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Spirits and Headhunters: Vanishing Worlds of the Amazon Explore disappearing cultures of South America in a new exhibit at HMNS

BY Alex Wang [ October 13, 2009 at 11:27:16 ]

Houston—Travel to the secluded areas of the South American rainforest and explore the contemporary indigenous cultures of the Amazon. Discover the exceptionally beautiful handcrafted artwork and ceremonial headpieces of the remote tribes of South America in Spirits and Headhunters: Vanishing Worlds of the Amazon, opening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Oct. 9, 2009. With over 150 rare and extraordinary objects on display, this new exhibition offers insight into the unique cultures and traditions of the Ka’apor, Karajá, Kayapó, Tapirapé, Ticuna and other Amazonian tribes.

Spirits and Headhunters will feature artifacts such as masks, body ornaments, full body costumes, basketry, weapons, pottery, textiles, and elaborate feather headdresses. “The intricate nature of the feather work on display is not only a testimony to the talent of the people of the Amazon; it also serves as a reminder of what once existed in Precolumbian times,” says Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “These pieces are an art form by themselves and are extremely rare. This puts the burden on us to make sure the collection is preserved and shared for many generations to come.”

All of the components to manufacture these objects come from the forest. Perhaps the most impressive objects are the beautifully colored headdresses, containing the feathers of some 40 species of birds, including the macaw and toucan. These headdresses are used in rituals important to the lives of the Amazonian people. They are all hand-made and often worn by shaman in ceremonies such as name-giving for the young, initiation into adulthood, or harvest and healing rituals.

One section of the exhibit, entitled Guardians of the Forest, displays an amazing selection of photographs that show the rituals and lifestyles of these Amazonian cultures. These images complement the artifacts on display by showing us the context in which they are used. These rare images, taken by Cristina G. Mittermeier, show examples of daily life, such as fishing, women at work, as well as men wrestling and dancing. Visitors will gain a better understanding of village life among the tribes as well as ceremonial practices.

The Amazonian tribes, who numbered in the millions prior to European colonization, have since been decimated by diseases and epidemics such as the measles. Current estimates place their population numbers as low as 100,000 people. Some tribes have less than 100 members. Several tribes are on the verge of extinction; should this occur, their unique cultures will vanish entirely.

Spirits and Headhunters was organized and curated by Associate Curator for Amazonia Adam Mekler. Guardians of the Forest images were provided by Cristina Mittermeier.

Spirits and Headhunters: Vanishing Worlds of the Amazon will be on display from Oct. 9, 2009 through Jan. 10, 2010. For ticket prices or more information visit our website at www.hmns.org or call (713) 629-4629.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science—one of the nation’s most-heavily attended museums—is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, including the Wortham IMAX® Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the Houston Museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at One Hermann Circle Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.


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