Throughout time, human cultures have used amulets… Small ornaments that are symbols of good luck and faith, thought to give protection against evil or danger. Our ancestors used them, and we still do… The museum Casa del Alabado, located in Quito‘s historic downtown, exhibits small but very representative figures belonging to Pre-Columbian Ecuadorian cultures.
By Luis Alberto Cruzatty, for Museo Casa del Alabado.
Their decoration and exotic shapes have inspired archeologists and anthropologists to develop the most fabulous theories about their uses. In fact, the exhibit calls for reflection as one realizes that people who lived thousands of years ago were not so different from people today. La Casa del Alabado Museum has organized this exhibit taking into consideration Ideology, philosophy, and artistic of Ecuador’s early inhabitants in an attempt to rescue the cultural value and the stones behind each of these pieces.
The exhibit is a compilation of 350 amulets that date as back as 3500 B.C. such as those belonging to the Valdivia culture on the coast of Ecuador, as well as some belonging to the Incas in the XV century A.D.
Although the cultures to which these amulets belong differ widely from each other, it is important to notice that the origins of their rituals and ceremonies are the same: the need to express their feelings which were closely related to nature, and also the need of hope, Amulets were definitely important manifestations of these spiritual needs. Moreover, they were a nexus between the parallel worlds and gods.
The “Cosmo-Vision” of the Indigenous of the Americas includes different parallel worlds, which are generally divided in three: Over-world and Under-world are the abstract but powerful places where wise ancestors, gods, and good and bad spirits live; and the Middle- world is the place inhabited by plants, animals, minerals and humans. According to the ideology of our ancestors, these three worlds could be connected with each other through special rituals, therefore people in the Middle-world could find vital answers to their fundamental questions through these rituals.
The Museum Casa Del Alabado has organized its collection of Pre- Columbian art according to these three worlds rather than chronologically or by culture or region.
There is a complete universe of Icons in Pre-Columbian archeology,
Scientists have determined some of the most important given the frequency in which they were represented and the way they were presented. There are some small stamps that were used to print tattoos based on natural colors, some of them with a cylinder shape and some of them flat, but many of them have a common icon, the spiral. This symbol represents life as well as the timeline.
Some other common icons are animals such us: caimans, snakes, monkeys, eagles, frogs, etc. which were adored because of their skills and their role in nature. The jaguar was especially valuable because it represented the Shaman’s soul and his ability to connect different worlds. On the Other hand, the owl represented the wisdom of the ancestors who were living in the underworld. In some cases, these animals were mixed all together in one sole figure, creating unique beings that could be confused with dragons.
Other famous amulets are the Ucuyayas, small pieces that represent children faces made of spondylus shells or bones. According to studies, these amulets were used by parents to keep bad spirits away from their children. They were found especially in Cerro Narrio Culture, in Cañar Province. All these pieces invite us to think about ancient societies, their style of life and their social, religious and scientific development. They involve an amazing work. Some pieces tell of their knowledge of the human body, such as the stamp that represents a fetus in the uterus, with a perfect position of the kidneys and the spine.
Ecuador’s early inhabitants were very meticulous artists; in fact, they have been able to pass on their history through generations without the need of a written language. Amulets constitute a fundamental tool to understanding these antique cultures.
Visit Museo Casa del Alabado a Pre-columbian art museum that exhibits some of the most representative pieces of pre-Columbian art in Ecuador. Learn about their artistic and anthropological significance, an enjoy a cultural immersion and experience.
Address: Cuenca St 335, between Bolivar and Rocafuerte (Historic Downtown, Quito)
Entrance fee: $3, children until 12 years old $ 1
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