Traditional Crafts from Brazil's Rainforest - The Kayapo Women

brazil crafts kayapo painting

Common Texture Blog | Traditional Crafts from Brazil's Rainforest - The Kayapo Women
Hello from Brazil! For those of you who follow Common Texture's journeys you know that we are always on the lookout for traditional crafts and ethical home decor and accessories. It is not always easy finding the artisans however, especially when residing in big cities. Small artisan communities are often tucked away in remote places. So we were very happy to stumble upon an exhibition about the Kayapo Women at the Memorial of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil’s capital, Brasília.

The Kayapo women and their work

The Kayapo people are an indigenous tribe that lives in a territory located in the state of Para, in Brazil's rainforest south of the Amazon river. Far away from modern life, their home is the forest, which they protect and make good use of for food and small family farming such as chestnut collection and fishing. They live in big wooden houses, built in a circle.

Common Texture Blog | Kayapo traditional woven baskets
Image: Handmade woven baskets used by the Kayapo women to collect wood and chestnuts

The pictures demonstrate the daily life and hard work of the Kayapo women; they collect wood and prepare the food while taking care of their children and their homes, washing clothes in the river, fetching water and so on.

The traditional craft of painting

What struck us the most were the beautiful and bold patterns painted on their faces and body parts. We learned that painting is a traditional craft that is passed from woman to woman, from generation to generation; all Kayapo women master the craft of body painting at a very young age. Paintings are applied to celebrate rituals such as parties, funerals, war preparation, fishing, forest invasion or just for beauty. All paintings are unique and depend on the person who is painted; there are different paintings from men, women, single women, the elderly, children and first born.

Common Texture Blog | Kayapo girl with traditional painting and beaded earrings
Image from Instituto Kabu: Kayapo girl with body painting and beaded earrings

The paint is eco friendly and handmade with fruits and seeds that can be found in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, jenipapo and urucum. The women in the village paint their faces, chest, arms and legs but also those of the men and elderly people of the tribe. Animals, plants and everything around them inspire their drawings. They also wear colored beaded traditional jewelry representing their tribes.

We noticed that the walls of the exhibition space were decorated with framed printed fabrics. The Kayapo women started painting fabrics to earn some extra income. Their printed fabrics are now being used for shoes, cushions and clothes too. The framed fabric with its symmetric patterns looked stunning on the walls!

Kayapo framed painted fabrics
Image: Framed Kayapo eco friendly painted fabrics

Besides fabric painting the woman are also producing earrings, bracelets, necklaces and other handmade accessories with beads in bright vibrant colors and patterns.

The Kayapo and their future

Part of this production helps in the families’ incomes but nowadays they need other resources to help maintain their houses and their overall livelihood. The Kayapo and other indigenous tribes have always lived in the forest, they know how to preserve it without destroying it. The sad truth is that their forest is under attack; deforestation and dam constructions endanger their way of life, their traditions and subsequently their culture.
The Kayapo are therefore turning to other sources of income such as their handicrafts to maintain their way of living. Using traditional crafts inherited from their ancestors to create new products makes them proud.

Artisanal crafts are a beautiful way to pass traditions, customs, languages and rituals from one generation to the next. Each product tells us a story. Purchasing handmade ethical and eco-friendly home decor and accessories can help preserve these stories and traditional techniques. Surely it is a nice feeling to know where your possessions are from and how they are made. All the while directly supporting the livelihood of small artisan communities such as the Kayapo women.

Read more about Common Texture's Crafts and Artisans.

All pictures and exhibition displays shown in the images belong to Instituto Kabu.

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