About the object
Ypé masks were made by Tapirapé men and worn during ritual dances. The artistic feather mosaic was affixed to a wooden board with beeswax. They became popular collectors’ items from the 1960s onwards. This mask, was probably made for sale to the ethnologist Borys Malkin. The commercial production of featherworks became an important source of income for the Tapirapé.
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Human features were reduced to a minimum in this large mask: in the semi-circular wooden disc covered with yellow and blue feathers, the mouth and eyes appear as small rectangles, the long nose is sublimely fashioned. The artistic feather mosaic was affixed to a wooden plate with beeswax. The eyes are surrounded by small shell discs. This mask type (port. cara grande, "big face") was made and worn by the tapirapé men. This small ethnic group lives on a tributary of the Araguaia in the Amazon rainforest. Birds play an important role in their cosmology, worldview and social organisation: economic and ceremonial life is shaped exclusively by the two "bird societies", wyrà. On the occasion of a festival around the main food kaui (a drink made from manioc and maize), a pair of dancers wearing ypé masks perform at the end of the rainy season. They embody the souls in the struggle of deceased enemies, especially the Carajá and the Kayapó. According to other sources, they are representations of water or tree spirits. These impressive ypé masks have become prized collector's items since the 1960s, which has led to a decrease in the Macaw population and its feathers being replaced by those of other birds. Author: Eva Gerhards, Translation: Timothy Connell