South America

Kobeua Indian body mask from Amazon

Here is one of my favorite masks from the huge Amazon basin. It is old and used, but you can still find newer ones that are more colorful and have arms that are longer and more colorful. Made of bark cloth and raffia, they are meant to cover the full body. This costume plays an important role in the Kobeua’s initiation ceremony.

Indians were among the first to come into contact with the European colonists when they landed in Brazil in 1500. The indigenous population was largely killed by European diseases, declining from a pre-Columbian high of millions to some 300,000  grouped into 200 tribes. However, the number could be much higher if the urban indigenous populations are counted in all the Brazilian cities today. 

Despite hundreds of years of contact with expanding frontier society, they have in most cases fiercely maintained their language and customs in the face of the massive theft of, and continuing encroachment onto, their lands. Because of logging and agriculture, these cultures may soon come to an end.

There is a beautiful book called Arts of the Amazon by Barbara Braun that can be purchased on the other Amazon for a very affordable price.


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