Ngöbe Art:

rituals and traditions

*Overview of Ngöbe Art *History, Legends, and Mythology of Ngöbe Art *The Artistic Process

Artisan Rituals and Traditions


The feminine rite of passage, Mogön, is divided in two parts: the first immediately follows when the girl observes a change in her body, and is isolated for 4 days; the other part lasts the following 4 weeks, and all this ends in a party.

When the girl arrives at puberty, the mother explains important things about preventative hygiene and all the things that she will need to know to be a woman. After this talk, in the dry season, the mother and the girl build a little provisional house at the shore of the river. In the rainy season the girl is isolated in a small room in the family house.

During 4 days the girl lives with 4 older women, in the house or isolated room, to learn some important elements of being a woman: to clear a vegetable garden and sweep the house, do laundry, cook, and all the things that she doesn't know. But the Señora Suzana Bejerano, from the community of Soloy, says "that it is prohibited to sew a dress during this ritual, because it causes pain in the body." In these days they work all day and all night, and don't sleep much.

The chacaras that they make during Mogön are very special. In the beginning the girls learn to make very simple chacaras; those that are not decorated with designs. In general they use the fibers of Kiga or Kunzugara (local plants), and learn how to roll the fiber to a thread, and after start to make the chacara. The special chacaras of Mogön are given to the older women who have a good knowledge of chacara confection. When the girl already knows how to weave chácaras, the women teach her various designs, or instruct her in the preparation of fibers or natural dyes. The girl has to make a chacara every day, so that there are 4 chacaras after the first part of Mogön.

In the nights the women take the girl to the river, where they sit down on a rock. Each one of them has to throw water on her head 4 times during the 4 days. The girl is undressed in this ceremony, to be acquainted with the shame in front of other persons. They say that the girl "also should take precautions to save herself and should do it with a twig or small branch but never with her nails" (Torres de Arauz, 1980). On the fourth night the first part of Mogön finishes, with the cutting of the hair. In earlier times, the hair was left very short, but currently it is more common to cut a little in the front.

During these 4 days and the 4 additional weeks, she has to eat a specific diet: she cannot eat beef, fish, sugar or salt. The girl can eat a special plate of bananas. Also, she is prohibited to dress in red clothes or paint her face with red. And she must be protected from the sun.

In the 4 weeks following these 4 days, the girl lives semi-isolated in the family house, and has to help the mother in all her domestic labors. She cannot speak or laugh with anyone except her mother and also she should not serve the meals. She weaves chacaras like she learned at the beginning of the Mogön.

All the prohibitions are terminated when the party of Mogön is celebrated at the end of the 4 weeks. Before the ritual is concluded, the girl collects the ingredients to prepare a feast, and she cooks for the neighbors and friends who attend the party. Also, she prepares two types of chichi, one special kind for her and one normal for the guests. At the end of the second part,, semi-isolated, she bathes with other women in the river, in a ritual bath. She returns to the house while the men drink chichi and sing 4 special songs, the girl can start to participate in the family life again, can dress in red, and paint her face in whatever color. In this ritual the color red signifies that she is a woman and can marry.

Here has been described how the rite of passage is celebrated in some communities of the Ngöbe-Bugle Comarca, but some sources say that they are practiced in other manners in other communities.

Phases of the Moon

The chacara producers know much about the phases of the moon. The moon has a certain relationship with the creation of art materials.

Full moon:

The majority of women extract their Kiga fibers during the full moon, when it has a round form and illuminates the night. The belief and tradition is that the fibers, which are dried outside the house in a coil, acquire a whiter color. These are put to dry during the whole day, and the whole night. Some think that the fibers are finer, more durable, and firmer. Some also say that extracting dye from leaves is easier because they have more liquid during the full moon.

The men have the same customs to work with the fibers of Tobö (Palm), to make hats.

The greater part of women believe that the full moon affects only the fiber of Kiga; and very few believe the full moon bleaches the fibers of Bän.

New Moon

The new moon is also important to the Ngöbe artist. When the night is very dark and the Milky Way can be clearly seen, it is the perfect time to color the fibers with natural dyes, during the day. The women say that the resulting colors are purer and more intense. The belief includes all plants used as dyes, without exception.
The elderly, why know much about legends and the processing of natural dyes, say that people who are born during the new moon are better at dyeing. The women who are born in a night with moonlight don't produce colors so pure.

Pregnant Women

In the Ngöbe belief, the pregnant women affect the preparation of some products. For an example, when a pregnant woman participates in producing natural dyes, it is believed that the colors come out more faded; they say that the child in the womb causes the alteration. The same belief exists about the preparation of fermented chicha, they say that the child diminishes the effect of the alcohol.

The people think that during the pregnancy there are also positive aspects. The women are more animated to work in the house, for example , to clean, do laundry and cook. They also make, with much joy, chacaras and sew clothes for the whole family.

The number 4, sacred for the Ngöbe

In many ancient stories and in every ritual, you can notice that the number 4 seems very important. It is sacred for the Ngöbe, because it originates from the moment when Ngöbö(God) created the earth, in 4 days