Rituals from the rainforest

Antonila Ramos Bautista Arara Colombia, 3D Art



Santa Fe New Mexican


Art, Adversity

Where the Amazon rainforest intersects with Colombia, Peru and Brazil, the Indigenous Tikuna people use natural resources in both ancient rituals and artistic traditions. “Their unique products are expressions of their tradition that have not been altered by commercial or colonial practices,” wrote Maneula Tobon of Colombia in the application for Tikuna participation in the 2022 International Folk Art Market. Among those presenting art of the three borderlands is Antonila Ramos Bautista, a first-time market artist. She uses yanchama, a fiber from tree bark, and balsa wood to create masks, garments and dolls used in coming-of-age rituals for girls. She also produces bejuco (vine) baskets and weavings from chambira palms. Muñecos de la Pelazón (“dolls of hair”) enliven the Fiesta de la Pelazón, which honors a Tikuna girl’s welcome into womanhood. Following the start of menstruation, a Tikuna girl who chooses to participate is sequestered in a small house made of palm leaves or an isolated part of her own house. For a month or more, she has contact only with her mother and a paternal aunt, who prepare her for emergence as a woman, wife and mother. The girl’s hair is cut short to represent the changes brought about by womanhood. At the end of her isolation, the celebration brings the community together for feasting, dancing and other entertainment. Although the ritual is not as commonly practiced as it was in the past, aspects of the tradition remain important to the Tikuna, one of the largest ethnic groups in the Amazon. Outfits worn by the ceremonial dolls are handmade, with their shapes alluding to flora, fauna and mythical beings. Fruits and leaves provide natural dyes for the designs. “The Tikuna understand the natural world as a whole, where human beings are part of the plants, the trees, the wild animals and the beings of the water,” the IFAM application stated. An artisan for 15 years, Ramos Bautista believes her cultural and ancestral traditions “have helped build her character as a leader and an artisan,” wrote Tobon in the group’s application. Learning Spanish enabled Ramos Bautista to build bridges among artists, tourists and customers. With the spirit of an entrepreneur, she organizes artisan groups in her community, which is accessible only by river. Traveling to classes and fairs, she feels called to educate her community’s children while expanding her own reach worldwide.