850-1500 AD

Height : 51 cm – Width : 21 cm – Depth : 24.4 cm

Brown hollow terracotta with reddish-brown slip and black decoration


This beautiful figure is a "coquero" chief (coca chewer), a work of the Nariño culture, also called Capulí, established in the highlands of the Andes Cordillera on the border between Colombia (southern part) and Ecuador (northern part). It is distinguished by its large size, the undeniable quality of the modeling, its brilliant patina highlighting the beautiful warm color of the slip and its perfect state of conservation.

He adopts the classic posture of this type of figure, which can be found on both sides of the Colombia/Ecuador border: his back is straight, he is sitting on a bench, his arms are stretched out in parallel and his hands are placed on his knees as a sign of authority. His gaze is fixed, under the effect of the consumption of coca leaves. The bulging eyes, whose pupils have been painted black and the eyelids engraved to make them stand out, reflect this trance-like state.

The head is round and the hair, originally painted black, forms a kind of cap. It may be a hat of sorts, an attribute reserved for the ancients. The shape of the skull is reminiscent of the cap of a hallucinogenic mushroom consumed by shamans.

The nose asserts itself, small and pointed, between the relatively distant eyes. Two small holes can be seen in the nostrils, which were probably used to hang narigueras (nose ornament). The mouth is a simple slit, slightly slanted, which sketches a particular pout linked to the chewing of the ball of coca lodged in the left cheek, identifiable by the small bump modeled by the ceramist.

Facial paintings embellish this impassive face. Two thin lines run from the eyes to the lower jaw, connected by a horizontal line that runs between the nose and the mouth. Two other lines run from the outer edge of the eyes to the slightly protruding, rounded ears. There is also a black triangle under each eye, pointing downward, as well as black bands of different widths on the chin.

The neck is hardly visible and the head seems to rest directly on the broad shoulders that give this figure an undeniable stature. The arms are filiform and very long. They slope down to the knees on which they firmly rest their hands. The bust dominates the folded legs. The thighs are barely thicker than the shins and arms and do not rest on the seat of the stool. The sculptor has deliberately left wide spaces between the limbs of this figure, accentuating the thinness and architectural aspect of this muscular body. The hands and feet are schematized, with simple incisions indicating the fingers and toes.

From a clothing point of view, the man wears only a sex cover held at the waist by a belt. His naked torso is crossed by a painted motif representing a kind of sling, partially effaced, going from the shoulder to the waist in front and behind. This element is visible on other comparable effigies, sometimes accompanied by a small bag - the chuspa - which contained the daily supply of coca leaves. Traces of black tattoos are also visible on the arms.

The dark stains present on a large part of the surface of the body are traces of manganese oxide, a natural consequence of the prolonged burial of this statue, probably buried in a deep well tomb typical of the region and thought to have been the last resting place of the chiefs and shamans of local communities.

The posture of this effigy, his body paintings and the stool on which he is sitting denote his status as a member of the elite. It is most likely the representation of a cacique (clan leader) and/or a shaman, which testifies to the emergence of complex and hierarchical social organization models in Colombia, as elsewhere in South America.

The naturalistic treatment, beyond its aesthetic and artistic quality, is a valuable source of information as it gives a fairly accurate idea of the type of dress, hair and makeup of the Capuli people.


The recurrence of figures chewing coca leaves, including in the form of masks, indicates that they were an important resource in the highlands of South America, whose trade fed the local economy.