Posts Tagged 'Peru'

Object: Shipibo Pottery

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Fig 1: Shipibo Pottery Vessel. Image Credit Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Department. E/2014/003/007

E/2014/3/007

Bowl

Shipibo Culture

Peru

Unknown Date, Possibly 1960s-1970s

Clay, Paint Slip

 

This post’s object, a Shipibo ceramic vessel comes to us from the Shipibo people of Peru. The Shipibo people traditionally live near the Ucayali River, a southern tributary of the Upper Amazon in Peru.  The vessel measures 5.875” H x 5.875” W x 5.875” D.  The clay has a natural earthy red tone, which can be seen in the interior and bottom of the vessel. The exterior of the vessel is highly decorated with a cream colored base. On top of the cream base, layers of intricately woven geometric patterns are painted over the surface of the vessel in black and terracotta. There are two faces, one on each side of the vessel. The nose and ears of the face are sculpted and are part of the body of the pot.

The style of Shipibo pottery is easily identified by its geometric line patterns, and while one may believe these patterns are guided by rigid stylistic rules, each Shipibo pottery is unique. Like a fingerprint, no vessel will have the same patterning as another, and the artist is encouraged to tap into their own inspiration as they work across the surface. Another unique aspect of  Shipibo artists is that they are almost exclusively women. This tradition of women as community artists has given women today the opportunity to economically support their families through the selling of wares to tourists and collectors.

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Fig 2. A Shipibo woman shows of the distinct line patterning on a textile. Photo credit by Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Often times, women work together on a single piece. In these instances, the women seem to have an unspoken understanding of their collaborative efforts. Where one woman may finish a layer of line work, the next steps in to add even further intricacies with only their personal interpretations to guide them. In some cases, the artist is inspired by the aid of colorfully veined plant leaves, called iponquënë . Women place these leaves on their closed eyelids in order to trace their complicated vein patterns.

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Fig. 3.  A variation of Ayuahausca brewing on the fire. Traditionally ayuahausca is used in                                 Shipibo shamanic rituals and can create vivid visions in it’s users.                “Preparación de ayahuasca con chacruna”  by Jairo Galvis Henao  Licensed is under, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The meaning behind these intricate patterns has been a subject of hot interpretation by anthropologists, ethnologists, and other researchers. Some believe the lines represent an early form of language. Others instead insist that the patterning is derived from early attempts to map the Amazon’s winding river systems. However, according to the Shipibo themselves, these patterns are derived from their shamanic practices aided by the use of ayuahausca, and serve as a reminder of the forces that were once visible to humans.

In mythic times, patterns like the ones that decorate Shipibo pottery, textiles and clothing, covered the entire world. These patterns flowed across the sky, trees, huts, people, and animals. All things were interconnected by this system of winding patterns. But due to the misdeeds of early humans, this idyllic union was ruptured and the world was shifted into three planes: Nëtë ŝhama (the sky world), Mai (the earth world), and Jënë ŝhama (the subaquatic underworld). Simultaneously, periodicity (day and night, or time), mortality, and speciation appeared. (1)

 

 

References:

(1) Roe, Peter G.  (1980). “Art and residence among the Shipibo Indians of Peru: A Study in Microacculturation.”American Anthropologist, 82, 42–71.

Pantone, Dan James. (2004).  Shipibo Indians. Retrieved from http://www.amazon-indians.org/shipibo-indians-masters-ayahuasca-01.html

Roe, Peter and Bahuan Mëtsa. Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian. National Museum of the American Indian  Retrieved from http://nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/infinityofnations/amazon/239608.html

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: 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]


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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