Denise Pahl Schaan

Archeologist, Visiting Researcher at Emílio Goeldi Pará Museum

An Amazonian Language

Circa 400 A.D., hierarchical, regional societies emerged on Marajo Island. Under chiefs' control, the new form of social organization was legitimized through rituals, during which a shaman built the bridge between the ordinary world and the world of spirits and ancestors. Over that bridge, symbols and images conceived during hallucinogenic trances were transported. Marajoara art was born.

The shared meanings were turned visual on designs that remind us labyrinths, spirals, circles, rectangles, tridents, and faces. With themes closely related to the local fauna, the designs on the ceramics comprised an iconographic language, where mythical beings were depicted on a logic, coherent, and harmonious manner, surpassing techniques, shapes and surfaces. The collective practice legitimated an art that was conceived from the need to visualize and communicate emotions, feelings, truth, tradition, social positions, and history. As in any illiterate society, such an art would have the function of record and socialize knowledge.

The Marajoara society and its culture disappeared during the first decades of the European domination, since those populations did not resist to diseases, wars and missionization. However, they left us their ceramics and the ancient mounds where they lived, performed their ceremonies, and buried their dead. Thanks to the use of the ceramics in the funerary rituals, their art survived until present days. Not accidentally, its novelty is preserved, since it vehicles a cosmology built over a circular time, which, together with the Marajoara designs themselves, teach us that the beginning is always and inexorable attached to an end. An end that is nothing else but a starting point.