Object: Amate paper charms

E/1980/3/6-12
Amate paper charms
Otomi
Central America: Mexico: Puebla
Unknown (likely 20th century)
Materials: Amate paper

Amate paper is a type of bark cloth that has been produced in Mexico for hundreds of years. While many tribal groups in Mexico have produced this type of paper, dating back to the Aztec Empire, today the Otomi people are best know for their amate paper production. The Otomi tribe lives primarily in the Mexican state of Puebla, though smaller communities can be found in Veracruz and Hidalgo. Today charms like these from the Sam Noble Museum‘s Ethnology Collection are frequently sold as tourist items however, the Otomi originally produced paper charms like these for a ritual purpose. There are traditionally two types of paper produced, one light in color and another dark. Cut out figures made from light colored paper are thought to be good spirits or blessings and figures made from dark paper are thought to be demons or curses. These figures were cut out by shamans of the tribe during a special ceremony. The figurines could then be used in rituals and presented as offerings to the spirits. The rituals were usually performed to cure and prevent disease or to ensure good harvests and healthy livestock.

Several different types of trees are used to produce amate paper. This type of paper can be made from various types of ficus and mulberry trees, known as Amate, Jonote, or Xalama Limon. The different types of bark produce different colored paper. The paper is made by harvesting thin strips of bark which are then boiled in water and lime for an extended period of time. After the bark has been boiled to the appropriate texture it is cooled and rinsed. The bark is then laid out in a grid pattern on a hard surface and the fibers are pounded together using stones. Finally the paper is allowed to dry and is then ready for use. A video of the process can be found below.

Other examples of traditional amate paper charms can be found at the University of Missouri’s Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of International Folk Art, and others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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