The Indians Marching upon a Visit or to Feast

Location: Panama


This engraving, from A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America by Lionel Wafer, shows the ruler of this particular tribe and his family in their finest attire. The people are not named further than to say that they are the inhabitants of the isthmus. The value of this image lies in the ability to compare this indigenous version of finery to the European-conveyed fashions and our own narrow view of the possibilities of costume and adornment. The author describes first the dress of the women:

"They wear no cloaths, ordinarily; but only the Women have a Clout or piece of Cloth about their middle, tied behind with a Thread, and hanging down to their Knees; or Ankles, if they can get one large enough. They make these of Cotton; but sometimes they meet with some old Cloaths got by trucking with their neighbor Indians subject to the Spaniards; and these they are very proud of" (pg. 137).

"The men," he explains,

"ordinarily go quite naked, without so much as a Clout about them, which few other Indians are without....Yet the Men also have a value for Cloaths; and if any of them had an old Shirt given him by any of us, he would be sure to wear it, and strut about at no ordinary rate. Besides this, they have a sort of long Cotton Garments of their own, some white, other of a rusty black, shap'd like our Carter's Frocks, hanging down to their Heels, with a Fringe of the same of Cotton about a Span long, and short, wide, open Sleeves, reaching but to the middle of their Arms. These Garments they put on over their Heads; but they are worn only on some great Occasions... They don't march in them: But the women carry these...which they put on when they come to the Place of Assembly, and there they make themselves as fine as they can" (pg 138-139).

He goes on to describe the various ornamentations of gold and silver that the natives use to adorn their faces, specifically the mouth and upper lip for the men and the nose for the women, and the ears for both sexes, all of which are evident in the image. This work is striking because of its detail as well as for the care taken by the author in describing the every nuance of the native costume and people.

Book Title: A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America

Plate Number: Page 137

Call Number: F1564 .W15 c.2