Most feather creations are worn on or around the head, which in some cultures is the most sacred part of the body.
The Museums of World Culture in Gothenburg and Stockholm administer a total of almost 500,000 objects, of which almost 5000 are manufactured from feathers.
Among the objects are among other things fletched arrows, cloaks that have been buried for 2000 years and amazing headdress made from feathers. We are seizing the opportunity to show some of them. Feathers are sensitive to vermin attacks and light fades them and breaks down the material, making it delicate and eventually it breaks. This is the reason for why the exhibition is a bit dark. The harmful light also breaks down the feathers on living birds, which is one of the reasons for why they molt.
The feather headdresses in this exhibition are not all still in use today. In some places, the custom has disappeared. Other feather costumes are now used for new purposes, like making political statements against the destruction of the rainforest.
A decorative feather headdress tells us a lot about the wearer: who they are, the group they belong to and what rights they have. Lots of feather garments are made for special occasions such as festivals, ceremonies and rituals, but also to impress and show off.
While in the West it is mainly women who wear feathers, in the rest of the world men are just as likely to wear them. Of all the places where people use feathers to adorn themselves and display wealth and social position, only New Guinea highlands rival Amazonia in the splendor and variety of feather costumes. These exceptionally fine feather costumes, one for a man and one for a woman, are from the Ka'apor of Brazil, who wear these decorative items during their most important festival, at which children are named.
COMING OF AGE
The transition from childhood to adulthood is an important moment. In many cultures this transition is celebrated with an initiation rite. 100 years ago, in some parts of Indonesia teeth chiseling was common practice. During the ceremony the newly become woman wore a feathered crown during the teeth chisel celebration.
The Brazilian Kayapo, for example, often perform initiation rites in combination with naming ceremonies. These festivities and ceremonies are always important for the entire community. Everyone wants to look their best, and both initiates and onlookers often wear magnificent feather jewelry.
The Karajá, originally come from the island of Bananal in central Brazil. Festivals and rituals are important to them, giving balance to their world view.
One of their most important festivals is the initiation rite for boys. During the festivities, young boys and girls wear their finest ornaments of feathers and beads, including lóri-lóri, or feather headdresses. 'Beautiful children' from prominent families, also wear lóri-lóri. Grandmothers make the headdresses for their grandchildren, who wear them in public. These special children are a source of pride to the whole village.
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
The central highlanders of New Guinea are masters of colourful costumes and painting. Birds play an important role in their culture.
In rituals they invoke the qualities of birds to give their children strength, and women dance in imitation of the displays performed by birds. During their annual festivals, the men compete with each other to impress the women. The young women will compliment them only once they have closely scrutinized their feathered outfit: is it suitable for the occasion, are the colours and materials right? These days, new materials like plastic and synthetic fabrics are also used, but feathers remain an essential element.
Stephen Jones is perhaps the most famous, radical and important milliner in the world. His work is known for its inventiveness and the high level of technical expertise. In the 1980s, he designed hats for celebrities including Boy George and Princess Diana. Major stars like Rihanna and Kylie Minogue still sport his radical creations. Many leading fashion houses commission Jones to design hats to complete their outfits.