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Girl's Initiation Headdress

Arts of the Americas

Every day that passes, the invasion comes closer to our village. We don’t want to be killed by bullets. We want the federal government to assume its responsibility and guarantee the right that we have to live in our lands, to live in peace.
—Sergio Muxi Tembé, Chief of Tekohaw Village, 2019

This type of girl’s headdress is worn for an initiation ceremony held once a year in Tembé communities for both boys and girls when they reach puberty. Prior to the ceremony, a girl’s hair is cut and her body is covered with black dye from the fruit of the jenipapo (Genipa americana) tree. It is unknown whether such headdresses are still in use.

Today, the Tembé live in the Alto Rio Guamá Indigenous Reserve in the state of Pará, in northeastern Brazil. The territory of 1,080 square miles (about 2,800 square kilometers) is supposed to be protected from outside exploitation but has been overrun by loggers, who are cutting down trees illegally and setting fires to conceal the theft. Tembé community members (see photograph) have been forced to patrol the territory with bows, arrows, and video cameras to document the destruction, but the problem is escalating. In August 2019, Tembé men confronted loggers and allowed them to flee after burning their trucks and equipment; however, some Tembé fear retaliation.
CULTURE Tembé
MEDIUM Feathers, cotton, bird skins
  • Place Made: Pará, Brazil
  • DATES circa 1964
    DIMENSIONS 21 × 8 × 9 in. (53.3 × 20.3 × 22.9 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
    ACCESSION NUMBER 64.248.25
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Ingeborg de Beausacq
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Headdress consisting of a woven cotton headband in light purple and white decorated at the back with long danglers of multicolored, feathered tassels. Black and white feathers extend from top of headband and two danglers of blue feathers (cotinga) still attached to bird skin and supported by cotton backing hanging down the front. Condition: good.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Tembé. Girl's Initiation Headdress, circa 1964. Feathers, cotton, bird skins, 21 × 8 × 9 in. (53.3 × 20.3 × 22.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Ingeborg de Beausacq, 64.248.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 64.248.25_front_PS11.jpg)
    IMAGE front, 64.248.25_front_PS11.jpg., 2020
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    Tembé. <em>Girl's Initiation Headdress</em>, circa 1964. Feathers, cotton, bird skins, 21 × 8 × 9 in. (53.3 × 20.3 × 22.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Ingeborg de Beausacq, 64.248.25. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 64.248.25_front_PS11.jpg)