The Houston Museum of Natural Science has an unparalleled Amazonia collection. Priceless pieces of the collection—ceremonial objects, masks, body costumes, headdresses and more—are showcased in the new special exhibition Out of the Amazon: Life on the River.
Sharing the story of thirteen tribes, spectacular feather art and other rare artifacts are complimented by photographs, videos and animals that live side by side with these indigenous communities. Visitors are offered a glimpse of everyday life, as well as the spiritual beliefs and customs, among the rapidly disappearing indigenous groups of the Amazon Rainforest.
One of these tribes is the Pa’ikwené, which inhabit the border area of two countries, French Guyana and Brazil. The overall population in the early part of the 21st century is estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,600 individuals. The term Pa’ikwené means “people of the middle,” a reference to their homeland along the Middle River, called the Urucauá.
They are also “people of the middle” in another sense: their strong sense of uniqueness and exclusivity seems to allow each individual one of them a feeling of importance and worth—of being, as a Pa’ikwené, right at the hub of things. The Pa’ikwené recount no fewer than six creation stories. One of these incorporates the world-wide theme of a great flood.
Unique to the Pa’ikwené culture is a conical helmet, open at the top and decorated with superimposed feathers.This headress functions as a seat for a protective spirit, one that will shield the wearer from ill-intentioned spirits.
This exhibit is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue, containing 292 color images, and essays. It is available in the museum’s gift shop.