Witnessing the transformation of Jemmy Button – Orundellico – young Darwin began forming his famous theory that later led to the Origin of the Species.
"I was surprised to see that the difference between wild and civilized man was so great: it is greater than the difference between a wild animal and a domesticated one, because in man there is a greater capacity for improvement", he wrote.
When Jemmy Button came back from England, his hair cropped short, wearing an Englishman's clothes and polished shoes, his Selk’nam relatives did not recognize him at first. To Darwin, this meant low intellect. “The meeting was less interesting than that of a horse, loose in a field, when he meets an old comrade”, Darwin commented.
Observing the life of the Selk’nam, Darwin concluded that they were “savage barbarians” and considered them significantly lower beings than himself, the Western man. Although the Selk’nam language contained over 32,000 words and a syntax more complex than the Greek (the Selk’nam had five different words for “snow” and over fifty different words to describe family relationships), to Darwin, their tongue seemed inferior. “The screams of domestic animals were much more understandable”, - he wrote.
Before leaving Tierra de Fuego, Darwin was convinced that the Selk’nam and the Yahgan likely represented the missing link between apes and humans.
“These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant and their gestures violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is a common subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the lower animals can enjoy: how much more reasonably the same question may be asked of these barbarians! At night … [they] sleep on the wet ground coiled up like animals”.