Amazonian Timescapes

 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Shitikari – Starscape

    Sheroanawe Hakiihiwe 

    2019

    print on cotton

    Am2019,2016.1

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    The sky is big and the stars in it are ordered into a structure. At night, when there are clouds, you can see the stars in the spaces in between them. 

    Sheroanawe Hakiihiwe 

    Sheroanawe refers to the cotton fabric he has used to create this artwork which, like the clouds, is ephemeral and diaphanous. The star constellations in this work are bounded by a series of squares emphasising Yanomami ancestral cosmological order. In Yanomami cosmology, a giant cosmic snake covered in spots encapsulates the universe: the past, present and future. This work evokes the individual experience of looking at the night sky and in this way, innovates on traditional Yanomami designs. These designs, though abstract and schematic, are maps of the lived and spiritual worlds. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Shitikari – Starscape

    Sheroanawe Hakiihiwe 

    2019

    print on cotton

    Am2019,2016.1

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    This grid populated with dots is a representation of the night sky by Yanomami artist Sheroanawe Hakiihiwe. It references the dotted giant cosmic snake that contains the universe, its past, present and future.   

    Sheroanawe is currently unable to travel out of Venezuela where he lives, due to political tensions. This is just one example of how political processes can hinder the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives of the past and world order into the international arena. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Kené, Living Design

    artist unknown

    vessel made of pottery

    Am.8844

    ©Trustees of the British Museum 

    Certain women in the Shipibo-Konibo community from the Peruvian Amazon can interpret Kené in material form; a design which maps the interlinked waters, trees and animals that make up the Ucayali riverine system where they come from. These designs also represent the veins in forest leaves and the constellations of stars that are associated with mythological time. These women bring the designs forward from their dreams and imbue them with ancestral song and strength.  

    Kené represents and embodies the anaconda Ronin from primordial time. Its living skin maps the natural environment in the Ucayali region of the Amazon so that if this power were to die, all the life in the forest, the animals, fish and trees, would also die.  

    As with the consumption of plants with power, such as Ayahuasca, Kené is often described as a multi-sensory experience. While it is men in this community who practice healing with powerful plants, traditionally only women are able to dream and create Kené. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Kené, Living Design

    artist unknown

    vessel made of pottery

    Am.8844

    ©Trustees of the British Museum 

    This pot was collected from the Shipibo-Konibo people in the 1930s. The painted design that is traditionally made only by women is called Kené. It represents the ancestral anaconda and its embodiment in the rivers and forests of the Ucayali where the Shipibo-Konibo people come from. 

    Since this object was collected, there has been significant migration from Shipibo communities to the nearby city, Pucallpa, as well as to Lima. The primordial energy associated with making Kené provides contemporary diasporic Shipibo-Konibo women with the inspiration to continue to create Kené, to sell and share it with the global community. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Universe, contained

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    basket made of bark/plant fibre

    Am1905,0216.107

    ©Trustees of the British Museum

    For the Murui-Muina (Witoto) people, baskets are symbols of the knowledge held by the women who make them. Wellcrafted and tightly woven baskets are the work of women who are careful not to lose their knowledge, whereas the looser, less meticulously woven baskets represent makers who do not maintain their traditions.  

    As containers, baskets also represent the framework of the universe for many Amazonian peoples. Similarly to the Yanomami, vessels are microcosms of a space and time entity which contains all things.  

    These baskets are quite small and so were probably used to collect coca leaves. Similar larger baskets were used to carry large heavy bundles such as of unprocessed cassava.  

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Universe, contained

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    basket made of bark/plant fibre

    Am1905,0216.107

    ©Trustees of the British Museum

    These baskets, which were probably used to carry coca leaves, were made by Murui-Muina people in La Chorrera. For the Murui-Muina, basket weaving is a symbol of cultural memory and the importance of knowledge transmission. These objects are particularly poignant, given that they were collected during the rubber boom genocide, which led to the near annihilation of the Murui Muina and other peoples who lived along the Igaraparana. Death and displacement destroyed many of their cultural practices and knowledge systems.

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Fish People

    Feliciano Lana

    2019

    watercolour on paper

    According to Eastern Tukano oral narratives from the Upper Rio Negro in the Amazon, humanity originated with the journey of the serpent-canoe of transformation. The journey begins at the Milk Lake and reaches the waterfalls of the Vaupés region. Along the way, the canoe visits Houses of Transformation, where these first people acquired goods and knowledge, ultimately becoming the People of Transformation, as the Tukano refer to themselves. 

    These watercolours were painted by Desana artist Feliciano Lana. He depicts ancestral stories that were transmitted orally over time, but they also contain contemporary practices and themes. They explain the origins of ichthyological knowledge while focusing on people and animals who can transform themselves from one thing to another. The repetition of origin stories in contemporary time illustrates the communitys understanding of the flexibility in the experience of time. This narrative style challenges the cumulative linear structure that dominant Western philosophies use to link an event in the past to one in the present or future.   

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Fish People

    Feliciano Lana

    2019

    watercolour on paper

    These paintings show the mythological origins of the Tukano people who live close to the Uaupés River in the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon. In the first episode, a man is shown shooting a dolphin. This is a reference to the killing of river dolphins because they destroy fishing nets but also because, as shapeshifters, dolphins are thought to disguise themselves as humans to seduce and sometimes commit rape. This is as much an origin story as it is a contemporary narrative that continues to play out.  

    Later in the watercolour sequence, the dolphin appears as a dead man in the police station, with his attacker having been arrested for murder. The incomprehension of the authorities, which here represent dominant cultural philosophies that do not recognise the shapeshifting powers of the dolphin. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Dolphin Teeth

    artist unknown

    made before 1925

    woven plant fibre and river dolphin teeth (Inia geoffrensis)

    Am1925,0704.9 

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    Amazonian river dolphins wield the power of love and sex and, as such, their teeth can be filed down and used by ritual specialists to create love magic. Dolphins are also shapeshifters and can transform themselves into humans. They then frequent riverside bars and parties to seduce the people who live there.  

    Dolphin teeth hold a power that can be dangerous if not harnessed by people who have the knowledge of and can manipulate transformation. These people use ancestral skills to move through time and spiritual worlds, building relationships with the beings that inhabit them.  

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Dolphin Teeth

    artist unknown

    made before 1925

    woven plant fibre and river dolphin teeth (Inia geoffrensis)

    Am1925,0704.9 

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    These teeth are collected to harness the living powers of the animals from which they are taken. Dolphins are shapeshifters associated with sexuality. Although shapeshifting river people are a pan-Amazonian phenomenon, for the Murui-Muina in La Chorrera, dolphins disguise themselves as white people: well-dressed, perfumed and wealthy. Dolphins are associated with the acquisitiveness and greed of foreigners in the Amazon, as well as the foreign diseases that are a product of culture contact.  

    Dolphins live in the large rivers in Amazonia. The narratives and knowledge associated with dolphins therefore have reached the communities that are removed from these large rivers (such as those in La Chorrera where this necklace comes from) as a result of the movement of people and ideas during the rubber boom. This necklace would have been a very new object when it was collected in the 1920s.  

    This living necklace embodies not only the power of river dolphins but also a period of cultural contact and trauma. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    When the peach palm fruit ripens

    artist unknown

    made before 1973

    barkcloth, plant fibre, reeds

    Am1973,07.15, Am1973,07.9  

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    Along the tributaries of the Caqueta river, in February/March every year when the Chontaduro or peach palm fruit ripens, the mythical world is dramatised and recreated. 

    These bark-cloth costumes are worn for Yucuna dances in the Colombian Amazon. Here, communities prepare for and finally perform the dance for two whole days and nights. This performance involves a series of songs, dances, and narrations, during which various fish and mammals arrive at the maloka, a building that embodies the structure of annual and daily time. In this festival participants have a bodily experience of the agricultural cycle. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    When the peach palm fruit ripens

    artist unknown

    made before 1973

    barkcloth, plant fibre, reeds

    Am1973,07.15, Am1973,07.9  

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    These costumes are worn along the Caqueta River for the Chontaduro dance that takes place when the peach palm fruit ripens. The dance recreates a mythical time in which animals and fish enter the community house or maloka. The maloka is a spatial representation of time and annual cycles.  

    While certain other dances in the region are specific to a community, the Chontaduro ceremony is common to many peoples, and so is often practised communally in shared malokas in Leticia, the capital of the Colombian Amazon. A number of different peoples from Western Amazonia now live in Leticia as a result of social changes that have taken place since the city was founded in the mid 1800s. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Transformation Animals

    artist unknown

    made before 1964

    painted barkcloth, plant fibre

    Am64,03.19 

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    Costumes such as these were worn for the onye or weeping” dance by Cubeo people, who are from the Tukano region along the Vaupés River in Brazil and Colombia. This three-day dance ceremony is intended to convert grief into joy after the death of a community member. The costumes embody the spirit of the being they represent. They are mammals, fish and insects, as well as transitional or juvenile versions of animals, such as larvae or eggs. Among these are spirits that can move between the three layers of the cosmos, such as jaguars that can climb trees or dung beetles which consume and bury dead substances. The importance of these spirits marks the ceremony as one of transition between the worlds of the living and the dead, as well as the roles of rebirth and regeneration over time.  

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Transformation Animals

    artist unknown

    made before 1964

    painted barkcloth, plant fibre

    Am64,03.19 

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    This long mask was used by the Cubeo people, who live along the Vaupés river in Brazil and Colombia. After the death of a community member, weeping dances, called onye, took place, and the masks were used to disguise the dancers as animals and insects, or eggs and larvae. The dance represents and enacts the relationships between people and spirits in the multi-layered Cubeo time and space complex. 

    This ceremony was suppressed in the 1940s by Catholic missionaries, who had arrived in the Vaupés in many cases to ameliorate the social problems caused by rubber tapping, but who objected to practices such as theseas they considered them a form of demon worship. Since the regions incorporation into the Colombian state in the 1970s, NGOs and other cultural revitalisation organisations have attempted to revive Cubeo onye dances but they are currently not known to be practised by any community. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Healer Cape

    artist unknown

    made before 1927

    macaw feathers, bark

    Am1927,0217.1

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    In Amazonia there exist multiple ways of becoming a person who can acquire the ability to move through spatial dimensions and time, and so heal and shape a communitys experience of the world. In many cases, a parent or mentor can pass on spiritual powers, a process that often involves undergoing intense experiences, including acts of aggression, in order to create partnerships with ancestral spirits. This transformation into a ritual specialist, as well as the subsequent transformations required to transition between space and time worlds, very often involve dream states and powerful plants. 

    This cape was worn by a Macuxi healer from what is now Guyana. The feathers would have imbued the wearer with the spirits of the birds from which they came, and would have been worn for special ceremonies. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Healer Cape

    artist unknown

    made before 1927

    macaw feathers, bark

    Am1927,0217.1

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    This feathered cape belonged to a Macuxi healer or Piatzan living in the savannahs of southern Guyana. Piatzan can move between the three superimposed planes that converge on the horizon. The beings that live in these planes periodically imprison human spirits, which can lead to their mortal death. Piatzan can heal people by engaging with and battling these beings. 

    Like other parts of the Amazon, the territory inhabited by the Macuxi and other Indigenous groups has been used for extractive projects such as rubber tapping and cattle ranching. Many of these involved the displacement of people through slave raids. The three time and space planes across which the Piatzan can travel are accessed in special parts of the landscape. The transmission of the abilities of the Piatzan also depend on passing on this esoteric knowledge to new generations. The displacement of Macuxi people has made the access to and transmission of Piatzan knowledge within the community harder. This is one of the ways in which culturally specific Indigenous relationships to the experience and management of time are affected by colonising projects. 

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Huwe Moshi – Transformation Snake

    Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe

    2019

    acrylic paint on paper

    Am2019,2016.2

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    In this painting, the simple colours of the coral snake – black, red and white – transmute into abstract forms, becoming geometrical, diagonal and horizontal. The lack of realism in the depiction of this figure evokes the dream states associated with transformation ceremonies that exist outside of ordinary experiences of space-time.   

    Coral snakes are poisonous and, in their ability to move between water and land, they are sometimes associated with ritual practitioners as well as dark sorcery. This painting is from the HuweMoshi series, where Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe uses this snake to refer to the transformative powers associated with mythical people in the Yanomami community.  

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Huwe Moshi – Transformation Snake

    Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe

    2019

    acrylic paint on paper

    Am2019,2016.2

    © Trustees of the British Museum 

    In his illustration of the poisonous coral snake, Sheroanawe Hakiihiwe turns its fluid curves into orthogonal lines. The snake is recognisable by its characteristic repeated colour sequence of black, white and red. The painting evokes the transformation powers of beings in Yanomami origin mythology.  

    Although the artist draws on and depicts ancestral themes in this painting, he also engages with global contemporary artistic movements such as abstract expressionism. In this way, the painting dismantles assumptions about the incompatibility of local traditional knowledge with mainstream global culture.  

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Jaguar Teeth

    artist unknown

    made before 1925

    jaguar tooth, glass beads

    Am1925,0704.5

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    For the Murui-Muina, the predatory powers of jaguars can be harnessed and made useful to humans in order to manage time and space in the eternal universe. Wearing a jaguar tooth necklace endowed its user with the power of the jaguar and of the communitys ancestral leaders.  

    The jaguar is an animal of power, and the spirits of the communitys warriors and hunters, both current and primordial, are present within it. When a leader wears a jaguar tooth necklace, he/she is infused with the abilities and knowledge of the spiritual world, and can see through the eyes of this predator. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

    Jaguar Teeth

    artist unknown

    made before 1925

    jaguar tooth, glass beads

    Am1925,0704.5

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    These jaguar teeth were owned and worn by those who had the ability to harness the spiritual power of their ancestors. Amazonian tooth necklaces were collected as scientific objects by early anthropologists and other explorers from the 19th century onwards. But for the people from whom they were sourced, these necklaces contain ancestral spirits. The arrival of these collectors and their interest in such objects coincides with extractive projects such as rubber tapping by white settlers.  

    Foreign enforced extraction of natural resources continues to have an impact on Amazonian ecology and society to the present day. These processes threaten peoples relationship to a land that embodies their cultural history. This process sees a fracturing of the links between past, present and future.   

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Tobacco Medicine

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    gourd, plant fibre

    Am1905,0216.101

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    These nuts were used by the Murui-Muina to contain and carry ambil, which is a resin made from tobacco. This resin is made by drying tobacco leaves, mixing them with water or a fermented drink, and then heating the mixture until it is thick and strong. The ambil is extracted with a stick to be chewed periodically.    

    For people in Amazonia, tobacco is a powerful substance with the ability to heal by reconnecting individuals with their ancestral lineage and land. Tobacco can be inhaled, smoked, eaten and applied to the body. It helps community members to stay alert during ceremonial nights, reinforcing a sense of belonging to the community that is timeless.  

    There are two effects of eating or inhaling tobacco during healing ceremonies. First, the body rejects the bitterness of the plant, producing nausea and dizziness. In this way, tobacco cleans the body from external pollutants and prepares it for healing. Second, tobacco sharpens the senses, making the sounds, smells and visual aspects of the ceremony fuse with the body and mind. 

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

     Tobacco Medicine

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    gourd, plant fibre

    Am1905,0216.101

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    These nuts at one time contained ambil, a strong chewable tobacco resin. They are no longer made by the people in La Chorrera, where they were collected at the beginning of the 1900s. Plastic bottles are now used instead. Tobacco is an ancestral tool used to manage the bodily experience of time, and is chewed in all negotiations with outside groups, so that the users may speak with clarity. Unlike the use of other powerful plants in this and other parts of the Amazon, such as coca leaves, chewing ambil tobacco resin is not restricted to one gender: both men and women chew tobacco. The nut with the human figure carved into it is used by men; it has a small opening and the resin can be extracted with a small stick. The other plain nut is for women; it has a slightly larger hole as women use their fingers to extract the tobacco.  

  • We construct and experience time

    We construct and experience time

    Coca Leaf Crown

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    feathers, bark

    Am1905,0216.7 (a)

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    The feathers used to make these crowns are not chosen solely for their beauty. Each bird and colour is a representation of powerful natural forces. For example, some of the crowns combine shades of blue and green to produce a multi-layered turquoise. This colour represents the world in its origins and is associated withmambe,which are the powdered and lime-activated coca leaves that the Amazonian peoples masticate to gather their thoughts and speak wisely. The use of this powerful plant upholds and reproduces the order of the universe. 

    The consumption of activated coca leaves strengthens the material and intellectual relationships between communities and their ancestral territory through time.  

    We affect and politicise time

    We affect and politicise time

     

     Coca Leaf Crown

    artist unknown

    made before 1905

    feathers, bark

    Am1905,0216.7 (a)

    © Trustees of the British Museum

    This crown has a small layer of feathers at the front of a woven palm circle and would have been worn at ceremonies before and around the time that it was collected from La Chorrera in 1903. This was at the height of the atrocities committed during the rubber boom. During this period, the Peruvian Amazon Company instigated the murder, rape and torture of Indigenous groups in Western Amazonia in order to boost the production of rubber that was then exported internationally for cars and machines.  

     Younger members of the Indigenous groups from La Chorrera do not recognize crowns such as these as part of their tradition or cultural history. This is as a consequence of the rubber boom, during and after which these crowns were neither produced nor used, as the ceremonies in which they were used no longer took place. This crown provides an important resource for the communities whose cultural memory was fractured by the rubber boom genocide.