Museum UZH