Emberá: A Tribal People and Their Masks

Emberá Woven Mask

From our website you will surely have noticed stunning woven baskets. These have literally stopped people in their tracks. Then they notice, without fail, the chunga (split palm leaf basketry material) woven shaman masks that have come from have the Emberá people of Panamá who are culturally similar to the Wounaan, a tribe renown for their world-class baskets. They live close to the Colombian frontier in the Darien region of Panamá and there are even some villages in which both tribes reside.

Although the baskets of the Wounaan are generally finer, the Emberá specialize in remarkable basketry forms unique to their creative repertoire whether it be masks, plates, animal figures and, more rarely, Emberá dolls traditionally attired.  While Emberá baskets may not be of the stunning caliber of the Wounaan, neither are these ‘sculptural’ woven pieces a part of the Wounaan’s repertoire.

Emberá Imagery

The Emberá shamans’ (called jaibaná) use carved balsa wood fauna figures and visages to be used in their healing and cleansing ceremonies. The masks and animal images are assembled around the hut where a curing ritual takes place. Hung from the house posts and interior roof structure (see ethnographic images to the right), this imagery is an intrinsic part of the rites that are observed in the shaman’s ritual.

Identifying the fauna ingeniously depicted in these masks can sometimes be challenging to identify as the basket weavers create both real and ‘fantastic’ animals. The masks are either reminiscent of forest or animal spirits, or as real, local species be they bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian, marine life, or insects.

We bring you this information because seldom has our woven mask inventory been so abundant and, as the pieces go quickly, we want to give you a heads up to enjoy the full collection. We would love you to visit our gallery in person; the Emberá woven masks section of our website offers an excellent selection as well.  And if you wish to see more of a selection – just ask us.

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