Recreating a Tairona Gold Figure Pendant…

…with gold papers!

From my last post about the Pre-Columbian gold, I absolutely fell in love with the figure pendants created by the Tairona people. I really wanted to make one! So I decided to recreate one using gold papers. Before I go any further, this is what I’m talking about:

And this:

The Tairona lived in northern Colombia in the isolated mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (current Magdalena Department, northern Colombia).

These figures are referred to as “caciques” (chieftains) and range from about one to six inches in height. They are hollow, having been cast by the lost-wax method to achieve remarkable detail. The loops they have in the back indicate that they were worn as pendants.

There are two types of cacique: one is fully human (shown here); the other is similar but has the head of a bat or crocodile. Both wear enormous headdresses, sometimes as tall as the figures, with two large birds on the front and elaborate sidepieces. Due to the intricate detail, archeologists believe these pendants would only have been worn by powerful people within the Tairona society. Some believe it the portrait of a ruler (cacique) others the depiction of a shaman during its spiritual transformation (assuming the features of its animal spirit). (1)

I also found this in another source:

“The Tairona had a ruling system based on religion. Their rulers were a part of Shaman elite that claimed to be able to control the forces of nature, the cosmos and all human thoughts and actions. One of the chief beliefs of the Tairona people was in the process of transformation. The process is a typical shamanistic power exchange. By cleansing their mind and body, going through long periods of fasting, and exhaustive ritual dances, they believed the shamans’ souls could transcend the mortal human condition and acquire knowledge from unknown regions of the cosmos which would be inaccessible to anyone else. Hence the shamans were considered the heads of the tribe and were treated with a great deal of respect, being responsible for gathering armies, controlling agriculture, looking out for the wellbeing of the Tairona, and even supervising the barter trade network. It was the belief of the Tairona that the shamans could escape their body and gain the knowledge of other creatures, which inspired their metallurgy. ” (2)

Also in this source they describe how these shamans would try to make themselves look like the most powerful animal to them: a bat. Hence “The ornamentation on their metal visors was an allusion to the membranes inside the animal’s ear; the cylindrical nose rings raised the nose to make it look like the nostril of certain bat species, and the sub-labial ornaments imitated the fleshiness of the animal’s lower lip.” (2)

I was fascinated and inspired by this shaman transformation and decided to recreate a woman transforming herself into an owl… in a way it is me and the symbol of teaching (an owl).


  • Scissors. Big one, little one. You will need one that cuts really small details. (Or a Xacto knife)
  • Gold papers. The more the merrier! I had four kinds and yellow paper.
  • Glue dots. After trying different kids, I like these the best:
  • Copy paper, tracing paper, pencil, eraser
  • Tape
  • Circle stencil (helpful but optional)


Start by drawing your figure. Because I needed it to be symmetrical I drew half of it. Then I traced it and copied it to the opposite side.

I used the drawing as the reference to cut everything out, almost like a stencil.

I even used the pieces to get the correct placement once I had cut them out of gold:

So happy with the first part:

I used the circle stencil to make most circles:

Also a Xacto knife to extract the ‘insides’ of the top part.

From working so much with the materials, I discovered that by ‘cutting’ the glue into little balls made it easier to use. It is a very powerful glue, so you really need to know where you want it. Removing it is really hard.

Also tape from the back to hold together pieces that needed to stay together.

So much work!

It took me about 6 hours to complete the figure:

It was incredible to see how it changed colors depending how I used my camera!

Now… how do I adapt this so my second graders can do something inspired in this? Stay tuned!


(1) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(2) World


  1. Hermoso el resultado de tu interpretación de la pequeña figura del cacique de oro, de los indígenas Tairoma de Colombia.Realizada en papeles dorados recortados, ensamblados y pegados.
    Increíble el resultado. Felicitaciónes

    Liked by 1 person

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