The entire first floor and grounds of the National Museum of Anthropology are devoted to pre-Hispanic culture. After three hours of wandering through Mayan and Aztec artifacts, I ate a good lunch in the museum restaurant and then ventured upstairs to a smaller series of galleries devoted to modern Mexican cultures. The exhibits there capture the fast-disappearing features of various regional population groups. At the entrance to the galleries, I came upon the largest tree of life I have ever seen.
Hundreds of clay figures perch on its branches. The wealth of detail depicts all of the cultures covered in the galleries that follow. It would have taken me an hour (which I didn’t have) to fully absorb all those scenes. A first visit to the Museum of Anthropology is like that—continuous forming of intentions to return for closer looks.
The museum generally omits references to colonial era history and culture: another museum in Chapultepec Park deals with that subject. But displayed among exhibits of modern cultures was a reproduction of the Osuna codex, describing pictorially and in both Spanish and Nahuatl the punishments meted out by Spanish courts to indigenous people. Shown below is a depiction of an imprisonment device called the mantrap.
Dioramas convey some idea of how various groups lived. I suspect people still live as depicted only in the remotest settlements if anywhere at all.
The dioramas have a staged look, as romanticized as a Diego Rivera mural. People probably still lived like this during Rivera's day some eighty years ago, but today all I ever encounter are people in jeans and baseball hats.
Besides dioramas, collections of modern artifacts are on display. I particularly was taken by the musical instruments. The old Mexican harp on the right looks identical to the instrument played when Laura and I were married. The mandolina made from a gourd is unique to me; I would have liked to have heard it played.
Growing sugar cane is big business in Mexico, but smallholders also raise cane. This diorama shows a farmer extracting sugary juice from with a horse-powered mill. In front of the diorama a model of the mill permits close inspection of the mechanism. The gray pottery cups to the right are molds for forming the conical loaves of raw sugar called piloncillos, still widely sold in mercados and even supermarkets.
To the delight of many and the despair of others, the introduction of sugarcane to Mexico led to readily available alcoholic beverages like aguardiente.
I could have devoted an entire day’s visit to the modern cultures galleries of the museum. And on a future trip to Mexico City, I will.