Mayborn Museum Home Page Baylor University
Events Exhibits Visit Museum Store Education Volunteer Membership Media Museletter Archive

Mayborn Museum Complex
Fax: 254.710.1173
Mailing Address:
One Bear Place # 97154
Waco, TX 76798-7154
Physical Address:
1300 S. University Parks
Waco, TX 76706-1221

Suggestion Box

Baylor > Home > Exhibits > Archive Exhibits >  Feathered Treasures: Ceremonial Objects of the Amazon >  Audio Cell Tour Transciption

Audio Cell Tour Transcription

Introduction to Amazon Area

Map of Amazon basin

The Amazon basin encompasses approximately 2,500,000 square miles, an area as large as the entire United States. Here, in a land of criss-crossing rivers, we find a wide variety of rain forest and savannah ecosystems. The basin is dissected east to west by the Amazon River, which contains more water than any other river in the world. Approximately 25 percent of the world's sweet water goes through the Amazon River.

The basin contains an immense number of plants, mammals, birds, and insects. It is estimated that there may be between 5 million and 50 million species of life in the Amazon basin. The rainforest is the most important part of the Amazon Basin and is in danger of destruction due to logging and mining activities. Efforts are being made by various groups to control these harmful activities.

The Amazon basin is occupied by a number of tribes indigenous to the region. It is estimated that upon the discovery of the first tribes in 1501 by Vicente Pinzon, a navigator for Columbus, there were 500 separate tribes living in the basin. The number has declined over the years, and today there are about 200 tribes in the region, of which 50 to 75 still practice their original culture. These tribes occupy areas in Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia that have been set aside for them by the respective governments. This is similar to the Indian Reservations set aside for Native Americans in the United States. Logging and mining activities are strictly forbidden in these lands, and tribes are free to practice their religion, culture, and beliefs. Other tribes have become acculturated and mixed with the general population and are no longer counted as a distinct cultural entity.

Overview of Cultures

There are many tribes that practice their culture and are still living in the state they were in hundreds of years ago. They usually make their living out of hunting and the utilization of slash and burn agricultural techniques for the production of vegetables. There is a clear distinction in the amount of labor that they do. Some labor, such as the raising of children and the tending of garden plots, is assigned to women only. Various fruits and vegetables are grown in the garden plots, such as yams, beans, peppers, and bananas. The men's time is usually occupied by hunting and supplying the protein that is necessary to survive. The men are also responsible for building tribal huts and carrying on tribal culture.

Overview of Beliefs

Many tribes believe that animate and inanimate objects have a spirit. Spirits occupy the basic system of beliefs. When a spirit occupies its natural habitat, such as a lake spirit occupying a lake or a tree spirit occupying a tree, everything is in equilibrium. However, when the spirit moves from where it is supposed to be and occupies the body of a human being, he or she becomes sick. At this time, a shaman will attempt to move the spirit away from the sick person and back to its natural setting and the process will cure the ailment of that person.

Introduction - Culture

Those tribes which practice their culture and are still in a state that they were hundreds of years ago and who make their living usually out of hunting and the slash/burning plots that produce the vegetables. There is a clear distinction in the amount of labor that they do. Some labor is assigned to women only – that includes the raising of the children and also taking care of the garden plots in which they grow various vegetables and fruits such as yams and the beans and peppers and fruits that include bananas and other tropical fruits. The men are usually occupied by hunting and supplying the protein that is necessary to survive. The men are also responsible for building the tribal huts and carrying on the tribal culture.

Introductions - Beliefs

The tribes believe that most objects, inanimate and animate objects such as animals and birds and trees have a spirit. Spirits occupy the basic system of beliefs. When a spirit occupies its natural habitat, such as a lake spirit occupies a lake, and a tree spirit occupies a tree, everything is in equilibrium. It is only when the spirit moves away from where it is supposed to be and occupies the body of a human being, the human becomes sick or ill. And at that time enters the shaman who will try to move the spirit away from the sick person to its natural setting and the process will cure the ailment of that person.

Introduction - Rituals

The cultural entity of Amazonian tribes consists of the performance of four basic rituals.

The first one is the ritual of name-giving ceremonies that can happen anywhere when the child is about 6 months old to the time they become adolescents. The ritual always involves some form of pain, whether it is the piercing of an ear or the piercing of a lip, and also the creation of special material culture such as headdresses or body armaments.

The second ritual, most common ritual, is the ritual of initiation into adulthood, where a child goes through the ritual and becomes an adult, and is given the instructions by an adult, as what is expected of the particular child. And again, special headdresses and body ornaments are made for that particular ritual.

The third one is a ritual of healing and curing diseases that is performed by a shaman who occupies a very high position in the tribe. Most rituals of healing are done through the blowing of smoke on the body of the person who is sick. And they believe that by blowing the smoke the spirit that occupied the body that doesn't belong there will be blown away to the place where it belongs.

And the fourth, most important, ritual is the ritual for celebrating the dead, their memory and the events very important in the deceased life.

Introduction - Villages

Most tribal people live in small villages consisting of 50 to 150 people. Those villages are located very close to rivers which provide the mode of transportation, food, canoes and it also give the opportunity to villages or tribes to visit other tribes. The villages are constructed usually of several huts built around a central plaza. The plaza is a place where most rituals take place and is also a communal gathering for the village people. Also in the plaza you will find a hut that is called a men's hut where all the men of the village will meet and discuss various subjects but also to tell stories about hunting expeditions and such.

Overview of objects

This exhibition consists of 170 objects representing many rituals. Some of them include feathers and some do not. Just as a point of interest, most tribes raise birds as pets that roam free in the village. Parrots and Macaws molt once or twice a year, and the feathers are collected and put into special containers or baskets. When they are needed, the feathers are taken and made into head dress or body ornaments. On occasion, when there are not enough feathers, the birds will be plucked. The birds will complain a little bit, but it is a fair exchange for the free food they receive.

Ka'apor neck ornaments

Ka apor Neck Ornament Pic The Uu Ka'apor tribe which is located in the eastern part of Brazil and relatively close to the Atlantic Ocean is known throughout the Amazon as one of the best makers of featherworks. Their featherworks are extremely delicate and divided into categories - the ones that only worn by men and the ones that are only worn by women. Those featherworks are made for one specific ceremony and that is the name giving ceremony for infants that is about 6 months old. The men have a special neck ornament with the bone of a raptor, either an eagle or hawk...It is considered sacred and the bone can be also be used as a whistle. Men also have a specific headdress that is worn as a visor and it is very highly prized by the men of the tribe. Women are wearing a very beautiful neck ornament that has the shape of a beetle and also women will wear a specific kind of beaded waistband. There are some ornaments in the tribe that are worn both men and women such as wrist ornaments and ear ornaments. Women also wear beautiful feather decorated combs, and they carry baby slings that are decorated with feathers and made of cotton.

Karaja ceramic figures

Karaja figurines The Karaj  tribe lives in an area that is enclosed by 2 rivers – it's basically an island - the Ilhe de Bananal. They are known for making ceramic figurines that depict different cultural aspects of the village such as hunting or women giving birth or people riding in a canoe or a sculptural form of their ceremony. They also have very beautiful conical headdresses that are covered with the breast feathers of the scarlet macaw and the tail feathers of the scarlet macaw. The red color of feathers symbolizes life in the heat of the sun which gives life and strength to people.

Karaja laheto

Karaja Laheto Headdress For initiation ceremonies, a special headdress is made call a laheto and it consists of a large circle of spikes that fall like an umbrella that the young initiate will ware. You will find that most headdresses in the Amazon basin will have the red feathers of the scarlet Macaw on the top because the sun is the closest to those feathers that also symbolize blood and the power of life. The Karaj  tribe lives very close to the river, and they use feathers of wading birds such as herons, ibises, and storks.

The Karaj  tribe lives in an area that is enclosed between two rivers; basically an island, the Ilhe de Bananal, and they are known for making ceramic figurines showing cultural aspects of the village such as hunting or women giving birth or people riding in a canoe or a sculptural form of a ceremony. They also have very beautiful conical headdresses that are covered with the breast feathers and tail feathers of the scarlet macaw. The red color of the feathers symbolizes life in the heat of the sun that gives life and strength to people.

Tapirape Upe mask

Tapirapé Upé Mask The Tapirapé tribe lives very close to the Karaj  tribe. The Tapirapé almost became extinct in 1940 when only about 30-40 people survived. They used to be very powerful warriors and they raided the Karaj  in previous centuries. Whenever they killed a Karaj  warrior they created a beautiful semi circular mask called a Upe which represents a face of the enemy that they killed and also the mask represents the spirit of the enemy that they killed. But since the 1940's when peace was made between the 2 tribes, the Tapirapé Upe mask serves as a memorial to the dead Tapirapé people instead of the Karaj  people.

Tapirape topu

Tapirapé Topu The Tapirapé also produce wonderful wax figurines that are decorated with a headdress and also arm ornament. The particular wax figurine is called a Topu. And it is the messenger between the thunder and the shaman. They are considered very playful messengers of spirits that float through the forest on a canoe. And they are the cause of little annoying maladies. Basically, they are very much like the gremlins. They don't produce big maladies, but only annoying small maladies. They are made out of beeswax. Some of them are made out of white beeswax, but most of them are made out of black beeswax.

Tapirape headdress

Tapirapé Headdress The Tapirapé also make a very complicated headdress that is worn horizontally on the head. This headdress is considered very powerful and the only people who can wear the headdress are the people who are trying to become a shaman or the shaman apprentices. The headdress is so powerful that many times the wearer of the headdress becomes paralyzed and almost catatonic. And only when they can go through a ceremony of becoming a shaman and wear the headdress through the entire ceremony they will be eligible to become a shaman. The headdress usually has a bamboo flame and the feathers in it are either from the tail feathers of a blue-and-gold macaw or the feathers of the scarlet or military macaw.

Karaja stool

Karaj  Stool In Amazonian culture two people occupy the most important position of the tribe. They will be the shaman, who will have the knowledge of medicinal plants and will conduct healing ceremonies, and the chief, who will probably be the most experienced hunter of the tribe and probably an elder of the tribe. The stool symbolizes the position that those two people hold in the tribe. This particular stool has the heads of two birds carved in it and the iconography that represents fish in the water. Sitting on the stool elevates the shaman or the chief from the rest of the people of the tribe and indicates an important position within the tribe.


Iwata Body Costume The largest full body costume in the Amazon is the Iwata and it is made by the Kamayur . This full body costume and mask weigh close to 100 pounds when worn. It is constructed specifically for the healing ritual of a sick person who is of high standing. The family of the afflicted person will commission the shaman to produce two of the body costumes masks. The body costumes are worn by two shamans who will dance from sundown to sunup, nonstop, in order to conduct the ritual of healing. The mask represents the spirits of fish and usually because the illness of the person is caused by the spirit of the lake, which the Kamayur  live near, and the lake is called Lake Uv t. The shaman will attempt to lure the spirit of the lake back from the afflicted person into the lake. When this is successful the person will recover. The ceremony is always conducted with 2 of the body costumes being danced together at the same time. After the ceremony the costume is discarded and left to rot in the rainforest, as are many of the costumes are built or made for different ceremonies are usually discarded after the ceremony and left to rot.

Kayapo costumes

Kayapó Costumes The Kayapó people who are divided into several subtribes have various rituals and the most important one is the name giving ritual. During that ritual they wear different costumes. There are two basic types of costumes. One represents the spirit of monkeys which are very important source of food. The other costume represents the spirit of the anteater. The tribe people recognize that the ants are one of the most important creatures in the rainforest, because they break down the leaves that fall down from the trees. By breaking down the leaves they provide the nutrients for the trees and the trees will grow and provide food and shelter for animals and for the tribes people.

Kayapo krokroti

Kayapó Krokroti The Kayapó also have several headdresses that are called krokroti. This particular krokroti is only worn by women who do not have children during the name-giving ceremonies. There is a lot of symbolism involved in the krokroti. The white feathers that are attached to the edge of the long read and blue feathers represent the forest. The red feathers and the blue feathers represent the people in the tribe. And the space - the horseshoe space represents the plaza of the tribe where all the ceremonies are being performed. And again after the ceremony is performed, usually those items are discarded and left to rot in the forest. Another version of the kokoti is worn by the initiates and the initiates are the only ones who can wear this particular form of the krokroti and after the ceremony they keep the headdress for a little while and then they discard it.

Ticuna body costumes

Ticuna Body Costumes The Ticuna tribe is located between the border of Brazil and Columbia, and they make the body costumes and masks from a wood bark cloth that is derived out of the fig or ficus tree. Everyone who participates in the ceremony makes their own body costume that represent different spirits of the forest, demons, and spirits of the wind. They are usually very scary looking. They are used in the ceremony of initiation of women into adulthood. The men dance around in those costumes and try to frighten the children of the village. A feast follows the dancing. The young woman who is being initiated has all of her hair pulled out, three strands at a time. She is eligible for marriage after her hair grows back. These costumes are also discarded after the ceremony.


Shipibo Conibo The Shipibo-Conibo tribe which is located in Central Peru, is know for the incredibly intricate designs that they use both on their textiles and their pottery. There are archeological records of the pottery that date back to 1200 Ad that have the same kind of designs. The original meaning of the designs is lost today, but the making of those designs is still prevalent. Those designs are used in the healing rituals where the shamans will paint the designs on the body of the sick person and use a rattle that is painted with the same design to drive the spirits that made the person sick out of the body. The designs on the textiles are either painted on or stitched on. The designs on the pottery are painted on after the pot is fired and the pots are used to hold an alcoholic beverage that is consumed during and annual ceremony during which the women who are the pottery makers are judged on the esthetic value of the pottery, and the women who have done the textiles are judged on their esthetic value.

Shipibo Adultery knife

Shipibo Adultery Knife The Shipibo had a system of a release of social pressures. They use a knife which is called an adultery knife. And whenever a person commits adultery and he's caught by the cuckold husband, during the annual meeting and celebration, the adulterer has to kneel in front of the husband and the nape of his neck will be scratched with the knife and enlarged with a little wood projection that comes out of the knife handle and he will be scarred for life but at the same time he will be forgiven about his transgression. But the interesting thing is that during those ceremonies new liaisons are formed between married women and potential adulterers and the entire cycle is repeated the next year.

Shuar shoulder ornament

Shuar Shoulder Ornament This particular shoulder ornament of the Shuar tribe is only worn by men who killed an enemy. It's basically an acknowledgement that the man is brave. The Shuar society is extreme complex and extremely violent. In the days past, the Shuar used to go on hunting expeditions to neighboring tribes, kill a man and cut his head off and shrink the head, which is really not the head, it's just the skin of the head. And carry the shrunken head as trophies. And they had a belief that the spirit of the dead person will also enter the spirit of the man who killed him and make him more powerful.

Mayna tunic

Mayna Tunic The very intricate tunics that are made out of wood bark cloth and decorated with the heads of toucans, which have symbolic meaning to Jivaroan tribes, which include the Shuar and also the Mayna tribes, probably worn by people of very high esteem in the tribe, could be a chief or a shaman. Nobody knows for sure. It was only very recently that those pectorals and tunics were assigned specifically to the Minor tribe. The toucan was held sacred to the Jivaroan tribes. And they doubt very few of those pectorals and tunics existing today – and most of them are in museums.

Copyright © Baylor® University. All rights reserved. Legal Disclosures.
Baylor University  Waco, Texas 76798  1-800-229-5678