txamatxama, Katxuyana, feather headdress, adornment, amazon, brazil, moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark

Txamatxama feather adornment

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South America

The txamatxama at Moesgård Museum, EA41-0026. Photo Astrid Kieffer-Døssing, 2015.


Join us as guest blogger Astrid Kieffer-Døssing, who holds an MA in Sustainable Heritage Management from Aarhus University, tells us about the marvellous txamatxama feather adornment of the Katxuyana.

A braided base and three rows of feathers… Simple materials with no extravagant colours or patterns, yet this feather adornment composes a quite unique heritage which connects past, present, and future for the Brazilian Katxuyana Indians.

Today the Katxuyana wear a feather adornment for special occasions just as they have done in the past, as do many indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest. However, the design of the txamatxama, as it is called in Katxuyana, is unique because of the double row of feathers, which covers both the face and reaches into the air. It is an object which identifies the Katxuyana as a people – THE Katxuyana object one could say.


Two medicine men each wearing a txamatxama. Photo Gottfried Polykrates, 1957.


Braiding the base in the past. Photo Gottfried Polykrates, 1957.

However, the continuation of Katxuana culture and of the manufacturing of the txamatxama has not been without struggle. From 1968 until around 2000, the Katxuyana lived in voluntary exile to avoid extinction. Their numbers had dropped due to epidemics of measles and to survive they had to abandon their lands and ways of life and live with other indigenous groups in the Amazon. During the relocation they lost much of their cultural knowledge, kinship organisation, and language.

Therefore, after the return to the Katxuyana ancestral land, it became ever more important to resume Katxuyana culture such as traditions, language, and production of different artefacts, for instance the txamatxama. Today, however, the knowledge to braid the base of the txamatxama is only held by a few male elders. These skills are important to pass on to future generations to teach them not only how to make the txamatxama, but through this knowledge also how to be Katxuyana.


Eugênio Wanaruku is one of the few elders today who knows how to braid the base. Photo Adriana Russi, 2011.

Museum collections and ethnographic objects, such as the txamatxama, can be building stones for the Katxuyana to reconstruct their cultural identity. They can bring generations together through conversations about the past and through the practice of producing artefacts.


Here, ones of the Katxuyana leaders, Juventino Petirima, uses a contemporary txamatxama during a political gathering. Photo Adriana Russi, 2015.

Therefore, the txamatxama is on one hand a window into the past and Katxuyana life before their relocation including former traditions, culture, skills, and materials. On the other hand, the txamatxama is also about the present and the future. It represents the Katxuyana self-image today and tells about differences and similarities between the past and the present. Finally, it illustrates the wishes the Katxuyana have for a future in which their culture thrives and is passed on to coming generations.

//Astrid Kieffer-Døssing

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