by Sarah Corbett
The Kayapo people are an indigenous tribe from the Mato Grosso and Para plains of Brazil. They live along the Xingo river in the East of the Amazon rainforest.
The name Kayapo means “those who look like monkeys” a name which is likely to derive from rituals which include the wearing of monkey masks. The Kayapo refer to themselves as Mebengokre, which means “from the water place”.
The lives of the Kayapo people have been negatively impacted by pollution caused by gold mining corporations operating in their lands.
Historically and until the 1960’s they were a warrior culture who raided neighbouring tribes and raised their male offspring to fight.
The Kayapo people value power and beauty ( attributes which are bestowed through ritual enacted within the community) over the accumulation of wealth.
Kayapo beliefs centre around myth, ritual and cosmology. They honour the importance of Earth’s relationship with people. They believe that they originally lived in an upper layer of the universe and descended to Earth through a circular opening and via a rope at the bottom of the upper layer.
The ropes which secure their feathered headdresses represents the rope first used by their ancestors to reach the Earth. The circle is significant to the Kayapo, and represents to portal to earth. The villages are laid out in concentric circles, and the belief is also represented in the headdresses which are akin to a feathered areolae around the head of the wearer, alluding to the shape of the cosmos.
Elaborate personal adornment is an important characteristic of Kayapo culture: the body is a mirror of what one should be, namely “mereremex” ( a strong and Beautiful person) This concept is expressed in three main areas as follows:
Body painting is key to Kayapo adornment motifs of insects,animal skins and shells are used. Black painted areas show social status, and red painted areas are for parts of the body considered as being in contact with the outside world. ( Feet, hands and face).
Women shave a deep inverted ‘v’ into their hair.
The Kayapo have around 200 different types of adornment made from feathers. These express the values their culture holds most dear … Beauty, individuality, the sense of belonging and freedom.
Ritual objects and adornments made with vegetable fibres, feathers and pigments
Beaded cuffs and necklaces.
Ask a Kayapo why he wears a headdress he will tell you “It is my wealth” ask him why he dances he will reply “ It is my Beauty”.