Archive for the 'Central American Tribes/Cultures/Countries' Category

Object: Chocolate whisk

Chocolate whisk (Molinillo)
Tlacolulu, Oaxaca, Mexico
ca. 1978
Materials: Wood

This object is a chocolate whisk, sometimes called a molinillo. Whisks like this one are used to make chocolate foam, a Mexican specialty, used in many traditional drinks and recipes. Chocolate is made from cacao, a type of seed found in fruit produced by Theobroma Cacao trees, and is native to Mexico and Central America. Making chocolate from the cacao seeds is a long and involved process. The seeds must be fermented and then dried, roasted, shelled, ground, and pressed before it can be mixed with milk and sugar to form the candy we all know and love. However, prior to European contact, chocolate was traditionally served as a drink and was not sweetened like most modern chocolates. In fact it isn’t uncommon in traditional Mexican cuisine to find recipes that use chili’s along with chocolate. Chocolate whisks like this one were invented by the Spaniard colonists in Mexico around the 1700’s.  Prior to the invention of the molinillo, chocolate froth was made by pouring the drink back-and-forth from one cup to another.  The whisks are used in a single container with the handle extending out of the top. The handle is rotated by rubbing it rapidly between the user’s hands.

The following video shows how chocolate whisks are used.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Amate paper charms

Amate paper charms
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]

Object: Lance

Bullfighting lances or Picas
20th century
Materials: Wood, metal nail, paper

Bullfighting has been a favorite sport in Mexico for many years. Originally introduced to Mexico by the Spanish, Mexican matadores perform specific moves, occasionally using a piece of red cloth, to encourage the bull to charge them. As the bull charges, the matadore will try to avoid being trampled while simultaneously injuring the bull. The

lances, or picas, from the Sam Noble Museum‘s Ethnology Collection were meant to be stuck into the neck of the bull as it charges. The metal tips of the lances are made from nails and are sharpened to form small hooks that are meant to catch in the bull’s flesh. These injuries, and the resulting blood loss, will slowly tire the bull and in the end, the bull is killed with a sword. The pica originated in Spanish bullfighting as the weapon used by the picadores, one of three sets of fighters that would engage the bull. Typically, a Mexican bullfighting event includes other activities or shows leading up to the the bullfight as the main event and can easily last all day.

Thousands of bullfighting events occur annually in Mexico, Spain, and other parts of Central America. Despite their popularity, recently there have been increased efforts to stop the sport, now seen by many to be cruel and inhumane. Bullfighting is now banned from National Spanish Television, and the Spanish region of Catalonia has banned the practice. There are also a number of groups attempting to pass bullfighting bans in Mexico, Ecuador, and other areas of Spain.

The following link will connect you to a National Geographic video with more information on the bullfighting tradition in Mexico. Viewer discretion is advised however as this video includes footage of actual bullfights. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Balero

Latin America: possibly Peruvian
Date unknown
Materials: wood, string

This object is a balero toy from Latin America. Baleros are fashioned from a ball and a pin joined together by a string. Usually, the ball contains a small cylindrical opening that fits over the pin. Balero toys are similar to cup-and-ball games, in which players attempt to sling a ball into a cup by manipulating the movement of the ball from the string. Balero players maneuver the ball by holding the pin and swinging the ball into the air with the string while attempting to catch it on the tip of the pin.

Baleros are thought to have originated from bilboquets in France during the sixteenth century. Bilboquets are variants of the ball-and-pin toys and monarchs, such as King Henry III of France, popularized the game in the European royal courts. Eventually, the game spread to the Americas, though there is evidence similar games existed among indigenous groups for many years before interactions with Europeans. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, balero toys became fashionable among elite circles, and King Louis XV was reported to have owned several ivory ball-and-pin sets.

Today, baleros are common in tourist shops and toy stores around the world. Versions of balero toys from different countries can be seen here. The game has also been featured in music and art work, as in the work pictured to the left. However, for most children and adults, baleros remain a simple, yet enjoyable diversion.

[Lauren Simons]

Object: Loom

Cakchiquel, Maya: Backstrap Loom
Date unknown
Materials: Wood, yam, cotton fibers

The Mayan tradition of weaving is one that reaches beyond textile production. Through the use of tools such as this backstrap loom, weaving can become a mechanism to strengthen and empower the female identity. From an early age, a Maya girl is taught the importance of her role as a weaver. This is instilled as soon as she enters the world, when female elders give her a toy loom. Within the first ten years of her life, this gift will be used as an educational tool as she becomes familiar with the look and feel of the loom. Once her spirit is ready, female family members will teach her how to weave.

In the Mayan worldview, weaving and female fertility are inextricably linked. The very act of weaving is referred to as “giving birth.” Various components of the loom and implements associated with weaving are given names related to female deities associated with life-giving powers, and human body parts such as the female heart, womb and umbilical cord. If the loom is used properly, the rhythmic sounds of the batten and shuttle will sound like a prenatal heartbeat, and the swaying body of a weaving woman should imitate the movements of a woman in labor.

Equipped with the skill and knowledge of textile production, women are often self-motivated to use weaving as a social movement, achieving solidarity among fellow female community members. Many women accomplish this by participating in a weaving cooperative. Membership in such an organization serves to galvanize the female gender identity, and provide a somewhat marginalized group with the means to boost morale and build economic stability and independence. By entering the marketplace, Mayan women have an opportunity to personally share their craft of weaving with people outside their culture group, using the loom as a communicative device regarding their heritage and traditional customs.

Through a shared identity found in cooperative efforts of conservation and education, there is a raised awareness of the rich cultural tradition of weaving. As a result, weaving’s deep connection with the feminine identity is shared with, and kept alive for, future generations of both the Mayan weavers and the public audience.

[Anna Rice]

Object: Ball

Tarahumara: Ball
Central America
20th Century
Materials: wood

This wooden ball facilitates a game of endurance running for the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. The wooden ball is used in a game called rarajipari or “foot throwing.” The ball is kicked in relays for up to days at a time, depending on whether it is an impromptu game or one planned well in advance. In games that are planned, bets are often taken by spectators. Referring to themselves as Raramuri, meaning “foot runner,” “running foot,” or “light foot,” their daily activities consist of long distance running and traveling in high altitudes and hot, rough terrain. There is somewhat of a cult following from the runners of ultra marathons, who admire the endurance and bare-footed or Huarache-wearing running style of the Raramuri.

Residing in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, and mostly in harsh environments of heat and high altitude, many Raramuri are far from what many perceive as “modern” civilization. Many still live in cliffs, caves and stone houses. Their economic system is based on bartering and trade, rather than the national currency.

This YouTube video is a short documentary of the lives of the Raramuri. At the five minute mark, they address the kickball game and history of running in this culture.

[Stephanie Adams]

Object: Cards

Spain: Deck of Cards
Central America
20th Century
Materials: Paper

This deck of cards may seem incomplete, but this style of deck is called a Spanish deck (“naipes” in Spanish) and consists of only 40 cards, rather than the usual 52 cards. The suits of the cards also vary from the standard deck. The Spanish suits have a direct relation to divinatory tarot cards, which consists of cups, wands or batons, coins, and swords. The three court cards, whose imagery comes from older Arabic decks, are the knave, the horseman, and the king. The border around the outside of the deck helps identify the suit for the player. The cups have a single break in the line, the swords have two breaks, the batons have three breaks, and the coins have a solid line.

This particular style of deck is called “cadiz” by collectors, though the manufacturers did not call it such. Traditionally, the cadiz style has printed words on some of the card faces. The horseman has “Ahi va”, which means something like “Good heavens!”, though the expression is enigmatic. The two of cups has “Naipes de una hoja”, which indicates the cards were printed and cut from a single sheet. Manufactured by Heraclio Fournier in 1896, this deck is marked as “El Leon” which signals the printing cycle of the cards.

The Spanish deck is used in numerous card games popular throughout Spain, Portugal, and Central America, including tute, la escoba, and el mus.

[Daniel Gonzalez]

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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