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Seated Whistle Figure in Form of Priest
Jama-Coaque, Ecuador
Before 500 C.E.
Ceramic
W. 3.00" x H. 5.00"
1991.0070


Jama-Coaque refers to a culture in the northern territory of the Manabi province in the region of the central coastal area of Ecuador from approximately 500 BCE through 500 AD. This period is referred to as the Regional Development period. Because of the damp tropical climate of this region, in contrast to the extremely arid regions of coastal Peru, very little art and architecture was preserved from this area and region. Nature's ravages have left little record. The dearth of artifacts has not yet revealed to scholars details of day-to-day life or of the political or religious systems.

The small mold-made whistle figurine here is characteristic of the culture as the human form was commonly portrayed in both figurines and on vessels. Seen here is a seated figure, with incised detail around a headdress which surrounds the head completely. There is additional incised detail above the hands, indicating cuffs of a robe. The face features heavy-lidded eyes and a worn face suggesting an elderly person. The headdress, robe and the advanced age of the figure are indications the representation of a priest or shaman. Furthermore, although the front of the figure is a human form, the back features a long tail, curling at the end, most likely representing a monkey. Monkeys were considered deities, and they were often anthropomorphized with the figure of a priest or shaman and used for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

Frequently portrayed in Jama-Coaque figurines were lavishly dressed characters such as priests, warriors, musicians, artisans and women. Also characteristic of the Jama-Coaque is the large nose portrayed here. Red clay slip was applied to the face. The Jama-Coaque used a wide palette of colors including red, yellow, green, white and black and it is possible that the body of this figure would have originally been polychromatic.

Whistles, like this object, were one of a variety of musical instruments including wind and percussion used by the Jama-Coaque. The whistles usually featured a hole in the top of the head, as seen here.

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