Introduction Patagonia Andes


Objects Collection Notes
(George Heye’s Legacy)
Mesoamerica / Caribbean Southwest Plains / Plateau Woodlands California / Great Basin Northwest Coast Arctic / Subarctic Contemporary Art

The Amazon River winds nearly 4,000 miles from its headwaters along the eastern slopes of the Andes to the Atlantic. The Amazon Basin—a watershed comparable in size to the contiguous United States—is the largest remaining tropical rain forest in the world. Many ecologists attribute the forest’s survival to the knowledge of plant and animal interactions, and hunting and farming practices, of the hundreds of Native peoples who have lived along the river and its tributaries for millennia.

Adaptation to life in the Amazon rests, in part, on the development of trade and exchange routes along rivers and forest paths. Many of the objects shown here reveal ways in which Amazonian peoples have maintained relationships with nature, within households, among peoples who speak the same language, and between different language groups. Ceremonial stools—indispensible possessions for shamans, chiefs, and warriors—are made by specialists in Tukano villages along the Vaupés River in the northwestern Amazon and traded within a larger network of communities. Asháninka textile arts can be traced, in part, to ties with Andean peoples noted for their ancient weaving traditions. The kithaarentze, or cotton poncho, is an Asháninka man’s most prized possession, and therefore his most valued gift or exchange item.

The survival of the peoples of the Amazon has also depended on their ability to withstand incursions from the outside world. That struggle continues today, as Amazonian Native nations organize to protect their rain forest homelands against intrusion and deforestation.

George Heye’s Legacy: The Amazon

George Heye’s collection includes feather headdresses and ornaments, hunting and fishing tools, dance outfits, masks, and ceramic figures made by the Native peoples of the Amazon. One of the individuals who helped to assemble the collection was the explorer, anthropologist, and writer Victor Wolfgang von Hagen. During his travels through Shuar territory in Ecuador, von Hagen attended tribal ceremonies, after which he traded knives and other items for objects, especially feather ornaments worn by men. After one ceremony, he boasted of having acquired “feather head-pieces of every kind of bird known to the Upper Amazon,” as well as “yards” of earrings, some made from the wing cases of “beautiful green-gold beetles.”

After spending six months among the Shuar, von Hagen concluded that their warlike reputation among non-Natives was largely undeserved. “Not once… did an occasion arise when our physical safety was in doubt,” he said. “Invariably we were treated with hospitality and courtesy, and the farther we left Christianity and civilization behind us, the more honest and friendly the Indian became.” Click here to read more...

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Map of the Amazon
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