Basketry, identity and cosmology in the Amazon: the Asurini do Xingu

Dr Fabiola Andrea Silva (Universidade de São Paulo)

Basketry, identity and cosmology in the Amazon: the Asurini do Xingu 

The Asurini do Xingu indigenous population is characterized by the production of a wide variety of artifacts. The basketry artifacts are abundant in the village and are widely used in daily and ritual activities. The assemblage of twinned artifacts consists of baskets, tools and body ornaments. There is an enormous concern with the technique and aesthetic excellence during the production process of these artifacts. The basketry technology is dominated by men and women and the learning process of basketry making occurs in the household. The basketry artifacts are produced with raw materials collected in the Asurini land and they are produced with a wide variety of techniques. The basketry artifacts are one of the supports of Asurini graphic art. It is very rich and grows from a structural pattern called tayngava (image, representation of something or someone), which is an image of a human being in a geometric form. Almost all the graphic motifs are a recombination of this structural pattern and each one receives a different name related with animals, plants and human artifacts. Tayngava is also the name of the anthropomorphic dummy used in shamanic rituals. The notion of tayngava (image) is related to the notion of ynga (vital principle) shared by humans and spirits and manipulated by shamans in rituals. The Asurini graphic art is connected with the realm of the supernatural. The Asurini mythology explains that it was obtained by the mythical ancestor Anhyngavui when he meets the supernatural Anhyngakwasiat. In this meeting Anhyngavui secretly saw the designs in the body of Anhyngakwasiat and made a copy of them in a basketry artifact. Anhyngavui taught these designs for the Asurini people and they reproduce them in other artifacts. Therefore the application of graphic art in Asurini artifacts - among them basketry artifacts - can be understood as a reaffirmation of social relations and as a metaphor of the relationship of men with the natural and supernatural worlds. Finally the basketry artifacts have agency in the Asurini do Xingu dynamic of construct identity and otherness.


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