As my eyes adjusted to the darkness that had engulfed the hut, a figure stood before me, the face covered in hair. The mid-day sun in all its brightness was lost inside my dark surroundings. I turned my gaze to the light streaming through the opening at the front of the Oca. Two young ladies silhouetted against the front entrance were busy painting their unclothed bodies. In the central plaza Kalapalo men playing Uruá flutes were fast marching steps to the right and to the left, marked by the sound of foot stomping and the ankle bells. The string of resonant shells, or bells on their ankles, and the foot-stomping added a percussion beat that vibrated through my dusty surroundings. Young girls followed and danced with a hand supported on the shoulder of their companion. They performed in the hot sun from Oca to Oca, and entered the hut to ward off evil spirits, and then call the good ones.
Uruá flute-playersUruá flute-players play giant flutes as they dance accompanied by pubescent girls who have just come out of isolation. The girl places her hand on the uruá flute player’s shoulder and the duo dances throughout the village.
Kalapalo men playing uruá flutes at the Kuarup Ritual at Aiha Village
Turning my attention to the figure in front of me, my eyes had fully adjusted to partially recognize the young lady who stood before me. I had witnessed her earlier, dancing in the central plaza with all the other ladies. Her long shiny black hair had covered her face.
|Covered face||Covered Face|
ReclusionThe skin must be kept perfectly white in the darkness of reclusion from which the young girl is only allowed to leave for a few minutes in the early evening or when she presents herself in dances at the height of rituals and exhibitions
At her first menstruation, this young girl is put into seclusion, during which time she learns how to perform female tasks in the preparation of food and the manufacture of artwork. During her seclusion, she does not cut her hair, and her bangs grow over her eyes. At the end, she receives a new name and is considered an adult, ready for marriage. At adolescence, girls enter a period of seclusion during which they must live behind a partition, honour a variety of food taboos, speak in a soft voice, and refrain from going outdoors during daylight hours. They must master various crafts taught to them by their parents. The period of seclusion can be remarkably long, and can last for several years.
Shorter life spanMarriages are arranged by the parents when a girl attains the age of two or three years; at which time she is promised to a boy of about twelve. The reason for this difference in age is logical as Xingu women generally have a shorter life span than the men.
A seclusion partition is erected around the young girl
|©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved||©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved|
The first step in getting dressed is to put on leg bands, lengths of soft cotton rope that is wound repeatedly around the calves and knees. Girls in seclusion tightly tie cords around their legs to increase the size of the calf.Pairs of tight-fitting bands of woven cotton around the knees and ankles emphasize the form of the calves.Winding the cords tightly in adolescence is believed to produce attractively heavy calves.
|©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved||Pumpkin skin and fish teeth©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved|
The legs are scratched with a sharp 'scarifier' made from catfish teeth; the blood is then wiped away with crushed leaves, and other leaves rubbed on the body to strengthen it. These long and sharp teeth are fixed on dried pumpkin skin, and used to scrape the bodies to make their skin bleed and thus revitalize the muscles and skin.
ScarifierTriangular piece of gourd edged with extremely sharp fish teeth. Allows blood flow to the scraped area and plumps up the skin.
The villagers believe that physical appearance, personal energy, and success as an adult depend on the choices made in childhood. Failure to follow the rules of seclusion is said to lead to laziness, stunted growth, and weakness.
Without Wrappings©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
A sign of Beauty©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
A pubescent girl has removed the very tight cotton wrappings around her knees and ankles, which make her calves bulge enormously, a sign of beauty in a Xinguano girl.