Norkoro Spirit Mask

About this object

History of use

Used in the Peach Palm ritual that consists of two parts: rümua sahare (the Dance of the Spirits) and hota basa (Peach Palm Dance Proper) that celebrates the peach palm harvest. But like most Yaba Mansã ritual occasions, it also invokes the ultimate forces of Yaba Mansã reality, in that it addresses both the human and the animal world, made present through their spiritual doubles. Yaba Masã men start making the ritual costumes months in advance and pass on the practice to younger boys as an important component of their introduction to adult male society.

Narrative

Most of the roughly 600 Makuna — who self-identify as Yaba Masã — live in Colombia’s Vaupés region. They live in villages in extended families, each lodged in a large longhouse or maloca. Their traditional lands have been under great pressure since the 1980s, from cocaine trafficking and, more recently, gold mining. In the Yaba Masã worldview, men and animal are part of the same society. In the past, both were spirits; today, animals are related to people because of gender or kinship. Like humans, animals and fish live in their own malocas. When animals arrive at their homes in the forest or fish reach their homes in the river, they remove their skins and become human. Hunting is seen as a form of exchange between humans and animals. This is why ritual is so important; people offer spiritual-food to the spirit owner of the maloca and ask for food in exchange. Communication with the spiritual world is led by a shaman, so that the death of an animal does not imply the death of a person. Likewise, dancing is experienced as an exchange between animals and people. When the Yaba Masã organize a feast and dance, the shaman also invites the animals and fish to dance in their own villages. When animals dance, they reproduce and regenerate their stock. This is why the Yaba Masã dance — to regenerate life in the rivers and the forest. People depend upon killing animals to survive, and animals depend upon people’s dances to reproduce themselves. It is this interdependence that is celebrated in the annual Peach Palm Festival.

Iconographic meaning

Represents nokoro (fish) spirits.

Physical description

Long, rectangular, brown mask. The sack-like mask is made of tree bark stitched along either side. The top of the mask folds over behind the head and has a dark brown fringe made of bark strips which cascades down the back like hair. Two eyeholes are made at the bottom of the mask, below the face. The face of the mask is a large oval made of dried black resin, painted with white and yellow features and geometric patterns. It has a triangle mouth, circle eyes, and three triangles on the forehead with two semi circles and one concentric circle. The face has protruding triangular nose and eyebrows made of balsa wood.