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The Journeys of Ai Apaec

Room 2, Vitrine 18

Pottery rattle vessel
Mochica, northern coast of Peru
Florescent Epoch (1 AD – 800 AD)

Ai Apaec is a mythological Mochica being with enormous fangs, a serpent belt and ear adornments, and he travels through different worlds in order to ensure the continuation of nature’s cycles.

  • The base of this large rattle vessel contains clay beads which produce a rattling sound when the vessel is shaken.
  • The interior of the vessel is decorated with of different episodes in the mythological journey of Ai Apaec into the underworld.
  • Ai Apaec (the name was given to him by Rafael Larco Hoyle, and in the Muchik language is means “The Creator”) wears a feather headdress. He has enormous fangs and wears a serpent belt and ear adornments. His tunic is decorated with a step design.
  • Ai Apaec is a mythological hero, whose task is to restore order. To achieve this, he travels through the different worlds in a quest for continuous regeneration, in the form of the returning seasons.
  • During his quest, he ventures into the ocean and confronts the different mythological beings that inhabit the underworld: a being that adopts the form of a puffer fish; an anthropomorphic sea urchin; and a “marine demon” with the face of a seal, a crest on its head and fins like those of the shark or stingray.
  • In another scene, we see Ai Apaec, apparently dead, pinned down by two birds: a booby and a vulture.
  • The other protagonists who appear in this great scene are three musicians, two of whom play panpipes, while the third plays a drum, or tinya. In the Andean region, panpipes are usually played in pairs to evoke the links between different worlds, seasons and forces, while the drum is played in the context of agricultural propitiatory rites and fiestas.
  • The headdress and tunic worn by Ai Apaec change according to the context in which he finds himself. When Ai Apaec fights the puffer fish or sea urchin, he wears his typical feline headdress and plume of feathers and the step motif on his tunic is a cream color over a red background.
  • However, when Ai Apaec fights with the “marine demon”, and when he is pinned down by the birds, he wears a headdress evoking his previous opponents, a helmet with appendages in the form of owl’s ears, but with the face of a feline on the front part of the crown, and the colors of his tunic are reversed; the step motif is red, on a cream colored background.
  • The exterior of the vessel is decorated with a combined step motif and scroll design, symbolizing the dynamic interaction that occurs between different worlds.
  • Taken together, the imagery found on this vessel alludes to the opposing forces required for the natural world to continue to function.