Ancestral Wisdom Life, Death and Rebirth

Old female figure
Pacific Coast, Tumaco Culture. Inguapí Period -700/350

Elder Woman

Title: Old female figure
Creator: Pacific Coast (Tumaco) - Inguapí Period
Date: -700/350
Physical Dimensions: w208 x h310 mm
Type: Ceramic
Location: People and Gold in Pre-Hispanic Colombia
Technique: Modeling in clay
Finding: Colombia
Accession number: C13436

The representation of human body was realistically honoured in the Tumaco pottery. This figure depicts fatigue and the effects of time on the skin; a human figure in transit towards death.

For many pre-Hispanic societies, the renewal of life, of people, plants and animals, necessitates death. It is necessary that some beings die to give place to new births. Sacrifice, hunting, war and cannibalism are understood as the mechanisms which societies have at their disposal to return souls to their “owners” and guarantee the regeneration of the species. Death is accepted as a normal part of life and understood as a time of rebirth. 

Several groups exhumed the bones of their dead to place them in ceramic urns. In many of these societies, this practice was related to idea of rebirth or reincarnation after death. Bones symbolized the spirit and that which is permanent. The urns were considered wombs, in which the bones of the deceased would be reborn in the underworld. Bones were also associated to the idea of seeds, from which the deceased would sprout again. Tombs, caves and other burial places were considered womb-houses, where the deceased would be reborn to the other side of our cosmos. It is only after this second burial that the deceased, can finally say their final goodbyes and travel to the land of the dead.