Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography Xaverian Missionaries - V.le S. Martino, 8 - Parma, Italy 0521-257.337

Kayapò Exhibit

 

Pejàtijamy êdjà-kam djà - Grande diadema di piume gialle
Pejàtijamy êdjà-kam djà
Great diadem with yellow feathers

The Kayapo live in the Amazonian forest (Xingu) in an area covering some 83,000 square kilometers. The name Kayapo was given to them by outsiders since they call themselves “Mebengôkre”, which literally means “people who came from the water”.

The total population of 7,000 to 9,000 is divided into 17 villages, each of which is entirely independent. Kayapo villages are usually round, with the men’s house in the middle, which is the hub of village life. As the myth has it, this shape was copied from the hives of wild bees: a closed round space with a hole in the middle where the bees enter.

According to the Kayapo, a circle is also the perfect shape of the universe and of time itself, which, as described in this people’s great myths, is a cyclical repetition of the past. The numerous festivals that punctuate village life are accompanied by the typical Kayapo rattle – the ngôkon – which looks like the central axis of the sphere of the universe.

The Kayapo give great importance to the various festivals during which they relive in ritual dance and joy, the wisdom of the ancestors and their birth as a people.

As they dance, they "show themselves as people strong and beautiful" (mereremex). Thanks to the passion of Fr. Renato Trevisan, who has lived among the Kayapò in the Amazon region of Brazil for about 30 years of his life, the museum displays some spectacular ornaments of bird feathers, an art in which this people is one of the most experienced. There are also weapons, household utensils of wood and straw.

Elaborate personal adornment is an important characteristic of Kayapo culture: the body is the mirror of what one should be, namely “mereremex” (a strong and beautiful person). This ideal is expressed in three main areas: body painting, the art of feathers, and crafts.

Body painting: the Kayapo paint motifs based on the animals of the forest (skins and shells) on their bodies from birth, in emulation of their mythical ancestor Bepgorôrôti. This people’s “ethnographic fingerprint” comprises their typical triangular hairstyle, the color black, which covers the entire body and defines the person and establishes his social status, and the color red, for the parts of the body regarded as being in contact with the outside world (feet, hands and face).

Feather art: the Kayapo manufacture about 200 different types of personal adornments (diadems, bonnets, crowns, tiaras, ear ornaments, bracelets, etc.). These are used to express the values their culture holds most dear: beauty, individuality, the sense of belonging, freedom and so on.

Crafts: the manufacture of articles for use in everyday life, tools or ritual objects, including even weapons, is viewed as an extension of being Kayapo, namely “(me)reremex”. Covering an object with vegetable fibers and decorating it with feathers and red pigment has the same function as body painting and body ornaments; it amounts to giving a person a “second skin”, ensuring he is fully assimilated into the values and cultural and aesthetic canons of the Kayapo.

The Xaverian Missionary Fathers have been operating in the field of pastoral indigenous work with the Kayapo since 1985.

 

Kayapò Ethnographic Collection