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Aztec stone omichicahuaztli rasp

Omichicahuaztli, Mexica (Aztec), stone and stucco, ca. 1250-1521 AD/CE, 10 x 30 cms., Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City.

The most quoted early authority on the omichicahuaztli (bone rasp) is Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc, grandson of Moctezuma II. In his Crónica Mexicana he describes funeral rites following a bloody war...

Throughout the four-day mourning exercises, youths scraped dried, striated deer bones. Using a smaller bone piece for scraper, they made ‘very doleful’ music... Singing of responses especially composed for the ceremony and hand clapping to the rhythm of the drumbeats preceded the music of ‘bones with small teeth cut into them like ladder rungs’.
However lugubrious the sound to European ears, the omichicahuaztli left so indelible an impression that Sahagún on his own initiative added it to the list of palace instruments he obtained from native informants - although... it did not belong there...
So absolute was the funerary character of the omichicahuaztli that Walter Krickeberg could decree that ‘it was used exclusively in the funeral rites of kings and of famous warriors.’ According to him, the gritty sounds, produced by scraping notched bone with a shell or bone plectrum, had their symbolic purpose. The discord of death tolerated no suave or ‘beautiful’ sounds, only disagreeable scraping sounds at varying pitches.

From Music in Aztec & Inca Territory by Robert Stevenson, University of California Press, 1968, pp. 56-58.

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.