Archive for the 'South American Tribes/Cultures' Category

Object: Huaorani Blowgun, Quiver with Darts, and Kapok-filled Gourd

 

Blowgun

Figure 1: Huaorani blowgun. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E_1968_5_002small

Figure 2: Huaorani quiver with darts, kapok gourd (the kapok fluff is visible in the plastic bag above the quiver) and piranha jaw. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E/1968/5/001, E/1968/5/002
Blowgun, Darts & Quiver
Huaorani
Ecuador, South America
Unknown Date
Materials: Wood with attached plant material (blowgun); wood basket containing plant material with attached metal beads, animal bone, and fur threads (quiver & darts)

Hailing from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, the Huaorani (also commonly known as the Waorani, Waodani, and Waos) people are historically marked by their independent nature. [1] Although Western influence has crept into some aspects of Huaorani life, such as through the introduction of shotguns for hunting purposes, some Huaorani continue to make use of traditional hunting weaponry – namely, blowguns that can reach up to 11 feet in length. A full-length blowgun, complete with quiver and darts, is located in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. In the past, these weapons held a more prominent position in Huaorani culture. In its prime, the blowgun was a remarkable influence in Huaorani kinship and social customs, and left a legacy that remains evident to this day.

BlowgunDetail

Figure 3: Closeup of the end of a Huaorani blowgun. Notice that the blowgun is built from two sections of palm wood that have been reattached. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

The physical construction of these blowguns & their accessories sheds light on the immense skill possessed by these Huaorani craftsmen. Blowpipes are made from a split palm wood rod; the two halves are grooved, then reattached with beeswax and encased in vine bark. The Huaorani smooth out the opening created by the two grooves by placing sand inside the grooves and smoothing vertically with a slim, sturdy fishing lance. [1] Darts are created from the whittled stems of palm leaves and stored in a bamboo quiver. The Huaroani often apply curare, a potent neurotoxin, to these darts. [3] Other components of the Huaorani blowgun kit include a hollowed-out gourd filled with kapok (the fluff surrounding the seeds of Ceiba Petandra) [2] and a section of a piranha’s jaw, often attached to the rope connecting the gourd to the quiver.

When hunting with these blowguns, a wad of kapok is wrapped around the lower end of the dart. When the dart is inserted into the blowgun, air passing through the pipe will not pass around the sides of the dart but will build up behind the kapok wad, pushing the dart out of the blowgun at a high speed. [2] The Huaorani then use the sharp teeth on the piranha mandible to cut a deep notch on the front end of the dart. This ensures that the poisoned tip of the dart will break off in the intended target [3] and lead to its demise; the curare poison can kill an organism after just 2-3 minutes of exposure. [4] When firing the blowgun, the Huaorani build a tremendous amount of air pressure in their mouths and release it in one rapid exhalation into the blowgun, causing the dart to fly out at a high speed and with lethal accuracy. As the volume of the blowgun is less than a tenth than that of the human lung, the most important factor in firing a blowgun lies in the control of air expenditure exerted by Huaorani hunters, who are able to strike small targets (i.e., hummingbirds) upwards of 120 feet away. [3]

Take a look at the following videos for demonstration on the use of blowguns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQCs6b2ClmkA Waorani (Huaorani) man demonstrating wrapping kapok around the darts & using the blowgun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE: Amazonian native, naturalist, and guide Juan Kunchikuy demonstrating the technique of modifying & firing darts at targets placed on the head of a New York Times reporter.

 

In Huaorani society, the significance of the blowgun encompassed many areas of their lives and culture. Prior to the introduction of shotguns in the 1970s, blowguns were viewed as symbolic tools used to monitor the social closeness between a variety of entities. One example lies in the close bond between the Huaorani and arboreal prey such as monkeys. The Huaorani hold a great deal of respect for these primates (esp. wooly monkeys) owing to their similarity in social structure and territoriality, going so far as to spare certain individuals while hunting and to share food sources with them. [1] When hunting monkeys, the Huaorani used the blowgun to down prey they feel a close social connection to, allowing the hunters to remove the spatial distance and social distance between them by using these primates for sustenance. [1]

In modern Huaorani culture, the blowgun no longer receives widespread use; its significance as a regulator of social proximity has also declined. However, its place in the Ethnology Collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History ensures that its legacy and historical significance will always remain evident and relevant.

[Daniel Quintela]

[1] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. “Chapter 8: Blowpipes and Spears.” Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. N.p.: Psychology, 1996. 145-65. Google Books. Google. Web. <https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kj4yve-Za8IC&oi=fnd&pg=PA145&dq=huaorani+blowpipe&ots=axZCivQKG8&sig=cgzfBTi_gRAjgou7YKVO02dS-uk#v=onepage&q=huaorani%20blowpipe&f=false>.  

[2]Smith, Nigel. “Oenocarpus Bataua.” Palms and People in the Amazon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 401-12. Geobotany Studies. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing AG. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/505/chp%253A10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Flink.springer.com%2Fchapter%2F10.1007%2F978-3-319-05509 1_50&token2=exp=1461182745~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F505%2Fchp%25253A10.1007%25252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf%3ForiginUrl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Flink.springer.com%252Fchapter%252F10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50*~hmac=caec4e8034004f90f686b3b44006eca9ccda4efeeff60aec2af86ff698194bb6>.  

[3] Talbot, Steve. In the Belly of the Beast: Technology, Nature and the Human Prospect. Ghent, NY: Nature Institute, 2004. The Nature Institute. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://natureinstitute.org/pub/persp/3/beast.pdf>.

[4] TheNewYorkTimes. “Kristof in the Crosshairs: A Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon | The New York Times.” YouTube. Google, 07 May 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE>.

Object: Ear Plugs

E/1956/2/21
Ear Plugs
Orejon
South America: Peru
Unknown Date
Painted wood and shell

These earplugs come from the Orejon culture of northern Peru. They are round discs of a lightweight wood, each heavily coated in a white pigment. Engraved black shells are set into the center of each plug and depict three concentric circles. Each plug is 4.5” in diameter and 0.75” thick.

The Orejon people (nowadays known as the Witotoans and the Bora), have a patrilineal social structure where kinship is traced through the men of a family. The Witotoan peoples primarily practice subsistence agriculture, growing manioc, pineapple, plantains, bananas, yams, papayas, mangos, peanuts, cacao, and other crops that thrive in the tropical South American environment.

Ear piercing is a very common form of body adornment popular in cultures all over the world, and the Witotoan people are no exception. For the Witotoan people, ear piercing is a practice restricted to men. Generally, boys get their ears pierced between 10 and 15 years old. A thin awl is used to pierce the ears, and small wooden pins are inserted into the holes. The boy is then responsible for carving the earlobe hole pins (each slightly wider in diameter than the last). These earlobe hole pins are periodically replaced with the next size larger in order to slowly grow the size of the holes.

The Witotoan people have cultural similarities to the Canela people, who live in nearby Brazil. The Canela believe that boys with open ears are more receptive to the knowledge revealed to them by their elders. In the words of Raimundo Roberto, a Canela man: “Our elders thought that an ear decoration made young men beautiful, and that those who received them would become even more handsome to young women.…He wouldn’t act foolishly, nor talk badly to anyone, because he knew that the women were always watching him. So, a man’s earring indicates that he is a tribesman of the highest caliber. That’s why I think earrings were a very serious matter for our elders.”

This type of ear piercing and use of earplugs is less common today among the Canela and the Witotoan peoples as it has been increasingly perceived by the non-native population as “ugly” or “subversive.” However, body adornment remains popular in many different cultures all over the world, including our own.

[Stephanie L. Allen] 

Object: Ritual Mask

E/1967/23/2
Ritual Mask
Columbia, South America
Unknown
Bark Cloth, Paint, Tar

This mask is made of a bark cloth bag, which fits over the head of the wearer and is tied at the top. The bag comes to a point, which hangs over the top of the head. From this point of the tie, there are tassels of straw that hang down. The face portion of the mask has an oval disk of hardened tar, from which there are two tar covered pieces of wood protruding. The black tar is decorated with linear and geometric designs in white and yellow pigments.

This mask comes from the Yucuna Indians of Columbia. They inhabit the Miriti-Parana and lower Caqueta regions of the Amazon River on lands called resguardos. These lands are similar to reservations in the United States in that they are constitutionally approved by the government. Thanks to these resguardos, the Yucunas have been able to maintain many of their traditional ways and live with their worldview intact. This worldview emphasizes the interconnectedness of the environment with all living things. This interconnectedness is seen in the belief that balance must be maintained between humans, animals, and plants. If too much energy exists in any one of these categories, it would disrupt the natural flow of life. To aid in maintaining the balance, the tribe uses shamans (religious leaders) to help guide the group in properly distributing their resources and keep a healthy balance.

The mask depicted here is used in tribal dances by men. The mask is most likely used to celebrate the harvest of palm fruit, but it is only used once before being discarded. The dance is a way the Yucuna can celebrate their interconnectedness with nature and keeps nature in balance. Palm fruits come in a wide variety and are found in tropical regions all over the world. Some examples of the edible varieties of these fruits are coconuts and Acai berries. For many indigenous peoples around the world, palm fruits provide essential food for survival and even today are seen as an important part of their lives. Like the fruit, there are other parts of the palm tree, which provide for people. Leaves can be used as parts of traditional clothing and for housing, and they can also be used to store food by wrapping it up in the leaves. The bark and trunks of some palm trees are used for bark cloth clothing, such as what was used in this mask, in addition to making canoes.

Sources:

Fabius, Carine

2012  Jagua, A Journey into Body Art from the Amazon. Los Angeles: Kouraj Press.

Stein, Geoff

2011  Edible Palms: An Introduction to Palm Fruits. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3242/#b

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Head Flattener

E/1956/2/53
Head flattener (betaneti)
Shipibo Indians
South America: Peru
Unknown date
Materials: Wood, cotton padding, cloth, string

This object is a head flattener made by the Shipibo Indians of Peru. It consists of a long narrow cotton pad attached to a wooden board which is then attached by strings to another square cloth pad. It would have been used to elongate the shape of an infant’s head.

The practice of head flattening, also known as cranial deformation, has a long and interesting history in cultures all around the world. It is thought to be the oldest form of body modification, dating back at least 9,000 years. While cranial deformation can occur naturally or accidentally after birth, many cultures choose to deliberately shape an infant’s head, generally because it is a sign of beauty or status. Head flattening, which has not been proven to cause any damage to the brain, has occurred on every continent in the world at some point in time. Pressure is applied to a baby’s skull during their first several weeks of life when the bones of the skull have not yet fused together. It is accomplished by using a cradleboard or a special binding board such as the one in the Ethnology Collection. This process gradually shifts the bones of the skull, forming an elongated shape. The bones then fuse together in that shape.

Papua New Guinea, Africa, Central America, and Australia are only a few places where cranial deformation has occurred. North American tribes, including the Chinookan people of the Columbia River area in Oregon and Washington, used cradleboards to produce a wedge-shaped head in a child. This practice died out by the 1950’s, but it illustrates the prevalence of this practice. Even ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek nobles practiced head binding as a statement of beauty. In the Andean areas of Peru, cranial deformation was a common practice for both women and men between AD 1200 and 1450 (before the time of European contact with Central and South America). The head flattener from the Ethnology Collection possibly derives from this fascinating tradition.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Maguey Bag

E/1941/1/30
Kogi (Kagaba) Indians
South America: Colombia
Early 20th Century
Materials: Maguey plant fiber

This fine mesh maguey fiber bag from Colombia is decorated with 6 brown bands, each approximately 1/2″ wide. The undecorated carrying strap allows for the bag to be worn over a shoulder.

The Kogi (also known as the Kagaba) Indians who created this bag live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region at the northern tip of Colombia, in the mountains bordering the Caribbean Sea. The Sierra Nevada boasts a wide variety of ecosystems, allowing for the Kogi to be largely self-sufficient. The Kogi primarily practice slash-and-burn agriculture and raise domesticated animals such as oxen, pigs, and sheep. Bags such as this one are used to carry everything from food to children, and they are usually woven from the maguey (also known as agave) plant. The strong, durable Maquey  fibers are used across Central and South America by many indigenous cultures, including the Maya, for nets, bags, clothes, hammocks, and many other useful items.

The Kogi, descendents of the Tairona civilization, see themselves as the “Elder Brothers” of humanity. Anyone not living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which they consider to be the heart of the world, is considered a “Younger Brother.” The Kogi believe that it is their responsibility to protect nature against the ecological damage wrought by modern society and “Younger Brother.” Maintaining a balance in nature is vital to the survival of the world, according to the Kogi.

Up until 1990, Kogi priests, called Mammas, worked hard to maintain a policy of isolation from the rest of the world in order to protect their cultural ideals. In the past 20 years, however, this policy has been undermined by a variety of factors including encroachment by large-scale banana plantations, marijuana and cocaine manufacturers, and paramilitary revolutionary forces. Today, the Kogi struggle to maintain their traditional way of life while also engaging in a wide-scale South American indigenous resurgence movement.

Take a look at the following National Geographic video documenting the daily life and beliefs of the Kogi people. If you look closely, you can even see several instances of people using a carrying bag very similar to the one above:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Ornament

E/1956/2/32
Feather ornament (or “tail”)
Machiguena
Peru
ca 1955
Materials: Feathers, cloth twine

This feather ornament is described in the Ethnology catalog as a “tail” that is meant to be attached to the back of a man’s robe, called a manchakintsi or cushma. The donor that collected with particular “tail” also donated the cushma it was meant to go with, E/1956/2/11, shown on the right. These objects were made by a member of the Machiguenga tribe of Peru. The Machiguenga are a part of the Arawakan linguistic family, a group of languages spoken throughout South and Central America. The Machiguenga live in the upper mountain rain forest of Southeastern Peru. The Machiguenga grow manioc, bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts and a variety of other crops in small agricultural plots cleared out of the forest. They supplement their diet by hunting, fishing and gathering other native foods from the forest. Feather ornaments, especially crowns and necklaces are popular amongst the Machiguenga.

Do you know any additional information on this type of ornament? Can you identify the type of feathers used? Let us know what you know. Provide a comment to this weblog or via email to dcswan@ou.edu. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Basket

E/2011/3/1
Basket
Xerente
South America: Brazil: Tocantins: Mateiros
ca. 1990-2000
Materials: Grass

This basket, made of golden grass (Syngonanthus nitens) and fiber from the buriti palm (Mauritia flexuosa) was made in the village of Mateiros in the state of Tocantins, Brazil. Golden grass is not actually a grass, but instead is a grass-like species from the Eriocaulaceae family, native to the Brazilian cerrado. These plants produce small white flowers each year but are prized for their shiny metallic stems. Golden grass weaving is thought to have been developed by the indigenous Xerente (or Sherente) people. Today golden grass is used to make a large number of products, primarily for the tourist trade. It is currently one of the most important economic sources in the Jalapão area of Tocantins, Brazil. For that reason local government and community groups have been working to ensure the sustainability of this precious natural resource. Amongst these efforts is a limit on when the plants can be harvested, and a ban on the sale of the raw materials to outside areas.

The following video show what the raw material looks like and includes a weaving demonstration.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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