Cartographies are representations of discursive realities. As a discipline, it was professionalized at the beginning of the 19th century with the aim of knowing territories scientifically and against handicraft cartography (Wood, 2010). More recently, critical cartography aims to uncover the hidden powers that maps represent. In this line, the use of beavers as a symbol for affirming white settler colonialism in North America has been analyzed by Shukin (2009, 3). For her, the beaver used to represent the history of Canada during the 1970s is a “fetishized sign” of the Canadian nation, one that has become naturalized to condense fur colonial trade and a postcolonial unitarian national identity. By appealing to the “indigeneity” and “naturalness” of beavers, the symbolic animal helped asserting whiteness by producing a history of symmetrical relationships among traders, indigenous people, and animals. Through this metaphor, the beaver as symbol used in journals and coins contributed to the negation of the violent history involved in these encounters.
In Argentina, the introduction of beavers in 1946 occurred at a time when previous cartographies were used to assert national sovereignty. Since the 16th century, European colonial expansion in seek of commercial goods and, later, conquest, promoted the aspiration to remove the white spots from maps, those that were not previously represented (Giucci 2014, 83). Hence, traders supported by European kingdoms not only exchanged goods with indigenous populations but also collected species and minerals while naming and mapping the world. Despite the early European incursions in Tierra del Fuego, the lack of appropriate technologies for Europeans to navigate its channels and settle made the trips for trade, discovery, and evangelization full of failures and disasters until the end of the 18th century. It was with the British empire during the 19th century that Europeans were finally able to manage the territory for their interests, a drive of imperialism pursued through knowing the territory, as the trips of Fitz Roy and Darwin made in the Beagle ship. And although some studies show the productions of cartography made by missionaries during the 17th and 18th centuries (de Lasa and Luiz 2011), until 1840, Patagonian cartographies were represented as an huge emptiness (Harambour 2017, 562).
During the 1940s, a special sort of state-supported cartography exploded, the symbolic map. And this has been studied as a fascination by the government towards maps and cartography as a tool for industrialization and organization of the nation. In the 1940s, maps are used to “make the body of the New Argentina” by showing its richness and the project of distribution (Soria 2010, 39). At that time, there is an “excess of symbolization” by which everything is placed in images in the project of reinventing a nation that dreams with eliminating colonial times.
Last November I visited the Harberton settler-farm, the first Fuegian estancia that was builtwhen the Anglican Thomas Bridges received a donation from the Argentinian president Julio A. Roca in 1886: a present for Bridges work in evangelizing and supporting Argentinian national interests. Harberton is no more a farm for sheep work but rather a touristic field. In their cafe where one can drink English tea, they have very well curated family archives, pictures, and maps. Among them, I ran into a map which was marked and dated with a pen dating it from 1974. It produced a Tierra del Fuego filled with iconic species, mountains, and activities. Among them, a beaver marks the area near Fagnano Lake: an ecosystem disturbed by the beavers who “are a pest for horse riders and farmers.”