Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1920 Yekuana warrior
Subject: warrior
Culture: Yekuana
Setting: tribal warfare, Guyana highlands late 18th-mid 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Gantz 1999 p74-75
"Because of their exceptional ability as boat builders and prowess as boatsmen, the Ye'kuana have been able to defend their traditional territory -- even expand it.  Today they live along the banks of the rivers Padamo, Ventuari, Paragua, Caura, Uraricuera, Uesete, Cunucunuma, Yatiti, Cuntinamo, and Erebato.  This territory, comprising some 30,000 square kilometers, ranges across the Venezuelan states of Amazonas and Bolivar.  The Ye'kuana had no contact with the so-called Conquista until the second half of the eighteenth century. ...
    "From the eighteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Ye'kuana were under the influence of the Catholic Observantes Mission.  Originally received on friendly terms by the Indians, the Mission, together with the military, erected a string of Spanish settlements along a stretch of land reaching from La Esmeraldo [sic] to the Rio Erebato.  The indigenous Indians, however, were severely repressed by the Spaniards -- were [so] severely [repressed] that the Ye'kuana revenged themselves for the wrongs they had experienced by destroying the settlements in 1776."

* Whitehead 2002 p224-225
"From the period of 1920 to 1940, recall the Patamuna of the Yawong Valley, battles took place against the powerful wizards and fierce warriors of the Maionkon (Ye'cuana), who came across from the Caura and Orinoco Rivers, some three weeks march away in Venezuela.  The Maionkon were looking to steal guns, cutlasses, and women.  So the Patamuna fortified a position at Kuseilapoima, by the planting of a yala (dense hedge of bamboo).  Kuseilapoima controls the entrance to the Tusenen and Yawong Valleys.  Here the Ye'cuana were 'held back,' although it is still said that the women who were captured by the Ye'cuana in the course of these raids are living to this day in their villages in Venezuela.
    "Such accounts illustrate the significance of the plunder of guns and steel tools in warfare at this time, and the Ye'kuana were engaged in parallel fighting with the Yanomami to much the same ends." ...


* Gantz 1999 p79
"Seldom today, but not long ago men and women cut the hair of their heads in an identical fashion.   Plucked out or shaved with a bamboo knife were the eyebrows, eyelashes, hair of the armpits and genitals, as well as facial hair.  The earlobes, pierced, were adorned either with colorful feathers and pieces of bamboo, or earrings made from blass beads and metal.  The lips, also pierced, were decorated with feathers, and plant fibers.  Men as well as women wove white glass beads into their cotton armbands.  They also braided belts out of human hair or the fiber from plants to wear around their wrists and ankles, their calves and upper arms.  Thick necklaces made of red, dark-brown, and black glass beads hung down to adorn their breasts.
    "Parallel lines and geometric designs  contribute to the formal splendor of the Ye'kuana's body painting culture -- an activity which today has all but disappeared.  Wooden stamps and brushes made of thin reed tubes applied in meticulous detail onoto (Bixa orellana) and other dyes to the body.
    "[...] Before manufactured fabrics arrived, before Western clothing became the fashion, the Ye'kuana wove the muaho, a cotton loincloth for men ..."

Guss 1989 p41-42
"Worn by both sexes, .. bicep bands, known as ahatmi (from 'arm') or komata, are tied so tightly that their impressions remain even after the wearer in old age removes them.  In similar fashion, the carefully braided hair wrapped around the ankles in festival wear is replaced in daily life by long strings of beads called wa'hiyu.  Separate strands of these beads are also wrapped tightly around the calves just below the knees, leaving indelible marks similar to those of the arm bands.  Complementing this double-banded pattern of the legs, the wrists are also evenly wrapped with several inches of white beads, commonly referred to as saiyu or 'salt.'  To complete this encirclement of the torso, various necklaces made from combinations of beads, seeds, and animal teeth are hung around the neck, while a loincloth passes just below the stomach.  
    "As one may easily observe, Yekuana dress is a deliberate charting of the human space, with the trunk of the body fastidiously circumscribed from the outer limbs and head.  The bands, so tightly applied, along with the necklaces and loincloth, create an inner circle of each torso not unlike that found in both the house and garden.  Indentical to these collective structures, each Yekuana body is intersected by two imaginary concentric circles, the outer running through the wrist and ankle bands and the inner through those of the biceps and calves.  Thus like the outer ring of the house, which is sectioned off for individual families, the outer ring of the body -- between knee and ankle, bicep and wrist -- is also a world of differentiation and division.  The inner circle, on the other hand, like the annaka and adaha yenawa, is a world of wholeness and union, devoted to communication with the supernatural forces of Heaven."