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

Kayapò Masks


Kayapò masks: fish head, brazilian monkey, black howler monkey, anteater
Masks: fish head, Brazilian monkey,
black howler monkey, anteater

Kayapo masks are directly associated with the world of myth, conjuring up the spirits of the ancestors and mythical heroes. The dancer who wears the mask embodies the wish to perpetuate the culture and represents the nodal points in life (falling in love, procreation, changes in customs, condemnation of bad behavior, etc.).

The Kayapò take particular care over these masks. They are made out of sight of women, children and the sick and appear during ceremonies attributing ritual names (beautiful names) to the children. They cannot be disposed of except for extremely serious reasons.

There are four types:

  • kôkô kukà mask (fish head). These are made from buriti fibers and cover a person all over, from the head to the feet. They appear taking very small steps and without consorting with the other masks. They represent the ancestors.
  • kukoj-re mask (Brazilian monkey). These masks consist of a straw covering falling to the feet. The ace looks like a monkey’s and has large eyes and ears and is divided into two sections by a red and lue stripe. The dancer leaps and swirls as he acts out recent events or happy episodes in daily life. These masks move from house to house seeking offerings of food before retiring altogether.
  • kubyt mask (black howler monkey, guariba). Unlike the kukoj-re masks, these masks depict the unpleasant aspects of life. They leap about, playing tricks and practical jokes, frightening children and revealing in public the secrets and failings of those present. They have to be quick on their feet in order to avoid being roughed up by members of the audience.
  • pàt mask (anteater). These masks are made of two sections: a body in the form of a cone of interwoven fibers, with two openings for the arms to poke through, and strips of brown underbark along the bottom. A handle like upper section covered with red urucum-dyed cotton, from which hangs a long thread representing the anteater’s tongue.