God of Rain Figure of Cocijo

The figure of Cocijo currently located at the American Museum of Natural History is a representation of the Zapotec culture. It relates to the Classic period, Monte Alban III (circa A.D. 200 1000). The artifact is made of terracotta and is light brown. This urn is rather large with dimensions of 70.0 x 52.0 x 41.0 centimeters. Catalog No: 30.3/ 2554.

Despite being less explored than the Maya and Aztecs, the Zapotec culture is one of the oldest Mesoamerican cultures and is among the first civilizations of ancient Mexico. The Zapotec dwelled in the Oaxaca region of central Mexico nearly 2,500 years ago. They were also called the cloud people because of the belief that their ruling class consisted of supernatural creatures, which came down from the clouds. After the death, the representatives of the elite returned to the clouds.

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The Zapotec, or cloud people, were polytheistic, like most Mesoamerican nations. One of their main deities was Cocijo, the god of lightening and rain. Due to the agricultural style of peoples life, the god of rain had a prominent role for the Zapotec. Cocijo was extremely powerful. At the time of the formation the world, he used unformed substances to create the sun, the moon and other heavenly bodies, animals and plants, days and nights, mountains and trees, sand and rivers.

The Zapotec were proficient in ceramics, producing handicraft and decorations of high quality. The Zapotec created distinct artifacts that became an individual feature of their culture. These peculiar objects are effigy vessels, one of the examples of which is the figure of Cocijo, the god of rain.

By period III, the vessels became extremely elaborate with the figures of gods on the front. In regard to the figure of a deity, the details of face and headdresses were created in a more sophisticated and accurate way as compared to the torso, legs and hands. The presented figure is apparently male and is seated in the traditional pose of the Zapotec urn with legs crossed and hands put on the knees. Cocijo has melon-shaped eyes, square lower lids, the band across his nose, and forked tongue sticking out of the open mouth. His eyebrows are a symbol of the heaven, the eyelids depict clouds, and the serpent’s tongue symbolizes a thunderbolt. The manner in which this figure is dressed depicts his high position in the society; perhaps, thats why the elite used to wear a Cocijo mask. Nevertheless, the explanation of the figure being a depiction of a god is still possible. The figure wears a headdress incised with glyph C that is a symbol of water, being the proper glyph for Cocijo, the deity of rain.

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. The glyph representing corn is placed on the pectoral that hangs on a string around Cocijos neck. The pectoral consists of two main parts. The first image is a circular plate that resembles a cartouche. The lower part of the pectoral is decorated with small exterior of a trilobate shape. In the center there is a corn glyph, with the curled stem pointing down. The cartouche with the posts represents a field. Thus, the corn glyph attached to the cartouche (field) is a symbol of germination and fertility that were so important to people engaged in agriculture.

The figure of Cocijo represents a great influence of the Olmec culture on the major cultures of the Classic period, in particular, the Zapotec culture. It is one of the first post-Olmec deities of rain and lightening. The Olmecs used masks depicting the deity to understand the way in which the vital life force provided both water that helped corn grow and the rulers who established an order of the spirit in the world of nature. This mask type vanished with the Olmecs, but the tradition of the creation of ritual masks continued to exist in each of the main cultures of the Classic period. The depictions were customized in each culture to reveal the gods associated with provision of the vital rain, including Cocijo worshiped by the Zapotec.

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Effigy vessels, like this one, are usually interpreted as funerary, but, in fact, their true meaning is unknown. The urns are usually represented as a set of four or five containers. Given the big size of the containers, the vessels could have been used as urns for corn and blood or other sacred objects. During rituals, these vessels with corn and blood were put in the four corners, and the fifth one was placed in the center of a corn field. As a rule, these effigy vessels are empty, however, there are cases in which blades or bones of small animals have been found inside, which can be associated with blood sacrifice. Hence, the vessels could have been used in the agricultural rituals, as many of the found urns have features of being used. However, as the figures were found in tombs they obtain a funerary context as an offering. There are facts from the Classic period of Zapotec rulers assuming characteristics of deities, in particular, Cocijo, by incorporating his name into their own. Perhaps when these rulers died, the urns were put down in the tombs in order to act as mediators after death.

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