Object: Drum incense burner

E/2000/13/1
Drum incense burner
Lacandone
Mexico: Chiapas
ca. 1970
Materials: ceramic, leather, plant fibers, wood

The Lacandone (or Lacandon) people of the Chiapas region of Mexico are one of the remaining tribes of Maya Indians, and are considered by some, to be the most traditional Mayan group remaining. This group of Maya live exclusively in the Laconadon rain forest of southern Mexico. In 1978 the Mexican government declared approximately 600,000 hectares of Lacandon forest a “protected zone,” and gave the land to the Lacandone people. Roughly half of this protected area is known as Montes Azules (Blue Woodlands) and is one of the largest remaining tropical rainforests in Central America. Traditionally the Lacandone engaged in a sustainable slash-and-burn form of agriculture that would utilize small areas of the forest for subsistence crops and then allow the field to remain fallow for a number of years before being returned to use. The Lacandone would supplement their diet with hunting, fishing, and gathering.

Incense plays a large part in traditional Lacandone religion, and this drum shaped incense burner was likely meant to be used as part of a Lacandone ceremony. The Lacandone worship a number of deities, many of which have their roots in ancient Maya tradition. Religious ceremonies can take place at a number of sacred sites, including natural caves, Mayan ruins, and in small house-like structures within the villages called “god houses.” These ceremonies traditionally included offerings of food and/or drink to the deities and the burning of copal incense. The incense, made of tree resins, is burned in special pottery vessels called “god pots.” These incense burners are shaped like a simple round bowl with a large human-like face modeled on the rim. While the faces of these pots are all very similar, the pots are often painted with specific colors and patterns to indicate that the pot is a representation of a specific deity.

Other examples of Lacandone pottery can be found at Williams College Museum of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Milwaukee Public Museum, and others.

The following video shows a Lacandone drum similar the one at the Sam Noble Museum being used. [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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