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Video transcript

I'm in the British Museum with Jay ho Cooper and we're looking at this amazing headdress at first glance it looks like it's constructed entirely out of feathers yeah that's right we're down in the King Edward's basement deep in the bowels of the British Museum and we're looking here at a moon gurukul headdress which does indeed seem to be made entirely of feathers who are the moon daruka the moon Derek you are an indigenous community which live on the Rio temple house right in the heart of the Amazon between the upper and lower Amazons looking at a map of the Amazon we're on the south side of the rear Amazon and very Ithaca is one of the trees leading into it we're seeing this headdress in this basement strong room but it's meant to be seen in a very different environment so we have those understand a connection between the objects in the place of origin and this is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with some of the most wonderful birds and animals living in it and this is a reflection of them and I'm seeing at least three different kinds of feathers I'm assuming they're from three different birds so we know some of the species of birds this is a aurora bird a matoom bird and perhaps a macaw feathers or from a vulture the error ax are the yellow feathers that are around the back yep the matoom are these black feathers and then we have these lovely red or orange tail feathers which come down and likely to be in a core or a vulture whoever constructed this is using the feathers in a way that is taking into account the quality of that feather you've got those long tail feathers functioning almost like long braids of hair and the short feathers really functioning as Tufts and the RR delineating the turn of the back of the head absolutely not only aren't they selecting these feathers for the aesthetic qualities what they look like I think was also another interesting layer which is that the birds themselves have particular characteristics particularly myths surrounding them that perhaps go back hundreds of years so what this means to people is not as what it looks like but what it means about the animals the landscape the environment from which they come so the behaviors of the birds the calls of the birds are being referenced in the use of these feathers imagine that you live in the rainforest and that you're entirely reliant on the environment around you then your entire way of life creates knowledge base about education if you think about the education the Khan Academy education of the environment in the forest systems within each feather within each animal within each part of that forest is a whole education system that is passed down through degenerations so this headdress is about 100 years old is it fair to say that it's continuing a tradition that is older absolutely this is definitely continuing tradition she's gone on for a long time said what's important is that these don't preserve in the Amazon well because these are organic materials that's an incredibly humid environment things survive when they're in dry environments when you live in the tropics your whole way of life is about expediency things just go you know you change your house roof every few years everything that happens on a seasonal basis the whole timelines of the environment are different and so the idea of the brush museum of the exemplar of antiquity and permanence of culture through time it's almost at the opposite ends of the spectrum both are absolutely crucial to understanding material culture and the massive diversity around the world and if there is longevity its longevity of tradition rather than of the object itself absolutely it's longevity of tradition and knowledge and it's interesting to think about how knowledge is passed down through generations through social practice through people doing things in front of each other and learning through time so how has this used this is definitely a headdress which is used a particular ritual occasions it's incredibly dramatic often associated with a scepter which is hold in your hand so this is not an everyday item it's there to display power and authority within the community and within potentially a dance or a ceremony which is being carried out although this object is over a hundred years old it's in such incredible condition and I'm assuming that the moon record don't have modern glues how is this held together it has this exterior of a fragility of these delicate feathers they look just beneath the surface you can see that is a very closely knit web of a string made from local plant materials and that binds it all together each of these feathers is stuck within that lattice I'm imagining somebody wearing this these feathers moving and there's an iridescent to the darker feathers materials don't have just one quality so you can imagine the light shining off the feathers it also shines off the water of the river it shines off of the trees and if it starts to connect up themes of the environment which bind together and give the object meaning I can't help but think that wearing feathers conveys some of the power and the special qualities of a bird to the human who wears a do we have any sense of what the symbolism is this idea of taking on the qualities of animals is something which is very common throughout the whole of the Americas you can't talk about this particular objects clatter no the connotations it within them in the ruku but yes the idea that humans can take on the power of animals is definitely a common theme among many cultures of the Amazon and it's intriguing because it often gives the idea of the quality they're looking for so sight the idea that the bird can go above the Amazon canopy be able to see great distances also it ties in which about time about how different temporalities of life within the forest interweave and how humans are part of that great system of life dissolving the distinction between animal and human between human and nature decided that the forest is this sort of dark place which is an inhuman place this is the classic example of why all of our understanding of human environment into relationships is connected with in Amazon society