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10 / The Natural World

Clay Pot Storage Vessel (Masato chomo)
Clay Pot Storage Vessel (Masato chomo)
Artist / Origin Shipibo-Conibo artist, Peru
Region: South America
Date Mid-20th century
Material Clay, sempa protium (interior resin), yomoshon (exterior resin), mineral pigments
Medium: Ceramics
Dimensions H: 16 ½ in. (42 cm.), D: 23 5/8 in. (60 cm.)
Credit Courtesy of Adam Mekler and the Houston Museum of Natural Science

expert perspective

Peter G. RoeProfessor of Anthropology, University of Delaware

Additional Resources

Braun, Barbara, and Peter G. Roe, eds. Arts of the Amazon. London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.

Guss, David M. To Weave and Sing: Art, Symbol, and Narrative in the South American Rainforest. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.

Mekler, Adam, et al. Vanishing Worlds: Art and Ritual in Amazonia. Houston: Houston Museum of Natural Science, 2005.

Roe, Peter G. “Art and Residence among the Shipibo Indians of Peru: A Study in Microacculturation.” American Anthropologist, New Series, 82.1 (March 1980): 42–71.

Vincentelli, Moira. Women Potters: Transforming Traditions. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Clay Pot Storage Vessel (Masato chomo)

» Shipibo-Conibo artist, Peru

The Shipibo-Conibo people of the Amazonian region of Eastern Peru mark a girl’s passage into womanhood (and eligibility for marriage) with an initiation ceremony called Joni-Ati.

Joni-Ati is part of a larger celebration called the Ani Shreati in which guests eat, drink, sing, and dance together. During the two years prior to the event, the girl’s family prepares to accommodate hundreds of guests by planting gardens to provide food and building ample housing. They also create clay vessels such as the masato chomo seen here.

The chomo, or “small pot,” is a particular type of vessel used to store and ferment the ceremonial beverage called masato. Made from entirely natural materials, including clay and plant-derived pigments and resins, these vessels are often buried partially in the ground to keep the masato cool during the fermentation process. Like other pottery, the chomo masato traditionally is made by women of the Shipibo-Conibo group who use designs based on archetypes found in nature. The geometric patterns on this masato chomo, which features bold red lines contrasting with thin, intricately drawn black lines, are evocative of a coiled snake motif. According to Shipibo belief, this pattern is the gift of the cosmic Anaconda Ronin, whose skin is considered the source of all designs. The association of the masato chomo with the snake is further suggested by the hand-built coiling technique used in its creation.

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