Issue - July 2007



July 2007
Editorial

In this issue we invite you to read and enjoy: by Mikko Mäkimartti, Living with the Yuracare; Santa Teresa de Jesús Convent is now a museum that can be appreciated by the public in all its splendour. Climate change talk is more than hot air by Lucy Witter. ...read more...

July 2007

The sound of the snake

Walter Sánchez Canedo Institute Archeological Research

By: Walter Sanchez
Illustrations: Iván Montaño
Museo de Arqueología, San Simón
Translated by : Carmen Copa & Lucy Witter

What was the reason for the Andean and pre-Hispanic fascination for rattlesnakes (crotalus durissus terrificus)? Felipe Criado Boado, in his book Del Terreno al Espacio: Planteamientos y Perspectivas para la Arqueología del Paisaje (Capa 6, 1999) said that the “weak analogy” can be a methodological way in which to ask questions that enable us to advance our understanding of an unknown phenomenon. It is to be understood not as the search for ethnographic parallels, similarities or continuities, but as the sizing up of and looking closer at phenomena that, because of their nature and separation in time and space, are irreducible. In this way is this possible to locate the significance and connotations of rattlesnakes within the Tiwanaku culture (400b.c.-1.100 a.d) through an exploration of Andean ideology.

The Aymaras and Quechuas of Bolivia divide the universe into three parts: Alax Pacha (upper world), Kay Pacha (our world) and Manqha Pacha (underworld). Alax Pacha is a sphere of light, which is associated with the official deities of God, the Saints and the Virgins. Manqha Pacha is the underworld sphere, the darkness, where the Andean Deities are located: Pachamama (Mother Earth), the dead and the ancestors, the evils, the lighting and the Siruni, “musical and poetic Evil”.

The Siruni is a Deity in all of the Andes, who is invoked only to listen to the sounds through which it communicates. It gives human beings music, the singing poetry, and also the aesthetic sound of musical intruments. Each year in the north of Potosi, the peasants perform rituals at night (ch’allas) in the water slopes (pajchas), where the Siruni live, with the aim of listening to the new music and poetries in order to take them to the festivals. They say that Siruni is “evil” and appears in Saint Sebastian. The Sereno leaves the slope saying “occ”, and then begins to sing the new waynas (songs) with an imilla voice (the voice of a young women). Then he tunes the instruments and plays them. They then take these songs and melodies to parties. In other communities of Chuquisaca and Cochabamba, the Siruni appear in the dreams of the music teachers, the Luriri, to give them new melodies and waynas.

With the idea of increasing the “charm” of the music and calling the attention of single women, the young peasants from the north of Potosi and the south of Cochabamba put the crotalo of rattlesnakes inside the box of their charangos (string instrument). The crotalo signifies the Siruni and the dark cave of the dark world of the Manqha Pacha.

The rattlesnake is associated with the sound of the crotalo, which appears often in pots and rattles (globualres or keru) belonging to the Tiwanaku culture. These pots have two parts. The first is where the liquids are stored and the other is where they put little stones that rattle around making a similar sound to the crotalo of the rattlesnakes.

These pots have been found sporadically in different excavations in Cochabamba, Oruro and La Paz. The discovery of “The Pariti Treasure” by a Bolivian-Philanders team, the most important in the last decade, has not only affirmed the close connection between the Tiwanaku rattle pots and the crotalos terrificu, but also its meaning in the rites. In fact, if we look at the Pariti Tiwanakota ceramic treasures and the Pariti book Isla, Misterio y Poder (Antti Korpisaari & Martti Pärssinen), the snake-like decoration and sculpting elements had an importance we do not know, although we can begin to ask questions. What was the role of crotalos durissus terrificus inside the cosmology of Twanaku?

What was the power of the sound of crotalo in Tiwanaku? Was the sound of crotalo a device of mediation between men and deities from the Tiwanaku mausoleum? Were the pots with rhomboid decorations that, according to archaeologist Richard Céspedes, represent rattle snakes used in special rites and rituals? Who used these pots? And which other snakes were represented in the Tiwanaku cuture?

Amongst the many pots discovered in Pariti, a globular pot, inside which appears the head of a rattlesnake, stands out. If we follow the interpretation of the discovery, the pot was used for ritual purposes. The interpretation supposes that, just before it was buried, the pot was used for a special event, in which the crotalo sound and the liquid with which the pot was filled were of great cultural significance.

There is no doubt that the pot represented crotalos durissus terrificu. The same act of burial must have been a metaphor for the return of the snake or the pot from “our world” to the “under world”, putting into relief the bridge between the two worlds. If we take the interpretation of Térèse Bouysse-Cassagne in her text Lluvias y Cenizas (1988), this can represent an offering to Coac. Coac was the word which the Pukinia people, whose language some researchers believe to be that of the Tiwanaku culture, gave to the snake and the Supreme Divinity.

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