macana (Club)

About this object

History of use

Use of the macana has been noted for some time in the region; it is perhaps a traditional weapon from pre-European contact, but archaeologically unstable medium prevents confirmation. It is used primarily in duels, particularly those over adultery, rather than warfare. Duels usually occur during male drinking parties. This example is very small: possibly a miniature toy or ornamental piece (for ritual?). The kené, or design is executed by women and taught by practice from one generation to the other. Kené motifs are revealed to specific people via icaruses, the songs shamans perform in ayahuasca ceremonies.

Narrative

The Shipibo live along the Ucayali River, a southern tributary of the Upper Amazon in Peru. In the 18th century they joined forces with traditional enemies to drive away missionaries and other foreigners. From the late 1800s to the 1920s they were enslaved by the caucheros, rubber entrepreneurs, and forced by violence to meet rubber production quotas. The caucheros were in turn employed by foreign companies, notably the infamous Anglo-Peruvian Amazon Rubber Co. Today, the ca. 36,000 Shipibo are under pressure from the neighbouring Spanish-speaking mestizo population, commercial fishermen who have depleted their traditional waters of fish, turtles, and manatees, destroying their subsistence base. Money from tourism, primarily through women’s arts — textiles, jewellery and pottery — has become crucial to buy the food, medicine and access to Western education that will allow the Shipibo to survive in the modern world.

Cultural context

weapon

Iconographic meaning

The kené, or design, reproduced in wood, canvas, ceramics or human skin is an expression of the Shipibo’s worldview. It is inspired by the anaconda, which combines in its skin all possible patterns.

Physical description

Slim wooden club tapering from the notched head to the grip. In section, the blade is a very flat diamond, with slightly concave faces and a ridge at the centre on both sides. Handle is a flattened hexagonal shape, wound with alternating tan, blue, yellow thread. Extremely small ridges at top of grip. Handle ends in a widened pommel with a pointed end. Blade has rough rectilinear patterns incised on each side (different) in mirror image around the central ridge. One side is typically parallel and perpendicular to the major axis of the blade; the other side is in diagonals to that axis. Overall dark brown; possibly a resin, oil, or other stain has been used. Probably chonta palm wood. Different geometric design on each side.