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By Laurel A. Neme, PhD
|Monkeys, toucans, snakes, and other large mammals prey on Scarlet macaws.|
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|Native Amazon Indian Use of Birds|
Many indigenous Indian tribes in the Amazon use animals for food and raw materials for tools, buildings, clothes and adornments. Indigenous Indian tribes’ religious beliefs are intimately tied to the natural world and they frequently adorn their body with costumes made with feathers or other animal parts. This lets them take on the properties of a particular creature and thereby gain that species’ strengths and insights.
Birds are particularly important to connect the people to the spiritual world. Tribes often raise several kinds of birds, including macaws, curassows and chickens, among others, as a source of feathers for their body costumes. Once plucked, the feathers would regrow quickly, perhaps a week later, and often come in even brighter and bolder than before. Parrot feathers are particularly powerful and sacred, with their colors representing the sun.
The plumes from one bird might go into any one of a number of adornments, each of which might be used in an important cultural ceremony, such as a rite of passage, agricultural ceremony or other special occasion. Many of Brazil’s Amazon Indian tribes used feather ornaments to some degree. When worn, the decorations, such as feathered crowns with feathers spiking up to the sky or arm bands that convert arms into wings, transform the wearer and transport him into the spiritual realm.
Because of their spiritual significance, the decorations reveal a lot about the traditions and beliefs of the people wh o made them. The Rikbatsa wear arm bands and crowns, often with sprigs of red feathers on the top highlighted by black and white feathers behind and on the bottom as well as by bright yellow feathers, at many of their agricultural, naming, marriage and other ceremonies; they tend to be part of the standard regalia. For the Hixkaryana people, a tribe of about 500 (related to the Wai-wai) who live in Brazil’s Amazonas State near the Nhamunda river, their decorated hair tubes reflect the men’s belief that their spiritual strength resides in their hair. They pull their long locks back into the feathered cylinders, so that the attached Harpy Eagle feathers dangle down their backs, to enhance their hair’s power and better connect to the spiritual world.