Foto: Paulo França, s/d

Huni Kuin (Kaxinawá)

  • Autodenominação
    huni kuin
  • Where they are How many

    AC10.818 (Siasi/Sesai, 2014)
    Peru2.419 (INEI, 2007)
  • Linguistic family



Kene Kuin, the true design, is an important emblem of Kaxinawá identity. Neighbouring peoples (the Kulina, Yaminawa and Kampa) have no designs comparable to kene kuin. For the Kaxinawá, these designs are a crucial element in the beauty of persons and things.

The body and face are painted with genipap during festivals, when visitors arrive or for the simple pleasure of dressing up. Small children are not painted with designs but are blackened from head to foot with genipap. Boys and girls have just part of their face covered with designs while adults paint their entire face.

Painting with genipap is an exclusively female activity. On days without any festival, they walk around unpainted, but when one of the men from the house brings genipap from the forest, there is always someone eager to mix the paint and invite the others to paint themselves. Young women are the most likely to be seen painted with designs, men less frequently, unless they are acting as hosts.

The kene kuin style contains a variety of named motifs. When a motif has two or more names, this is generally because of the ambiguity between figure and ground typical to the Kaxinawá aesthetic. The same motifs or basic designs used in face painting are found in body painting, pottery and weaving, basketry and stool decorations.

Just as not all bodies are painted, or not some bodies all of the time, not all keneya objects have designs. Cooking vessels are not painted, though the plates for serving food may be. Painting is associated with a new phase in the life of the object or person, a phase in which it is desirable to emphasize the smooth and perfect surface of the body in question. The design calls attention to new visual experiences, which announce crucial life events. The design vanishes with use and is only reapplied during festivals. Hence things with design occupy a special place in Kaxinawá culture, as in other cultures of western Amazonia.