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Percussions Antiques. Organologie – Perceptions – Polyvalence
Percussions et objets sonores dans les sociétés anciennes

Sound artefacts as containers. The materiality of rhythm in ancient Mesoamerica

Les instruments à percussion comme contenants. Matérialité du rythme en Mésoamérique ancienne
Valeria Bellomia
p. 121-145

Résumés

Cette étude porte sur le rôle joué par les instruments rythmiques dans la réalisation des rituels aztèques. Dans une perspective pluridisciplinaire, elle combine l’étude des sons d’objets archéologiques avec celles d’autres sources contextuelles. Deux types de percussions aztèques (le huehuetl et le teponaztli) sont ainsi analysés en tentant de se rapprocher, par une démarche émique, du concept indigène faisant de ces objets des contenants d’entités non-humaines. Cela permettra de mieux comprendre leur rôle en contexte cérémoniel. Un autre aspect important qui sera abordé est celui de la matérialité de ces artefacts sonores et de leur rapport à l’humain, les deux créant un dialogue qui façonne le paysage sonore rituel. En dernier lieu, une courte excursion ethnographique montrera comment ces instruments à percussion anciens sont aujourd’hui à nouveau porteurs de sens dans un contexte rituel totalement modifié, où leur matérialité immuable devient un élément de revendications identitaires des membres des communautés autochtones.

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  • 1 Y allí tenían un atambor muy grande en demasía, que cuando le tañían, el sonido dél era tan triste (...)

“There they kept a drum of enormous dimensions, so that when it was played, its sound was so gloomy that it has been justly named the drum of hell; it could be heard at a distance of more than two leagues; they said that the drum-skin was of big snakes.1

1With these words Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of the Spanish soldiers of Hernan Cortés, described for the first time the Aztec upright drum, resounding from the top of the temple of Tlatelolco. At the rhythm of this instrument the indigenous warriors were preparing to fight the stranger invaders. It was the 16th century and the writer certainly had no words of appreciation for the sound of this drum. Rather, in another passage of his chronicle, he clearly connected it to the sacrifice of his Spanish comrades, who had been taken prisoners by the indigenous enemies:

  • 2 Oímos tañer del cu mayor, que es donde estaban sus ídolos Huichilobos y Tezcatepuca, que señorea e (...)

“We heard a sound from the top of the chief temple which dominates the whole great city, where their idols Huichilobos and Tezcatepuca were kept. They played a drum whose sad rhythm echoed so strong that it could be heard from two leagues (in short, the instrument of evil), together with many other percussions, shell trumpets and whistles; by then, as we learned later, they were offering to their idols the hearts and blood of our ten companions.2

  • 3 Olsen, 1990, p. 175-176; Both, 2005, p. 6266-6267.
  • 4 Other Mesoamerican percussions were turtle shells beaten with deer antlers, volcanic stone lithoph (...)
  • 5 Stevenson, 1968, p. 63.
  • 6 As an example, see Carrillo González et al. (2014) for the Maya area and Sánchez Santiago (2016; 2 (...)

2The Conquerors could not have known that for the indigenous hands that were playing them, drums were not only objects, but animated beings living inside the body of the instruments, able to communicate through their rhythmic sound and take part in the war action. Five centuries have passed from the moment when this description was written and several efforts have been made by scholars to get free from this Eurocentric view about indigenous music and musical instruments and seriously approach to them using an emic point of view. Recently, many specialists have argued the necessity of an interdisciplinary methodology in the study of ancient sound artefacts3. This paper will engage this challenge, aiming at investigating the role played by rhythmic instruments in indigenous ritual praxis. Among the different instruments used by the Aztecs to produce rhythm, this study will particularly focus on a couple of wooden percussion instruments, namely the huehuetl and teponaztli4. Their predominance and close association emerges from the sources, so that the musicologist Robert Stevenson refers to them as the alpha and omega of Aztec instruments5. The use of this couple of percussion instruments is not restricted to the Aztec music culture, it is also widespread and well documented in different regions and cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Maya and the Mixtecs6. Moreover, they are among the still currently used prehispanic instruments and constitute a case study of great interest to investigate the enduring presence of past materiality in contemporary Mexican communities. For these reasons they have been selected for this study.

1. Methodology

3This research was carried out using an integrated method, involving selected emblematic archaeological instruments, today on display in Western museums, as material record within a specific context; iconographic sources on ceramics and pictographic manuscripts of prehispanic or colonial era representing percussionists in the act of playing rhythmic instruments; and ethnohistorical sources such as Spanish chronicles or mythical accounts, written from the 16th century on.

  • 7 According to the well-known Boasian paradigm, anthropology had to be a quadripartite discipline, c (...)

4One of the most discussed topic in the study of the indigenous past is the opportunity of using ethnographic data pertaining to contemporary native societies. In Native American studies, the specificity of the academic approach depends on historical-political factors related to the troubled history of the continent and to the urgency of the so-called "Indian problem", that is the presence throughout the continent of contemporary groups who claim a close relationship with the local vestiges and archaeological sites (Domenici, unpubl.). Nevertheless, using ethnographic sources there is a risk of overlapping data pertaining to different time periods. This paper suggests a way to avoid this risk, without completely dismantling the Boasian paradigm of a communal essence between archaeology and anthropology7.

  • 8 Indeed, material culture studies aims at becoming a post-disciplinary field (Hicks, 2010, p. 87).
  • 9 Needham, 1967; Durkheim, 1995, p. 246; Rappaport, 1999, p. 221, 227.
  • 10 Knappett, 2014, p. 4704; Ingold, 2019.

5The theoretical framework of reference for this work is that of studies on materiality, the so-called material turn8, and the theory of ritual based on Durkheim's phenomenon of collective effervescence that public rituals entail. Among different cultures the repetitiveness of percussions in ritual soundscape plays a very important role in the achievement of such collective state9. In the prehispanic world, the very frequent use of percussion instruments played a central role in the construction of the soundscape. As the studies on materiality suggest, this role is the result of the contact of the human element, (the hand that beats the rhythm) with the material element (the wood of the instruments). These two components collaborate in a dynamic interaction. The affordance of materials pushes the hands to make certain movements10. They together shape each other and the context of action, and produce meaning. From this entanglement derives the experience of the world.

  • 11 Joyce, 2012, p. 120.

6Moving from an individual to a collective level, Durkheim’s concept of effervescence can be useful to explain how rhythm and rhythmic devices act within the ritual praxis. But to detect what the huehuetl and the teponaztli represent, it is necessary to investigate how they get into contact with human hands. The analysis will first focus on two main moments of their life, the manufacturing process and the performance, retracing the transformation of these artefacts through time. But certainly their flow within time does not end in these two stages. Rather, their life is here considered “a continual assembling of networks in which materialities that worked as mediators in the past persist in the present and are available for us to incorporate in our accounts”.11 Then rhythmic instruments will appear "thick" artefacts, capable of going beyond the mere production of rhythm. Their materiality reveals the multiplicity of their functions and their potential connection with other sensory domains.

2. Shaping the materiality of rhythm

2.1. Huehuetl

  • 12 Other trees used as raw material were oak (Quercus sp.) and walnut (Juglans sp.). See Stevenson, 1 (...)
  • 13 Hernández, 1888, p. 63.
  • 14 A reference to this botanical name is found in Sahagún (1950-1982, bk. II, ch. 6): these trees hav (...)
  • 15 Gates, 1939, p. xxvii.

7The huehuetl or tlalpanhuehuetl, “the elder”, is a cylindrical wooden membranophone standing upright on three legs, the top is covered with stretched animal hide, while the bottom is open. It is usually beaten on with the palm of the hands. According to written sources, the raw material chosen to manufacture such drum is the wood of ahuehuete (Taxodium mucronatum), a Mexican conifer of huge dimensions, resembling cypress12. The 16th century naturalist Francisco Hernández explains that the Indians call it “water drum”, because it grows near the rivers, where waters flow and make a drum-like sound scrolling over the wood13. He also argues that they do not make the drums from this tree, but from the tlacuilolquahuitl,14 while it is elsewhere described as the tree that produces the best wood for making musical instruments15.

  • 16 Ponce, P., 1892, Breve relación de los dioses y ritos de la gentilidad, Mexico City, cit. in Savil (...)
  • 17 Saville, 1925, p. 10-11; cfr. Sahagún, bk. I, f. 26r.
  • 18 Saville, 1925, p. 12-14.

8From the moment the trunk had been chosen by powerful governors called quauhtlatoque, an oration for asking permission, accompanied by offerings of tobacco, was performed to Quetzalcoatl in front of the tree. They also promised to put it in a place where it would be venerated.16 By means of copper and well-sharpened axes the wood was cut and brought to the market where it was sold17. It seems that copper bladed adzes and axes were the main tools used by the Aztec carpenters18.

  • 19 Stevenson, 1968, p. 43.
  • 20 Peñafiel, 1903, Saville, 1925; Seler, 1993, Romero Quiroz, 1958; 1980; Vocca, 2013.
  • 21 Castañeda and Mendoza, 1933a, p. 299-300.
  • 22 Romero Quiroz, 1980, p. 153-161, cfr. Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. 7, ch. 3-9.

9One of the most famous archaeological huehuetl is the tlalpanhuehuetl of Malinalco, a late Posclassic (c. 1500) carved drum, proceeding from the archaeological site of Malinalco (State of Mexico). It is 98 cm tall, and measures 52 cm in diameter at its widest point. It is considered to have been made of ahuehuete’s wood19, but it has not been conducted any paleobotanical analysis yet (Filloy Nadal, pers. com., March 2019). Its complex and articulated iconography presents strong symbolism with militaristic connotations, so that it is considered a ceremonial war drum20. The scene depicts the eagle and jaguar warriors in the act of dancing and singing what is likely a war song. Xochipilli, Lord of Music, dominates the upper portion with his feathered costume. Castañeda and Mendoza connect the scene to the celebration of the feast of Panquetzaliztli, when captive were sacrificed to the warrior god Huitzilopochtli21. In Malinalco, the warriors were sacrificed in front of its temple on the date appearing on the drum surface (nahui olin-4 movement), after a ritual dance. The sacrifice took place to nourish the Sun and avoid the end of life22.

  • 23 Seler 1993, p. 132.
  • 24 Díaz, 2009; Aguilar Moreno, 2009, p. 72.
  • 25 Starr, 1896, p. 163.

10Seler suggested that this drum was used in war dances during the reign of Moctezuma II (1502-1520)23, in the last decades before the Conquest. It apparently never stopped being played in public ceremonies, probably being housed in safe places for centuries, so that it was still in use in 1894 in Santa Mónica, Malinalco, apparently being played with drumsticks. On orders of José Vicente Villada, governor of the state of Mexico between 1889-1895, it was transferred to the Museum of Archeology, in Toluca, founded in the 1890s.24 The drum still had a skin or membrane stretched over the top, when it reached the museum25. A faithful 19th century gypsum copy of this masterpiece of wood carving can be seen today at the National Museum of Anthropology, in Mexico City. It apparently never returned “home”, the Museo Universitario Dr. Luis Mario Schneider in Malinalco exhibits another replica.

  • 26 Gallop, 1939, p. 216.
  • 27 When the drumhead is taut, the Malinalco drum produces two tones a major fifth apart (Castañeda an (...)
  • 28 Lumholtz, 1902, bk. I, p. 33; Martí, 1955, p. 21-22. During the last century, the fire used to str (...)

11The sonorous membrane of this category of drum was usually made of deer skin or, in warfare ritual contexts, of jaguar hide26. Unfortunately, in the archaeological record the ancient skin top didn’t preserved because of its perishable nature, and it makes difficult any material or acoustic study. But thanks to experimental analyses we know that their sound spans from a second to a major fifth.27 The lower tone emanates from the center and the higher tone from near the rim. The tightness of the drumhead and the size of the drum determine pitch, but musicians periodically stretched the skin or applied heat to it to obtain again the desired tone. This is confirmed by traces of combustion on the inner walls of drums preserved in museums28. This shows clearly that after being manufactured and passed from the hands of the carver to those of the player, the drum didn’t’ cease to be materially modified, the player contributed to shape it, continuously intervening on its physicality.

2.2. Teponaztli

  • 29 Stevenson, 1968, p. 63.
  • 30 Molina, 1970 [1571], f. 60r.

12The teponaztli is a directly struck idiophone. It consists of a hollowed-out wooden cylinder laid sideways; it sounds by striking the two tongues of an H-shaped incision on its top, while the opposite side presents a rectangular opening. It is comparable to a xylophone and is played by means of two mallets (olmaitl)29. One of the most interesting etymologies of the nahuatl name of this idiophone is derived from tetepontli “tree trunk”, and ponazoa “to swell with the wind”30. Interestingly, the nahua name of the instrument seems to allude at its inner cavity.

  • 31 Saville 1925, p. 35.
  • 32 Castañeda and Mendoza 1991; see also Vacher, 1974.

13Prehispanic known exemplars were about two dozen a century ago, but as for the huehuetl, they are probably more, if we consider how many indigenous communities still have their own drums31. In museum exemplars studied to date, the tongues emit notes a major second to a fifth apart. 50% of the sample analyzed in the 30’s produce an interval of a third minor32, suggesting statistically that this was the preferred interval of native players, but the sample is too small to be sure of it.

  • 33 Cfr. note 13.
  • 34 They are known as Tlaxcala-teponaztli; cipactli (crocodile) head-teponaztli. and Malinalco-teponaz (...)
  • 35 The tonal intervals not exactly correspond to conventional Western musical scales, neither tempera (...)
  • 36 Ibid, p. 5.

14In 16th century sources we find that the ahuehuete is again the wood used to manufacture this instrument33, but it is not confirmed by the archaeological evidence. According to the most recent study of three teponaztli34 on display at the National Museum of anthropology, Mexico City, the genus Dalbergia was used as raw material (D. palo-escrito, and D. granadillo). The acoustic analysis of these specimens was based on digital recordings of the instruments played with the under-side cavity both closed or open. Results show that musical intervals between the two low and high tones of the instruments are from slightly below a major third, to slightly above a fifth35. The acoustic analysis confirmed the several potentialities of Dalbergia species to produce sound being beaten in different points. Tones produced with the under-side cavity closed are slightly shorter in duration in comparison with when it is open36. This suggests an intentionality in leaving the cavity open.

  • 37 Martí, 1955, p. 27; Vocca, 2013, p. 19-20.
  • 38 Herrera et al., 2009, p. 11.
  • 39 Dupaix, 1834, p. 53.
  • 40 Mayer, 1847, p. 104.
  • 41 Campos, 1926, p. 383.

15A well-known example of this category of Aztec idiophones is the teponaztli of the warrior from Tlaxcala, carved with anthropomorphic features. It measures 60 cm in length and 15 in diameter and represents a Tlaxcaltec warrior in his war garments. It was once believed to be made of walnut37 (Juglans sp.) but recent paleobotanical analyses contradicted this claim, showing it is actually of Dalbergia palo-escrito38. This instrument has a very special pedigree as apparently it was played by the Tlaxcaltec army during the war against Cortés. Then it became part of the booty taken by the victorious Spaniards to be given to the Spanish governor of the conquered city of Tlaxcala and there it was jealously kept for centuries. In 1834, the antiquarian Guillermo Dupaix described this instrument in the account of his second expedition to Mexico, when it was still in Tlaxcala39. A few years later it was transferred to the capital: it appears in a drawing of Brantz Mayer made in 1841, during his visit at the Museum of Antiquity of the University in Mexico City40. It merged in the National Museum’s collection41 to be exhibited as a craft masterpiece of the glorious national past. Today it is on display in the Mexica exhibiting room at the National Museum of Anthropology, in Mexico City.

  • 42 Stevenson, 1968, p. 65.
  • 43 Sánchez Santiago, 2016, p. 189. Actually, Castañeda y Mendoza don’t clearly explain how they deter (...)

16In the organology of xylophones, the length of the wooden keys diminishes as the scale ascends, but archaeological record shows that in most of the teponaztli the two tongues have the same length, so the artisan who was in charge to carve and tune the instrument had to thin one tongue more than the other by cutting or scraping its inner surface. Many museum specimens have this shape, confirming this hypothesis42. Moreover, as can be seen from the drawing of different teponaztli made during the 30’s by Castañeda y Mendoza, the distal ends of both the tongues present a greater thickness to produce the lower sounds, but they become thinner towards the base, to obtain more acute notes43. This gives greater fluidity to the movements of the percussionist, that can move smoothly the mallets on the tongues to change note.

17This material evidence shows a skilled manufacturing technique and a precise intentional manipulation, in which the artisan found a compromise between the acoustic properties he was looking for and the conventionally accepted morphology of the instrument. The process of “making” the sound artefact resulted in a dialogical interaction in this case among the hand, the carving tools and the wood.

3. “Let the gods speak”. A myth of the origin of drums

  • 44 This is an unpublished French manuscript, written by A. Thevet, collected in Garibay, 1985, p. 111 (...)
  • 45 Both, 2005, p. 6270. According to the author, who based his analysis on the iconography on preserv (...)
  • 46 Both, 2007, p. 94 (cfr. Sahagún, 1950-82, bk. IX, p. 45; ). (Molina,. 1970 [1571], f. 111v).
  • 47 Tlatzotzonani is “the beater”, but is mostly associated with metal objects (ibid. f. 19r; cfr. Sah (...)

18A mythical account on the origins of the big drum and the xylophone is narrated in the 16th century pamphlet Histoire du Mexique44. When music still did not exist on the earth, the instruments lived as singers at the court of the Sun and human beings couldn’t communicate with gods. Tezcatlipoca in one version or Ehecatl in another went to the House of the Sun and started singing a song to convince the singers to come with him among men. The Sun forbade them to respond to that music, but it was so powerful that they didn’t resist. So they had to leave. But once arrived on the earth they materialized with the form of drums. This is the reason why these instruments were considered sacred containers, "sound idols inhabited by divine beings"45 and this is why, playing them - making them sing - during ceremonies was like listening to the voice of the gods, their "flowery song". In Aztec musical language, to play is to sing: all musicians were conceived to be “singers” (cuicanimeh), each of them bearing the name of his instrument, so that the player of teponaztli was the teponazcuicani (he who sings through the teponaztli)46. Another term mentioned on the dictionaries to refer to the percussionist or drum beater is huehuetzotzonani47.

  • 48 Durán, 1994, ch. 39, p. 308; ch. 51, p. 408; cfr. Stevenson, 1968, p. 69.
  • 49 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. IX, ch. 10.

19In colonial sources there is precise reference to contexts in which a teponaztli was used as a container. The ashes of the royal corpse of Axayacatl were placed inside the instrument, whereupon the slaves were cast down on their backs and sacrificed48. When merchants had to buy a slave and sacrifice him to the gods, they always chose the best dancer at the sound of the teponaztli. The sacrifice too place right on top of the instrument and the blood that gushed into the inner resonance chamber was its nourishment and gave it new life49.

  • 50 Bierhorst, 1985.

20A special attention then was devoted to the inner residing entity. We can suppose the same attitude when the drums were used as drums, to make rhythm and mark the soundscape. No clear notation has been detected for prehispanic music and rhythm but it is interesting to mention the proposal of syllables (ti ki to ko) that appears in the transcription of the Cantares Mexicanos that could represent a rhythmic pattern for the teponaztli. Such syllables were directly inserted within the body of the song, to be probably used as a guide for the player50. During the ritual performance the musician was for the collectivity the privileged interpreter of the extra-human entity living inside the instrument. In this sense, the huehuetl and the teponaztli can be defined as containers in which living non-human entities resided. Through the sound coming out from their wooden bodies during ritual, their “singing” could be heard and enjoyed by humans. The prestige of the musicians therefore derived precisely from their ability to "make the gods speak", and from their role as mediators and bridge of communication between different spiritual worlds. The perfect execution of music in the ceremony was fundamental for the entire ritual enactment to be successful. Power relations were hidden in the prerogative to make the drum sing -make the deity express through it-, so the use of drums in ceremonial collective contexts had not only religious but also social and political implications.

4. “Book of blossoming flowers is my drum”

  • 51 Farias, 2013, p. 6.
  • 52Libro que brota flores es mi atabal” (Garibay, 1953, bk. I, p. 66).
  • 53 Cantaron y tocaron junto a los tambores, delicia, delicia de flores (Garibay, 1953, bk. I, p. 66), (...)
  • 54 Ven a ver tú, amigo mío, allí, donde se yergue el atabal florido, / brilla, está luciendo con los (...)
  • 55 Cruz Rivera, 2019.

21Another important field of enquiry is the poetic nahua production, where references to music, percussions and rhythm are pervasive. The Aztecs usually describe music as the xochicuicatl “flowery song” of the gods51. An offering of flowers together with good smelling essences is often mentioned as the most appreciated by deities. This approximates us to an emic point of view on the sophisticated native music thought. Poets address to the drum as “a book of blossoming flowers52 or a “delight of flowers”53. It is also usually labeled “flowery drum”54. The good smelling sound coming out from the body of the instruments is graphically represented by the flowery speech-scroll, close to both the mouth of the singers and the sound producing artefacts. Several examples of this visual representation of sound are depicted in prehispanic pictographic codices55.

  • 56 Another interpretation is that of Ixtlilton, god of medicine, dance and divinatory art (Anders et (...)
  • 57 Hermann Lejarazu 2006, p. 78.

22In Codex Borbonicus (f. 4) a deity usually interpreted as Xochipilli56, lord of music and flowers, is singing and playing a huehuetl (fig.1). The sign used by the painter to visually convey the sound is the conventional speech scroll with a precious bead and a flower on top. This graphic element confirms that the deity is not speaking but singing, pronouncing his “flower word”. The big flowered scroll is preceded by two other small volutes. The same are coming out of the mouth of Xolotl, the god facing the drummer, who is singing and shaking a rattle. Both the figures share the same sign of singing, while the big volute of the drum beater could be the representation of the whole music coming out both from his mouth and from the body of the drum, as a marker for soundscape. An explicit representation of sound volutes emanating from the body of the instrument is contained in Codex Nuttall (f. 73) where the ruler 8 Deer, Claw of Jaguar, is attacking the “Cerro de la Música”, represented by a place-name where the figure of a mountain is combined with a human figure that sings and plays a vertical drum and rattle57, as metonymic elements for music. Sound volutes are also emerging from the mouth of a percussionist in an offering scene in Codex Mendoza (f. 70r), indicating he is offering his music to gods.

Fig. 1. A divine entity, possibly Xochipilli or Ixtlilton, singing and playing the huehuetl. Flowery sound scrolls coming from his mouth (Codex Borbonicus, f. 4)

Fig. 1. A divine entity, possibly Xochipilli or Ixtlilton, singing and playing the huehuetl. Flowery sound scrolls coming from his mouth (Codex Borbonicus, f. 4)

23In sculpture, oversize and miniaturized volcanic stone replicas of both the drum and the xylophone are known among the Aztecs to have been included in their sacred shrines and worshipped. A basaltic representation of a teponaztli and an oversize replica of a huehuetl, are today on display in the Mexica room at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The rostrum of Macuilxochitl, god of flowers and music, is carved on the stone teponaztli with the characteristic flower on its open mouth.

  • 58 Léon-Portilla, 2007; id. 2011.

24The Aztec association of music and flowers is condensed in the nahuatl expression in xochitl, in cuicatl. It is a difrasismo, a semantic couplet in which two words are presented together to symbolically express one idea. It is a stylistic feature shared among Mesoamerican languages. Miguel Léon-Portilla has broadly defined in xochitl, in cuicatl as a metaphor expressing the idea of song, poetry, art58.

  • 59 Sánchez Santiago and Vicente Cruz, 2016, p. 12
  • 60 Ibid., p. 13. The Mixtec attribution of the vessel depicting this scene this does not prevent cons (...)

25Most of the mentioned pictographic representations refer to the huehuetl, being the teponaztli statistically less depicted. Moving to the Mixtec art, an interesting representation of the sound emanating from the slit-drum is depicted on a tripod polychrome ceramic vessel, where the sound scrolls plentifully come out from all around the instrument (fig. 2). The scroll at the left of the musician is characterized by the presence of a down ball (a), while that on the right has a flower blossoming from it (b). The pairs of volutes coming out from the lower opening are associated with a precious bead each (c). According to Sánchez Santiago and Vicente, it could be the only pictorial scene within the pictographic corpus where the sound emitted by a xylophone is represented59. Moreover, the elements associated with the scrolls could be the unique case of representation of some attributes or qualities of the sounds emitted by the xylophone. A speculative but suggestive hypothesis of the authors is that by these complements the artist tried to mark the tonal differentiation of the two tongues, each one of them producing two different notes or frequencies60. Is it then an attempt to give a visual dimension to sound? Sensorial qualities of flowers can be related in Mesoamerica to the variety of colors and perfumes, while feathers and down were appreciated by natives because of their iridescent colors and softness. Both are also metaphorically connected with delicacy, transience and ephemerality. All these attributes can also be linked to music. If this hypothesis is correct, the flower and down on the sides of the xylophone may confirm once again the association of the acoustic experience of sound with other sensorial domains.

Fig. 2. Visual representation of sound. Re-drawing from Ismael Vicente Cruz (Sánchez Santiago and Vicente Cruz, 2016, p. 11)

Fig. 2. Visual representation of sound. Re-drawing from Ismael Vicente Cruz (Sánchez Santiago and Vicente Cruz, 2016, p. 11)

5. Two companions in the making of rhythm

  • 61 Only in rare and totally changed contexts they did. For example, Torquemada comments on the perfec (...)

26As already mentioned, the Spaniards didn’t appreciate the sound of the Aztec drums, since when they heard that sound they knew that someone of their companions was to be killed as sacrificial victim to the indigenous deities61. Besides his negative opinion on the sound of the huehuetl, Bernal Díaz gave us an important information about the long distance covered by the sound of the beaten drum, which is probably exaggerated but must have been very penetrant and scaring for the audience. This means that by the sound of the drum, the entire urban space was pervaded by the message that a sacrifice was being enacted on top of the temple and this was a clear sensorial ostentation of power by the warrior elite.

  • 62 Tezozomoc, 1878, ch. 46, p. 396.
  • 63 Idib., ch. 84 and 88.
  • 64 Durán, 1994, ch. 46, p. 352.
  • 65 Hajovsky, 2007, p. 148-149.

27In giving us the European point of view on the sound of Aztec drums, the Spanish chronicler was not totally wrong: drums actually possessed a clear militaristic connotation. The city of Tlatelolco, having been defeated once, was forced to hand over to Tenochtitlan the huehuetl and teponaztli, apparently as evidence of submission62. The tlatoani often went in battle beating the golden drum and shaking rattles to incite his army to fight63. In Codex Ixtlilxochitl (f. 106r) the Tezcocan ruler Nezahualcoyotl is represented “wearing” a huehuetl as part of his royal warrior attire (fig. 3). Elsewere the king carried a golden drum, which he used to signal the attack or the retreat64. The tlatoani was literally “he who speaks well”, oratory skills were indispensable to aspire to political career and to become ruler, his word was sacred and in war contexts it was embodied by the drum. In the battlefield, the sound of the drum became the voice of the “great speaker”65.

Fig. 3. Nezahualcoyotl “wearing” a huehuetl (Codex Ixtlilxochitl, f. 106r)

Fig. 3. Nezahualcoyotl “wearing” a huehuetl (Codex Ixtlilxochitl, f. 106r)
  • 66 Durán, 1994, ch. 38 and 18; Tezozomoc, 1878, ch. 25, p. 301.
  • 67 Durán, 1994, p. 405-406.
  • 68 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. VIII, ch. 27, pp. 315-16.
  • 69 Oviedo, 1853, bk. XXXIII, ch. 45, p. 498. See also Díaz del Castillo, 2010, bk. II, ch. 83, p. 12.

2816th century chronicles also attest that the funerals for deceased warriors were performed at the sound of the sacred drums, after the return of the survivors at Tenochtitlan66. Manuscript codices also show the use of drums during such funerary rituals. At page 72r of Codex Magliabechiano is depicted a feast dedicated to a noble warrior de que los indios hacian memoria “he for whom the memorial was made”, a dead person remembered in occasion of the feast named Tititl. Two musicians are depicted in the act of singing and playing three musical instruments: the musician on the top shakes a gourd rattle (ayacahtli) and beats a tortoise shell rubbed on its ventral side with a deer antler (ayotl). The musician on the bottom plays a huehuetl covered with jaguar hide. Performative contexts for drums were also the festivities for the coronation of Moctezuma II67. The guardians of the royal palace usually sang and danced all night long, accompanied by the beating of the couple of percussion instruments here discussed.68 Gilded huehuetl were also used as gifts among military chiefs to establish alliances against the Spaniards69.

  • 70 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. VII, ch. 16, p. 43.

29This couple of percussions was central in the setting of the ritual dancing space. Several sources describe the dancers in a double concentric circle, arranged around the two percussionists.70 They followed a specific order, being the inner circle composed of the elder and expert dancers and the external of common people, in a precise spatial hierarchy. Drums beat the rhythm of the performance and constituted the fulcrum around which the dance of the collective body revolved. Around them all the synchronized movements of the participants where organized meticulously. Fry Jeronimo de Mendieta, one of the most detailed sources about indigenous music and dance, describes the ritual performance at the sound of percussions with these words:

  • 71 Mendieta, 1999, bk. II, ch. 31: “los atabales y el canto y bailadores, todos llevan su compas conc (...)

“The drums, the singing and the dancers, all take a concerted rhythm, they all are coordinated so that one does not depart from the other even not for a second: for this reason, any good dancers from Spain who would see them dancing couldn't but admire them and hold the dance coordination and the passion of these natives in high esteem71.”

30In pictographic codices some examples are depicted of the use of percussions in collective ceremonies, guiding and carefully coordinating the movements of the participants. As an example, Codex Selden (f. 7r) depicts a group of dancers moving in circle around a percussionist that plays his double tongue slit-drum (fig. 4). Codex Borbonicus depicts two scenes related to public calendar feasts such as Etzalcualiztli (f. 26) and Xocol Huetzi (f. 28). The first one is dedicated to the water deity Tlaloc, the second is a commemorative ceremony dedicated to dead warriors. In both the occasions a multitude of people gathered and both the performances are conducted at the sound of the huehuetl.

Fig. 4. Dancers moving in circle around a percussionist (Codice Selden, f. 7r)

Fig. 4. Dancers moving in circle around a percussionist (Codice Selden, f. 7r)

31This is by no means an exhaustive list of cases where both huehuetl or teponaztli appear in colonial chronicles and pictorial sources, but considering them together can provide useful information about drums in specific collective ritual contexts.

6. An ethnographic raid

  • 72 Gallop, 1939, p. 217-218; Christensen, 1939, p. 177. For a rich list of the documented drums see S (...)
  • 73 Salazar Peralta, 2008, p. 215; Reyes Álvarez, 2010.

32Huehuetl and teponaztli are far from having disappeared from Mesoamerican contemporary indigenous world. Several scholars attested the presence of such instruments from the end of the 19th century on. They appear to be often jealously kept in safe places, far from foreign eyes and held in high regard by the communities. As an example, during his fieldwork in the 30’s Rodney Gallop had the opportunity to see the teponaztli of Xicotepec (Puebla) that was kept with great secrecy “in a hut by a brujo (sorcerer) and the teponaztli of the Matlatzinca village of San Juan Atzingo (State of Mexico) that was kept permanently inside the church with a lead round its neck “to prevent it flying away”72. A curious case of kinship intertwines this teponaztli with that of Tepoztlan (Morelos): the former is considered to be the son of the latter. It is stored in the church and is placed turning his back on Tepoztlan, since he once tried to escape to reach his mother and the inhabitants of San Juan had to go and get him back73. This confirms the native perception of these instruments as living beings with agency.

  • 74 The prehispanic drums seem to have disappeared from the Oaxaca region (Sánchez Santiago, 2016), bu (...)

33During the 20th century, many of these drums have crossed the doors of important national and international museums. This is the case of the already mentioned huehuetl of Malinalco and the teponaztli of Tlaxcala, chosen here as cases study among the prehispanic exemplars because of their long life and special pedigree. Both of them are accounted to have taken part in the colonial and then republican history. They went through different regimes of values, being used as war signals by the indigenous, booty by the Spaniards, identity markers by the colonial inhabitants and now precious wood-carved masterpieces on display in Western museums. But there are other instruments still in use in different indigenous communities across the country74, and still conceived as containers of values and power. To them I want to refer now.

  • 75 Galinier, 1990, p. 52. The analysis of the entire ceremony is not the purpose of this paper and ma (...)
  • 76 Broda, 1991, p. 476-77; ead., 2013, p. 656.

34During my fieldwork in Mexico in 2018 and 2019, I had the opportunity to investigate and take part in the ritual ceremonies carried out in Tenango de Doria, an Otomi municipality in the Sierra Otomi-Tepehua (Hidalgo) in occasion of the Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross) celebrated on the 3rd of May. The cult of the Holy Cross, dates back the 16th century and went through centuries to end up gaining a great popularity within the region. By exalting a large number of symbols typical of the fertility and rain cults, this feast intimately reveals his indigenous inspiration75. According to Broda, this date corresponds to the month Huey Tozoztli in the Aztec calendar, and it presents continuity with the prehispanic celebrations in honor of the goddess of corn Chicomecoatl that once took place during this period76. Today, the ritual is carried out in the neighborhoods of Tenango, on top of a hill usually referred to as Cerro brujo “sorcerer hill”. The 3rd of May is considered to be the first day of the rainy season and the ceremony is the way people interact with the entities living on the hill, asking them for rains. It is considered as a place of power, respect and adoration within the Otomi worldview, and gathers more than 500 people once a year from the different surrounding communities, including foreigners such as anthropologists interested in documenting local ancestral traditions.

  • 77 Don Beto, april 2018. Other prehispanic drums are actually well documented in the Sierra and beyon (...)
  • 78 In describing them, Don Beto probably refers to a prototypic model, since they are materially rene (...)
  • 79 Galinier, 1990, p. 160.
  • 80 Rainelli, pers. com., may 2019. I thank Federica Rainelli for her help in translating the names of (...)
  • 81 Stresser-Péan 2005, p. 150-151. During the performances I attended to, the guitar was usually play (...)

35According to Don Beto, elder leader and organizer of the whole feast, this is the only ceremony in which the huehuetl and teponaztli are played and Tenango is the only community in the region where such ancestral percussion instruments are used77. They are considered to be very old, pertaining to an unspecified past, and are believed to be manufactured by the ancestors78. They spend the whole year resting on the altar of a rural oratory known as Mamay, situated outside the urban space. The wooden external body of the vertical drum is totally covered with flowers such as hydrangea (Hydrangea seemannii), cempasuchil (Tagetes erecta) and palmilla leaves (Chamaedorea elegans) carefully tied to couples of paper-cut figurines representing non-human entities, while the xylophone holds the same flowers and figurines in its inner cavity. Both the drums have a clear sexual connotation within the Sierra, having the vertical drum a male identity and the xylophone a female one79. Their Otomi names are: 'biti for the upright drum (where 'bi is a morpheme identifying the class of musical instruments) and t'i'bida for the slit-drum (t'i= thing that screeches or creaks + 'bida =generic name used to refer to chordophones80; it is not surprising as the same name is translated into Spanish as “small violin” – violín chico (Don Beto, april 2018). The link to the European instruments is confirmed by the fact that where the ancient prehispanic drums of this region were replaced by the European ones, the male-guitar replaced the drum, while the female-violin took the role of the slit-drum81.

  • 82 Cuando los muñecos doblan la cabeza es que ya el tambor no tiene fuerza, “When the figurines bend (...)
  • 83El cerro sagrado, el abuelo nos habla” (Don Beto, april 2018) But it can also be the Lady of wate (...)

36Once a year, the day before the feast, both the instruments held at the Mamay are taken from their location for the abovementioned ritual. In this occasion, they are undressed of the old and dry vegetal and paper attire, to be dressed again with fresh and alive flowers and figurines. The musicians who are supposed to play the instruments are in charge of this task, so important for the ritual efficacy of the music to be played (fig. 5). In fact, according to Don Beto, this is necessary to correctly play the drums. If the figurines and flowers are dry, they cannot give strength to the instruments82. After being carefully covered and filled with fresh and colorful flowers and new paper figurines, the instruments are played all night long inside the Mamay and at their sound all the participants dance tirelessly. Once again, the rhythm of drums makes all dancers coordinate and share their emotional involvement. During the dance, while both the drums are played, it can happen that Doña Claudia, one of the dancers, starts “singing” in Otomi. It is actually the Spirit of the hill, the grandpa, often identified with Christ in the words of Don Beto, who is communicating with his people83. He often thanks for the ceremony in his honor, urges them all to keep on dancing with good will or intervenes to complain if something in the ritual was not done in the right way (Edgar, May 2019). The next day at dawn, the participants move in procession from the Mamay to the top of the hill where all start dancing again at the sound of the drums until the end of the day.

Fig. 5. Edgar dressing the drums with flowers and paper-cut figurines representing non-human entities (Tenango de Doria, May 2019)

Fig. 5. Edgar dressing the drums with flowers and paper-cut figurines representing non-human entities (Tenango de Doria, May 2019)
  • 84 Rainelli, 2019, p. 236-238.

37For the purpose of this paper it is interesting to mention the importance of covering or filling the instruments with flowers, once again associated with the sound. Within the Otomi worldview this association goes beyond: flowers mean energy, strength. There is an equivalence between flowers and the nzaki, that cosmic force at the origin of life in all its forms. They are considered a receptacle of vital energy but also a symbol of the correctness and efficacy of the ritual84. This gives their ordered arrangement on the body of the instruments an extremely powerful symbolic efficacy.

38When asked about what these instruments do within the ceremony, Edgar answered they serve as mediators between the human group and the entities (Edgar, may 2019). Through their sound Doña Claudia starts “singing”, through the contents of her song the participants are aware of the efficacy of their ritual enactment.

  • 85 Lupo, 2019, p. 37.

39Fernando and Edgar, the musicians, pertain to Tenango’s younger generation. They are aware of the importance of keeping alive the tradition in which they recognize their identity, they really feel in charge of it and sincerely look after the instruments with dedication. These objects are not prehispanic as the archaeologists usually intend it, but this is not a good reason not to take care of them as precious heritage of the ancestors. This suggests that they are once again containers, not only of singing entities, but also of identity claims. They condense the opposite ideas of resistance and negotiation with modern times and embody the creative dynamism of contemporaneous indigenous Mexico, the flexibility in representing ethnicity and the manipulation or re-invention of identity models.85 For this reason, the life of these instruments has not ended yet. Fernando and Edgar recently put again at work to manufacture new drums for the next Día de la Cruz (fig. 6), giving a new body to ancient traditions. It doesn’t matter that they do not belong materially to the past. It is what they contain that refers to the ancestors. The makers/musicians are perpetuating in the present the layered embodied baggage of knowledge and are renewing the power of these thick objects, materially and symbolically projecting them into the future.

Fig. 6. Fernando manufacturing the drums (Tenango de Doria, april 2020)

Fig. 6. Fernando manufacturing the drums (Tenango de Doria, april 2020)

7. Discussion and conclusions

  • 86 Domenici 2017, p. 166-167.

40Different sources on the practices of manufacturing and playing Aztec percussion instruments suggest that during prehispanic times a non-material essence manifested itself out from the material body of the instrument, which appears to be a container of a sort of good smelling quiescent sound. This sound is considered to be the voice of non-human entities, once living as musicians in the House of the Sun, then transformed into wooden drums to let human beings communicate with gods. The choice of raw material and the manufacturing techniques used by wood carvers demonstrate the existence of specialized artists, whose expert hands were devoted to explore and interact with the wood, to give the right shape to rhythm. This spiritual essence of sound and rhythm was often expressed within the synesthetic metaphor of colorful and good smelling flowers, giving a multisensory dimension to the emic point of view on the experience of music. According to Mesoamerican aesthetics, it is the ability of things to contain and emanate vitality that gives them value. Artists were able to transform the ever changing materiality, emphasizing the forces already contained in it and making durable what would otherwise be ephemeral86.

41When the manufacturing process was completed, the instruments were ready to “sing”. But once again human hands were necessary, to get in contact with the materiality of the drums and stimulate the inner inhabitants to come out and take part in the ceremony. Musicians were actually part of the continuous re-shaping of the sound, for example by making adjustments to the membrane on top of the huehuetl. The body of the instruments were nourished with offerings of food and blood, to keep inner energy alive.

  • 87 Zalaquett and Bautista, 2017, p. 108.

42At the sound of drums many ritual activities were carried out by the Aztecs, such as sacrifices, coordinated attacks in the battlefield, coronations of new rulers, dances connected with the commemorative ceremonies of dead warriors, night surveillance of sacred places. Pictographic sources and detailed descriptions in colonial chronicles let us catch an important aspect shared by all these performative contexts: the social dimension of rhythmic experience. At the rhythm of the drums the participants are entangled each other and find their place within the socialized space. This has usually important consequences for the social cohesion. The coordinated physical interaction caused by rhythm allows an emotional sharing between performers and attendees.87 This common sense of the ritual strengthens the community bonds and the identity of the group can continually be confirmed. This collective emotional state has enduring qualities, overcoming the limited temporality of the ritual performance.

  • 88 Mcneill, 1995.
  • 89 Bassetti and Bottazzi, 2015.
  • 90 Olaveson, 2001, p. 100.
  • 91 Durkheim, 1995, p. 246-247.

43We stress the relevance of rhythm in Aztec performative contexts. Conceived in terms of mutual coordination, emotional involvement and social bonding, it must have affected positively joint actions and socialization88. The collective experience of rhythm, as combination of rhythmic repetitive acoustic stimulation and responding body movements, can build a “sense of togetherness” and solidarity89. This statement recalls Durkheim's notion of collective effervescence. Communal emotions bring all those who share them into more intimate relationship90. Durkheimian processual tradition views religious thought as a system for the making and re-making of society and ritual as a way to express and dramatize social relationships. According to this theory, a collective sentiment can be expressed through co-operation and movements in unison. For this reason public gestures and cries tend to become rhythmic and regular91. Specific rhythmic sequences in collective performances can afford the creation of enduring shared cognitive representations (or even can challenge the existing ones changing the conventional patterns).

  • 92 Cruz Rivera, 2019, p. 62.
  • 93 Bell, 2009, p. 93.

44The senses perceive and convey the material world, changing the substance of memory. A smell, a sound or a flavor are, beyond something ephemeral and intangible, a memory shared by a social group that does not necessarily remain in individuality.92 This is particularly true for ritualized soundscapes, where the emotional memory of the experience is fixed by the involvement of both the physical body of each individual and the social body of collectivity. The strategies of ritualization are rooted in the body, they situate the interaction within a symbolically constituted spatial and temporal framework. The circular production of a ritualized body in turn produces ritualized bodily practices93. This leads me to suggest the existence of sound related power dynamics and relations, built by the elite musicians, the only ones allowed to make the gods speak in a ritually controlled soundscape. Through their rhythmic performance and its physical consequences on the body of participants they contributed to periodically affirm the constituted hierarchies.

  • 94 Thomas, 1991, p. 18-19.

45Looking at the present day use of ancient percussion instruments, such as the emblematic case of Tenango’s 3rd of May, it appears that although many aspects of the ceremonies, the beliefs and the social context are totally changed, these instruments keep on containing the vital principle that animates the ritual soundscape shaping the movements of the collective body. The ethnography here discussed shows how drums keep on acting as mediators with the non-human entities and are kept in great reward since they still give voice to deities. But of course they are not a persistence, what has survived of the “lost music of Moctezuma”, static objects fixed in a sort of crystalized identity. Neither their use is just a sort of affirmation of the enduring resilience of local cultures, as if that materiality persisted unchanged. Artefacts such as those here presented are implicated in the material history of societies and indigenous communities are concerned not to contextualize things, but to use things to change contexts.94 Put in the hands of younger generations who feel themselves as their new care givers, such instruments negotiate their changing materiality adapting to modernity and thus become a fertile ground for identity negotiation.

  • 95 Joyce, 2015, p. 12, 14; ead., 2012.

46As Joyce suggested, archaeological artefacts are not things recaptured from a past lived experience and revived in our present circumstances but they are traces, signs of history, and they bind different temporalities together, they provide us with abundant material traces of the process of creating social relations95. Looking at the way the Otomi of Tenango shape and manipulate their material past can be useful to consider more consciously similar archaeological percussion instruments today on display in Western museums. They not only pertain to the past, since are coeval with us, just like they were with their ancient makers and users. Their presence continues being re-interpreted through time, and so we do in studying them today, merging into the flow of their historical itinerary. This means they change through time, although apparently remaining the same. Putting together such different data with an interdisciplinary focus we can capture the multiplicity of functions of Mesoamerican percussion instruments and their multilayered never-stopping interaction with human body and thought through time.

Acknowledgments

47I wish to thank here Lourdes Baez, Laura Filloy, Federica Rainelli, Lupita Ramírez and Rodrigo Ríos, who gave me precious help in this research, and the musicians Edgar González and Fernando Ibarra, Don Beto, Don Braulio and the whole community of Tenango de Doria (Hidalgo), where I had the opportunity to collect ethnographic data. Finally, I have been carrying my research in Mexico as a member of the Italian Ethnological Mission, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which my gratitude goes.

*

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Reyes Álvarez F. L. 2010, “No pegue la cola, pegue pulmón”; representaciones simbólicas en el Santo Teponaztle de San Juan Atzingo, Antropología. Revista Interdisciplinaria Del INAH, 90, p. 129-136.

Romero Quiroz, J., 1958, El Huéhuetl de Malinalco, Toluca.

Romero Quiroz, J., 1980, Historia de Malinalco, Toluca.

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Salazar Peralta, A.M., 2008, El Teponaztli nana de Tepoztlán y su hijo en San Juan Atzingo, Estudios de cultura Otopame, 6(1), p. 213-224.

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Sánchez Santiago, G., 2018, Los xilófonos de lengüeta (teponaztli) mixtecos en las colecciones de arte, in R. Ortiz Escamilla (ed.) La Región Mixteca, de la arqueología a la política, Oaxaca, p. 43-68.

Sánchez Santiago G. and Vicente Cruz, I.G., 2016, Una vasija de estilo Mixteca-Puebla con iconografía musical, Cuadernos del Sur, 40, p. 6-27.

Saville, M.H., 1925, The Wood-Carver's Art in Ancient Mexico, New York.

Seler, E., 1993, The Carved Wooden Drum of Malinalco and the Atl-Tlachinolli Sign, Collected Works in Mesoamerican Linguistics and Archaeology, 4, p. 104-148.

Starr, F., 1896, Popular celebrations in Mexico. Journal of American Folklore, 9 (34), p. 161-169.

Stevenson, R., 1968, Music in Aztec & Inca territory, Berkeley.

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Zalaquett Rock, F., Carrillo González, J., Balam Caamal, G. and Le Guen, O., 2018, The Importance Of The Tunk’ul In The Ritual And Ceremonial Singing In The Carnival Of Pomuch, Campeche. An Interdisciplinary Study, Península, 13(2), p. 97-123.

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Notes

1 Y allí tenían un atambor muy grande en demasía, que cuando le tañían, el sonido dél era tan triste y de tal manera como dicen estrumento de los infiernos, y más de dos leguas de allí se oía; decían que los cueros de aquel atambor eran de sierpes muy grandes (Díaz del Castillo, 2011, p. 296). Translation by the author.

2 Oímos tañer del cu mayor, que es donde estaban sus ídolos Huichilobos y Tezcatepuca, que señorea el altor dél a toda la gran cibdad, y tañían un atambor, el más triste sonido (en fin, como instrumento de dimonios), y retumbaba tanto, que se oyera de dos leguas, y juntamente con él muchos atabalejos y caracoles y bocinas y silbos; entonces, según después supimos, estaban ofresciendo diez corazones y mucha sangre a sus ídolos que dicho tengo de nuestros compañeros (ibid., p. 588) Translation by the author.

3 Olsen, 1990, p. 175-176; Both, 2005, p. 6266-6267.

4 Other Mesoamerican percussions were turtle shells beaten with deer antlers, volcanic stone lithophones and metallic gongs; among the rattling instruments, ceramic and gourd rattles and wooden rattle sticks are known; among the clattering artefacts, little conch or copper and alloy bells (Both, 2007, p. 93-94). Another kind of rhythmic instrument was the bone rasp, a scraped idiophone (Bellomia, 2020).

5 Stevenson, 1968, p. 63.

6 As an example, see Carrillo González et al. (2014) for the Maya area and Sánchez Santiago (2016; 2018) for the Mixtec area.

7 According to the well-known Boasian paradigm, anthropology had to be a quadripartite discipline, comprehending ethnology, physical anthropology, archaeology and linguistics (Boas, 1904). This structure influenced most of the 20th century American anthropology (Moore, 2009, p. 33).

8 Indeed, material culture studies aims at becoming a post-disciplinary field (Hicks, 2010, p. 87).

9 Needham, 1967; Durkheim, 1995, p. 246; Rappaport, 1999, p. 221, 227.

10 Knappett, 2014, p. 4704; Ingold, 2019.

11 Joyce, 2012, p. 120.

12 Other trees used as raw material were oak (Quercus sp.) and walnut (Juglans sp.). See Stevenson, 1968, p. 41.

13 Hernández, 1888, p. 63.

14 A reference to this botanical name is found in Sahagún (1950-1982, bk. II, ch. 6): these trees have “painted wood, because they are of a bright reddish color with black veins that appear as if they were painted over the red: it is a very valuable tree, because from it they make teponaztli, timbrels and vihuelas: these instruments give a loud sound when they are made of this wood” (ibid. bk. VIII, p. 49).

15 Gates, 1939, p. xxvii.

16 Ponce, P., 1892, Breve relación de los dioses y ritos de la gentilidad, Mexico City, cit. in Saville, 1925, p. 5.

17 Saville, 1925, p. 10-11; cfr. Sahagún, bk. I, f. 26r.

18 Saville, 1925, p. 12-14.

19 Stevenson, 1968, p. 43.

20 Peñafiel, 1903, Saville, 1925; Seler, 1993, Romero Quiroz, 1958; 1980; Vocca, 2013.

21 Castañeda and Mendoza, 1933a, p. 299-300.

22 Romero Quiroz, 1980, p. 153-161, cfr. Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. 7, ch. 3-9.

23 Seler 1993, p. 132.

24 Díaz, 2009; Aguilar Moreno, 2009, p. 72.

25 Starr, 1896, p. 163.

26 Gallop, 1939, p. 216.

27 When the drumhead is taut, the Malinalco drum produces two tones a major fifth apart (Castañeda and Mendoza, 1933b, p. 303; Stevenson, 1968, 41).

28 Lumholtz, 1902, bk. I, p. 33; Martí, 1955, p. 21-22. During the last century, the fire used to stretch the patch, making the sound rise, was replaced by the string and temper device, used in Western drums.

29 Stevenson, 1968, p. 63.

30 Molina, 1970 [1571], f. 60r.

31 Saville 1925, p. 35.

32 Castañeda and Mendoza 1991; see also Vacher, 1974.

33 Cfr. note 13.

34 They are known as Tlaxcala-teponaztli; cipactli (crocodile) head-teponaztli. and Malinalco-teponaztli. The first one will be discussed later.

35 The tonal intervals not exactly correspond to conventional Western musical scales, neither temperament (Herrera et al., 2009, p. 15).

36 Ibid, p. 5.

37 Martí, 1955, p. 27; Vocca, 2013, p. 19-20.

38 Herrera et al., 2009, p. 11.

39 Dupaix, 1834, p. 53.

40 Mayer, 1847, p. 104.

41 Campos, 1926, p. 383.

42 Stevenson, 1968, p. 65.

43 Sánchez Santiago, 2016, p. 189. Actually, Castañeda y Mendoza don’t clearly explain how they determined the pitch and intervals.

44 This is an unpublished French manuscript, written by A. Thevet, collected in Garibay, 1985, p. 111-112. See also León-Portilla, 2007, p. 141-142.

45 Both, 2005, p. 6270. According to the author, who based his analysis on the iconography on preserved instruments, these beings could have been Xochipilli and Macuilxochitl, both gods of Music and flowers (ibid.).

46 Both, 2007, p. 94 (cfr. Sahagún, 1950-82, bk. IX, p. 45; ). (Molina,. 1970 [1571], f. 111v).

47 Tlatzotzonani is “the beater”, but is mostly associated with metal objects (ibid. f. 19r; cfr. Sahagún, 1950-82, bk. VIII, p. 28, 45).

48 Durán, 1994, ch. 39, p. 308; ch. 51, p. 408; cfr. Stevenson, 1968, p. 69.

49 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. IX, ch. 10.

50 Bierhorst, 1985.

51 Farias, 2013, p. 6.

52Libro que brota flores es mi atabal” (Garibay, 1953, bk. I, p. 66).

53 Cantaron y tocaron junto a los tambores, delicia, delicia de flores (Garibay, 1953, bk. I, p. 66), “They sang and played drums, delight, delight of flowers”. Translation by the author.

54 Ven a ver tú, amigo mío, allí, donde se yergue el atabal florido, / brilla, está luciendo con los rayos del sol; / como un abanico de plumas (Leon-Portilla, 2011, bk. 1, p. 31), “Come see you, my friend, /there, where the flowery drum stands, /it shines, it is shining with the rays of the sun; /like a feathered fan”. Translation by the author.

55 Cruz Rivera, 2019.

56 Another interpretation is that of Ixtlilton, god of medicine, dance and divinatory art (Anders et al., 1991, p. 106).

57 Hermann Lejarazu 2006, p. 78.

58 Léon-Portilla, 2007; id. 2011.

59 Sánchez Santiago and Vicente Cruz, 2016, p. 12

60 Ibid., p. 13. The Mixtec attribution of the vessel depicting this scene this does not prevent considering the same interpretation for the Aztec concept of music and sound, because of the cultural proximity between these two ethnic groups.

61 Only in rare and totally changed contexts they did. For example, Torquemada comments on the perfect “harmony” between the membranophone and the xylophone in performances offered in honor of the great lords (Torquemada, 1983, bk. XIV, p. 340; cfr. Sánchez Santiago, 2016, p. 236). Another 16th century example is José de Acosta in whose opinion these two instruments were so well accorded together that they generated a good “harmony” (1880, p. 446).

62 Tezozomoc, 1878, ch. 46, p. 396.

63 Idib., ch. 84 and 88.

64 Durán, 1994, ch. 46, p. 352.

65 Hajovsky, 2007, p. 148-149.

66 Durán, 1994, ch. 38 and 18; Tezozomoc, 1878, ch. 25, p. 301.

67 Durán, 1994, p. 405-406.

68 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. VIII, ch. 27, pp. 315-16.

69 Oviedo, 1853, bk. XXXIII, ch. 45, p. 498. See also Díaz del Castillo, 2010, bk. II, ch. 83, p. 12.

70 Sahagún, 1950-1982, bk. VII, ch. 16, p. 43.

71 Mendieta, 1999, bk. II, ch. 31: “los atabales y el canto y bailadores, todos llevan su compas concertado, y todos son conformes que no discrepa uno de otro una jota: de lo cual los buenos danzadores de España que los ven se espantan, y tienen en mucho las danzas y bailes de estos naturales, y el gran acuerdo y sentimiento que en ellos tienen. Translation by the author.

72 Gallop, 1939, p. 217-218; Christensen, 1939, p. 177. For a rich list of the documented drums see Saville, 1925 and the more recent Stresser-Péan, 2005.

73 Salazar Peralta, 2008, p. 215; Reyes Álvarez, 2010.

74 The prehispanic drums seem to have disappeared from the Oaxaca region (Sánchez Santiago, 2016), but they are still in use in the Maya area (Zalaquett et al., 2018).

75 Galinier, 1990, p. 52. The analysis of the entire ceremony is not the purpose of this paper and many aspects are inevitably left apart. For a detailed contextualization of this celebration within the Otomi ritual calendar see Galinier, 1990. For a description see Ramírez Ramos, 2019.

76 Broda, 1991, p. 476-77; ead., 2013, p. 656.

77 Don Beto, april 2018. Other prehispanic drums are actually well documented in the Sierra and beyond, but they are dispersed among the local communities and not all have been studied, because of the difficult access to them. See Gallop, 1939; Stresser-Péan, 2005, p. 146-170.

78 In describing them, Don Beto probably refers to a prototypic model, since they are materially renewed every seven years (Edgar, one of the musicians, april 2019).

79 Galinier, 1990, p. 160.

80 Rainelli, pers. com., may 2019. I thank Federica Rainelli for her help in translating the names of the instruments I obtained from my indigenous interlocutors.

81 Stresser-Péan 2005, p. 150-151. During the performances I attended to, the guitar was usually played as a rhythmic instrument while the violin was in charge of the melody.

82 Cuando los muñecos doblan la cabeza es que ya el tambor no tiene fuerza, “When the figurines bend their heads, this means the drum is out of force” (Don Beto, april 2018).

83El cerro sagrado, el abuelo nos habla” (Don Beto, april 2018) But it can also be the Lady of water, another entity who controls waters, so important for the local agricultural cycle, or the Lord of Fire (Ramirez Ramos, 2019, p. 114).

84 Rainelli, 2019, p. 236-238.

85 Lupo, 2019, p. 37.

86 Domenici 2017, p. 166-167.

87 Zalaquett and Bautista, 2017, p. 108.

88 Mcneill, 1995.

89 Bassetti and Bottazzi, 2015.

90 Olaveson, 2001, p. 100.

91 Durkheim, 1995, p. 246-247.

92 Cruz Rivera, 2019, p. 62.

93 Bell, 2009, p. 93.

94 Thomas, 1991, p. 18-19.

95 Joyce, 2015, p. 12, 14; ead., 2012.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. A divine entity, possibly Xochipilli or Ixtlilton, singing and playing the huehuetl. Flowery sound scrolls coming from his mouth (Codex Borbonicus, f. 4)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 307k
Titre Fig. 2. Visual representation of sound. Re-drawing from Ismael Vicente Cruz (Sánchez Santiago and Vicente Cruz, 2016, p. 11)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 139k
Titre Fig. 3. Nezahualcoyotl “wearing” a huehuetl (Codex Ixtlilxochitl, f. 106r)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 212k
Titre Fig. 4. Dancers moving in circle around a percussionist (Codice Selden, f. 7r)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 242k
Titre Fig. 5. Edgar dressing the drums with flowers and paper-cut figurines representing non-human entities (Tenango de Doria, May 2019)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 250k
Titre Fig. 6. Fernando manufacturing the drums (Tenango de Doria, april 2020)
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/20000/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 356k
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Valeria Bellomia, « Sound artefacts as containers. The materiality of rhythm in ancient Mesoamerica »Pallas, 115 | 2021, 121-145.

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Valeria Bellomia, « Sound artefacts as containers. The materiality of rhythm in ancient Mesoamerica »Pallas [En ligne], 115 | 2021, mis en ligne le 23 août 2022, consulté le 28 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/20000 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/pallas.20000

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Valeria Bellomia

Sapienza, Università di Roma
Museo delle Civiltà, Roma

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