Woodwork

Ancestral hunting practices throughout the Amazon are quickly disappearing as knowledge is forgotten and shotguns replace traditional hunting tools. Game is becoming harder to find in the nearby jungle next to settled (non-nomadic) communities and additionally there is a rise of packaged food entering indigenous villages.

The Matsés unlike many other ethnic groups in the Amazon still use traditional hunting tools, most noticeably the bow and arrow. Shotguns have largely replaced the traditional method but for specific animals, noticeably birds and particularly the tinamous (partridge-like birds), the arrow is still the preferred choice.

We now follow the incredibly fine and detailed artistic processes behind the bows, arrows and lances.

BOW & ARROW

The Matsés are well renowned for their arrows, reaching 2 metres in length, they are amongst the finest produced in the Amazon.

The arrow shaft is made from the flower stem of the arrow cane (Gynerium sagittatum). The process begins by fletching the arrow: the vanes of a feather are removed form the rachis and each half is attached to the arrow shaft using a complex adhesive made from a mix of several types of beeswax and rubber latex. The feather is secured to the shaft using the thread-like veins of banana leaf petioles.

The most common feathers used are black, taken from the curassow bird but other bird species are known to be used, such as black and white feathers from the harpy eagle and the all-black feathers of vultures.

Strong bamboo points are carefully shaped with a machete, before it is attached to the arrow shaft using beeswax once more. Cotton thread is wrapped tightly over the joint for a solid and strong attachment, ready to handle rainforest hunting.

Finally the arrow point is painted with annatto, the designs painted on the arrowheads correspond to the clan of the owner. The Matsés have two patrilineal clans: bëdibo ‘the jaguar clan’ and macubo ‘the caterpillar clan’, and each has 3-4 clan-specific designs that are used on arrows and headbands.

Bows are usually made from various species of strong but flexible palm wood. The bowstring is made from twisted bark of a type of Cecropia tree.

LANCES

2 metre lances are traditionally used in defence of the jaguar during unexpected jungle encounters. Today, they are more commonly used as a ceremonial and status object rather than in jaguar defence.

The peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) is felled and the hard outer layer of the tree trunk is used to make the lance. First the wood is cut to size and then shaped by carving out the soft white pith. It takes a full day of carefully reducing the wood before it takes the shape of a lance.

Once shaped, home-spun cotton thread is wrapped around the shaft and painted with the pulp of annatto berries as decoration, this is close to the spear head to be used for grip. They sand the spears (and bows) with dry leaves of a tree (Pouroma sp.) whose leaves have a rough underside, similar to fine-grained sandpaper. With fresh leaves of this same tree that have a finer grain they pass over the spear to give a shiny finish.

ANCESTRAL TRANSMISSION

Antonio learnt how to make these artefacts from his father, an example of how the ancestral transmission traditionally moves. Now it is he who is teaching his children and passing down this ancient craft to the next generation.

In Matsés villages it is generally only the elders who have the knowledge to make these artefacts. The reality today is that very few young Matsés take interest in learning and continuing these practices. It is our mission for this ancestral transmission to continue, by offering support and motivation to the younger generation when learning from their elders. As with all of our fair-trade with the art, the selling platform through the Xapiri project provides sustainable economic options to the Matsés.