In 2008 a little vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico turned up a few local jewelry themes.
The Cross of Yalalaga is usually an equilateral cross with three pendant crosses attached. It was all over the place, on rooftops as weathervanes, in ceramic, and especially in silver. Locals explained it was around long before Cortez showed up. Oaxaca is a UNESCO heritage site, as it is home to quite a few totally distinct indigenous languages. You can see some of these pieces have been Catholicized, some have not. I was especially curious about the winged heart shape variation – some are even double-winged.
Too bad I was still getting the hang of that camera. In heavier versions of the pendant, the design wold reveal more distinctive transepts than a simple equilateral cross – distinctly resembling the sweeping wings of a diving bird.
Beautiful filligree works seemed to cary the unique fondness for the downward swooping bird. Above, traditional wire forming methods show Spanish and indigenous influence.
In other pieces the bird theme continued as two birds facing each other, forming a symmetry meeting at the beak and feet. This might explain the ‘winged heart’ on the smaller Yalalaga pendants, the heart shape being te silhouette of this symmetry. Again, we have the downward crescent suggesting a swooping motion.
This magnificent piece of silver jewelry seems to have everything but the kitchen sink, but suggests indigenous metaphor in its arrangement. The collar fan area is an array of winged cherubs, with an enclosure of a hand holding a heart. Below it are a pair of ‘eyes’ that suggest the ancient Nahuatl god of rain and harvest, Tlaloc, that can be found concealed in the painted motifs of colonial churches. If this is the case, we have another clue: two hands descend from his eyes, appearing to deliver the disc of the sun and the moon. Could the hands’ gesture double as the silhouette of two birds? The heart shape is easily made this way. Could the descending bird represent the sun, or light? And the pendants on the Yalalaga rays of light, raindrops, or seeds?
The trip to Oaxaca was a satisfying survey of syncretism between religion and culture. Something in the jewelry of today retains threads of previous cultural incarnations: people who once made ornamental earplugs now make silver filligree birds and crosses.