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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Coca Chewer on Bench

9th–15th century
H. 8 1/2 x W. 4 in. (21.6 x 10.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Margaret B. Zorach, 1980
Accession Number:
Not on view
Hand modeled and hollow, Capulí style figures are found on both sides of the Colombia/Ecuador border. A common depiction is a male seated on a bench. A wad of coca leaves makes a conspicuous budge in his cheek. The figure's upper torso and hair are resist decorated in black on light brown, and black designs embellish the face and bench. The surface is well polished.

Coca-chewing figures on stools are generally interpreted as shamans. The significance of coca-chewing in ancient Andean cultures is difficult to assess today. Archaeological depictions in artworks, however, and early Spanish accounts indicate that coca was widely used in the highlands of South America for thousands of years. In late pre-conquest Inka times coca use is said to have been reserved for the male nobility, religious ceremonies, and divination.
Margaret B. Zorach, Brooklyn, NY, until 1980

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