Articles

A COLIMA CAIMAN-MAN

The Mexican state of Colima is located in the western part of the nation bordering on the Pacific Ocean.  The name Colima is a contraction of the Nahuatl language (Aztec) word “colli” meaning gods and “maitl” meaning domain – thus Domain of the Gods.  This state, one of the smallest and most beautiful in Mexico, has been home to ancient people for at least 3,000 years.  We do not know the name these people used for themselves, so today we simply call the culture and the people Colima.  Their social structure was apparently small tight knit political village units where they built very few massive limestone and earthen buildings and pyramids as was done by many other Mesoamerican societies. 

But that does not mean they had no artistic abilities.  Beginning around 200 BC and continuing until around AD 300, these natives made redware ceramics that are known for extreme high quality and artistry and will rival any made in the entire world.  The most recognized of their ceramics are the effigies of the Mexican Hairless dog called

Xoloitzcuintle (pronounced show-low-eats-queen-tlee in Nahuatl).  These usually short and chubby canines were the most frequently made pottery replicas by the Colima people.  But they also made many other shapes and styles of ceramic pottery, including stylistic effigies of men, women, their homes and zoomorphic beings.  Such is the case of this odd human/animal effigy.

This 12 ¾ inch tall hollow redware bottle portrays a man with an animal on his back.  The man holds a club in his left hand and a shield in his right.  The body of this human is characteristic of the art of these people in that the legs and torso are extra large and the head and arms are of normal sizes. The head is typical of Colima human effigies with large ears and nose, slit eyes and full lips.  These potters often modeled their humans with intricate hairdos but in this case the hairline is unseen because it is covered by the beast – possibly an effigy of a Caiman which is the native crocodilian found in that region.   The flattened reptile body clings to the humans back with short legs/feet grasping the shoulders and buttocks of its host.  A long tail wraps around the man’s left leg and foot in a tight clinch.  The overly large ridged animal head extends over and covers the back and sides of the man’s head.  It has large round and heavily browed eyes and a big open toothy mouth with extended tongue.  What an interesting and dynamically made duo from the hands of a very skilled pottery maker.

This leads to the question of just what was the craftsman trying to represent with this art?  Was it a hunter returning with dinner?  Was it a Caiman showing mastery of a human?

Was it a warrior wearing his crocodile battle suit?  Does it not represent a reptile but maybe a Jaguar or some mythical beast? Or perhaps the artist simply had smoked too much wacky weed and made up this odd mixture of animal/human?  Animal zoomorphism was common in the art forms of ancient Mesoamerica.  Many strange effigies were made that, today, simply defy interpretation.  With the ancient people living so close to nature, it would seem inevitable that they would make these mixtures of animals and humans and they certainly did that.  So, maybe 2,000 years ago, a Colima ceramist apparently did decide to make an effigy and, for whatever reason, came up with this oddity that I choose to call the Colima Caiman-Man.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Reynolds, Richard D.                                     1993

            THE ANCIENT ART OF COLIMA, MEXICO

Townsend, Richard F.                                                1998

            ANCIENT WEST MEXICO – ART & ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE UNKNOWN

            PAST

Weigand, Phil C.                                             1996

            ANCIENT MESOAMERICA

Winning, Hasso Von                                       1968

            PRE-COLUMBIAN ART OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA