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Manteño Whistling Bottle

Text: The Pre- Columbian Art Museum Casa del Alabado. 

If we look to the past, we will find that sound objects have been persistent in the repertoire of artifacts created by different Pre-Columbian cultures. They have probably been made with the intention to incorporate sounds into the daily or ritual activities of these peoples. Starting with the Chorrera culture (1000 BC – 300 AD), all the way to the populations that had contact with the Iberian conquerors in 1532,  there has been a continuous exploration of artifact shapes that are related to what we now consider to be their sound heritage. 

An example of this fantastic heritage is highlighted through the Manteño whistling bottle here on the display. This object could be cataloged as an aerophone due to its pitched sound which comes from the vibration of air accumulated inside as it is expelled by the holes located in the stirrup of the handle of the bottle. 

In most cases globular or compartment bottles do not have finger holes, which invites us to classify them as sound objects instead of instruments. It is possible that its use may have been accompanied by other types of sound objects. The Sounds and Dancers exhibition, which remains open until May this year, showcases a wide range of sound objects that enrich the resonant horizon of pre-Columbian peoples. 

In the case of the Manteño culture, whose chronology dates from 400 A.D. to 1532 A.D., burials have been found accompanied by different types of ceramic art, including zoomorphic vessels with jaguar representations, or even jaguar bones; however, whistling bottles do not appear recurrently in funerary contexts. They were probably utilitarian objects that had this double function, as containers of liquids and at the same time as sound objects for daily use. 

The bottle shows the classic manteño black engobe. This ceramic coloring is due to the pigmentation of clays with minerals such as coal and magnetite. As for the shape, the bottle shows an embossed decoration that suggests a representation of concentric circles seen from the top. Some of the questions that arise regarding this piece, lead us to question ourselves about the reasons that generated the creation of objects with shapes like this. Is this form suggesting a ritual use? Or maybe, will it be inspired by the water that can be placed inside? Regardless of the answer to this questions, this type of pieces push us to include sound when we imagine the past. 

Place: Museo de Arte Precolombino Casa del Alabado.

Address: Cuenca N1-41 and Bolívar, Quito – Ecuador.  

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