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Matsés Indian Tribe

The Cat People - Page 2 of 5

The Matsés speak a language of the Panoan linguistic family that is closely aligned with the dialects that the Matis and Korubo Indians speak. Indeed, I discovered that the Matsés share many aspects of their culture with the Matis Indians, including medicinal plant use. To my surprise I met some Matsés who know how to prepare "neste" or "dauë" (a medicinal bath for children) and "bëcchëte" (a medicinal eyewash that some claim improves visual acuity) similar to the Matis Indians of Brazil.

Matsés Indian facial ornamentation is very different from the Matis in that their facial tattoos consist of accentuated lines that surround the mouth and extend along the cheeks to the base of the ears. Women wear ornaments made from the ribs of palm leaves in their noses to represent the whiskers of cats. In addition, sticks made from the shoot of "caña brava" are sometimes placed in a perforation of the skin below the lower lip of women. Formerly, men had perforations in their upper lips in which they placed spines from the "ungurahui" palm (Oenocarpus bataua). Commonly, a bright red dye ("achiote"), obtained from the seeds of the annatto tree (Bixa orellana) is applied to the face and body.

The Matsés also use "achiote" to decorate circular headbands made from palm leaves. The geometric patterns painted on the headbands represent the symbolic clans of Matsés society (e.g. the jaguar, worm, or peccary). Normally, only men wear headbands. Formerly, men used palm leaf belts. They used them across the hips and sometimes across the chest or stomach. The hip belt was used to hold up and display the penis, a practice that at one time was typical of indigenous tribes in the Amazon. Currently, very few Matsés men support themselves in this manner.  

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