Apalaii Headdress [Object of the Day #67]

September 20, 2012

Feather headdress from Guyana

This large, elaborate headdress is made of feathers and beetle wings, characteristic of the Apalaii people of Guyana. It was collected by William Curtis Farabee who conducted a pioneering expedition to the Amazon in 1913. For three years, Farabee explored and collected among the little-known tribes of the Amazon, Guyana, and eastern Peru, and conducted excavations on the Island of Marajo, at Santarem, and explored several small waterways once inhabited during prehistoric times at the mouth of Brazil’s Amazon River in the State of Pará.

In the early 90s, the Penn Museum exhibited several stunning examples of featherwork from the American collections in the exhibition “The Gift of Birds.” In the accompanying catalogue, curator Ruben Reina lists four reasons why indigenous groups use feathers in their festive and ritual attire: “(1) feathers are beautiful, “(2) they provide the wearer with an identity, “(3) they allow the wearer to emulate aspects of the appearance and/or behavioral characteristics of their animal source, and (4) they provide spiritual strength and protection.”

Penn Museum Object #SA771.

See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.