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The Otomi Indians live in San Pablito, a city in the east-central Mexican plateau of Sierra de Puebla. Traditionally, the Otomi have relied on agriculture as their means of survival. As a result, many of their religious beliefs and practices involve the spirits found in seeds, crop plants, and ecological forces such as rain and sun. These spirits embody certain qualities that not only must be respected but also are used by the Otomi to pass on societal values.
Intricate paper cutouts are made of these spirits by folding a piece of amate paper in half, rendering a symmetrical figurine. Amate is made by stripping the inner bark from certain trees, then processing it into paper. The figurines are then used by religious leaders in rituals and offerings performed to control the spirits represented in the cutouts. The rituals are usually performed to cure and prevent disease or to ensure crop fertility and the health of domestic animals. More importantly, the cutouts show how the Otomi view the world and their place within it.
This exhibit presents examples of different varieties of Otomi cutout figurines from the Museum’s ethnographic collections. These items, which date to the late 1970s, were collected and donated by Dr. Alan R. Sandstrom, coordinator of the Indiana University/Purdue University anthropology program. Much of the content of this online exhibit is based on Dr. Sandstrom’s research and writings about the Otomi.
Kinship Figures: The Otomi depend on their kin groups for survival; thus kinship is an important part of Otomi life. A variety of cutout figurines reflects the importance of familial relationships.
Fertility Figures: Fertility and success of yearly crops are key to Otomi survival. Figurines representing seed spirits show the importance of agriculture as well as the benefits that come from nature.
Nature Figures: Figurines in this category represent the spirits of the forces of nature. As the Otomi rely on crop success for survival, these spirits remind the Otomi that their livelihood is at the mercy of nature.
Anti-Culture Figures: Figurines in the Anti-Culture category represent spirits that go against the basic values and beliefs of Otomi culture.
Intermediary Figures: The figurines in this category represent spirits that act as messengers between the human and spirit worlds.
References and Related Links
Olivera, Ruth. The Paper Art of Mexico. (Latin American Library, Tulane University, May-September 1994.)
Sandstrom, Alan R. The Image of Disease: Medical Practices of Nahua Indians of the Huasteca. (Columbia: University of Missouri Monographs in Anthropology, Number 3, 1978.)
Sandstrom, Alan R. Traditional Curing and Crop Fertility Rituals Among Otomi Indians of the Sierra de Puebla, Mexico: The Lopez Manuscripts. Occasional Papers and Monographs, Number 3. (Bloomington: Indiana University Museum, 1981.)
Sandstrom, Alan R. Sacred Paper Figurines of the Otomi Indians of the Sierra de Puebla, Mexico. (Columbia: 1977-78 Annual Report of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Missouri)
Otomi Cutout Figurines exhibit text prepared by Molly McMullen
Museum of Anthropology, 100 Swallow Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-1440
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