Nuchu (MMA 2017.34.83)
Created by master carvers, Nuchukana (plural; singular nuchu), small wooden human figures, are found in homes across the Guna territories of northeast coastal Panama. When not in use in curing ceremonies, the nuchukana help protect the household’s occupants from dangerous spirits. A nuchu gain its power from the tree it is carved from, as among the Guna trees are recognized as ancient beings that hold great knowledge. Nuchukana take many forms both male and female. Some wear ordinary dress; others, such as this one, resemble foreign missionaries or soldiers.
This nuchu is from the Mari Lyn Salvador collection in the Maxwell Museum. Salvador was Curator of Ethnology at the Maxwell Museum from 1978 to 2005. She is best known for her work on Guna molas, the colorful, appliqued and embroidered blouse panels made by Guna women. However, during her fieldwork she also collected an array of other items, including nuchukana and other objects associated with healing. A forthcoming online Maxwell Museum exhibition, Ceremony and Performance, will feature more Guna objects from the Salvador Collection.