A rare find. A 19C Mexican teponaztli/zoomorphic slit drum. The closest picture I can find to this one is in the Hofstra University Museum but this one is more detailed. There are others in various museums around the world. I found this in Guerrero about 30 years ago which would suggest it is Mixtec.
In the Aztec and Mixtec cultures this instrument was considered sacred. It was used for special events of religious significance. The openings on the instrument were used as channels through which blood could flow from human sacrifices. This would apply to the smaller teponaztli which would be worn around the neck of the unfortunate donor. There is much more detail to be had here but it is rather gruesome. They vary in size from 336mm (13" )x 104mm (4"), to 780mm (31") x 240mm (9.4"). This one is 22" x 7" or 559mm x 178mm.
Codexes say that drums of differing sizes were carried into battle and were also used alone, or with others, to accompany songs. They are often carved in zoomorphic styles, this one being an alligator. As an aside, I never knew there were alligators in Mexico but there are.
They were usually played with sticks covered with cloth or rubber but Codex Becker shows a player playing with uncovered small sticks which is what we have here. The teponaztli is a hollowed hardwood log with three slits cut into the side to form the the shape of a letter H. This produces two tongues to form on the side which then becomes the playing surface. A rectangular opening was cut into the opposite side in order for the sound chamber to be carved out. I can produce four distinct notes on this one not counting the sound produce by drawing the mallet across the 'mane'.
This is a beautiful object and will offer the collector great pleasure as it has me.
Thank you for looking.
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