Exhibitions: Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas

Dance Mask

The Pamí’wa, commonly referred to as the Cubeo, live in the present-day countries of Colombia and Brazil and are known for elaborate dance masks made of painted bark cloth. These full-body masks are worn for the mourning, or ónyo (“weeping”), ceremony, a multiday ritual held approximately a year after an individual’s death. The masks represent the spirits of primordial animals who were created by the deity Kúwai at the beginning of time and were prototypes for real species. Made and worn by men, the masks do not come alive until they are danced, thereby creating a connection between ancestral and present-day worlds. Geometric designs are more common on such masks than the snakes depicted here, which may represent the spirit Ala, a venomous viper.