Monday, October 21, 2013


When Mom and I and Dorrie were in Austin last June, visiting Aunt Cheryl, Mom bought a bunch of junk at thrift stores and yard sales.  One of the less junky things she bought, at least in my opinion, was a little clay figure of two dogs dancing.  Mom knew she had seen pictures of these types of figures before.  She even thought maybe she had seen them in some museums in Mexico.  Mom was hoping that the figure she bought was really ancient, and it would turn out to be worth thousands of dollars.  But after I did some in-depth research on this subject, I had to tell Mom that anybody who was a tourist in the Mexican state of Colima could buy a dancing dog figure there.  Which meant that hers was probably not very old or very valuable.

Mom's dancing dogs

But anyway, I set out to learn a little more about these dogs, and what I learned was that they represent the Xoloitzcuintle breed, which I already told you about before.  If you have trouble saying Xoloitzcuintle, you can just call these dogs Xolos or Mexican Hairless Dogs.  Except that about one-fourth of them are not hairless.

The little state of Colima

Xolos have been around for more than 3,000 years, and they were very important to their human beings.  The area where all the little clay figures were made is the present-day state of Colima.  This state is located on the west coast of Mexico.  The people who lived there in the beginning did not leave behind any buildings or other records.  We don't even know what they called themselves.  All we know about them comes from the ceramics they buried in shaft tombs they used for their dead.  And since there were lots of dog sculptures, we know that dogs had a big role in their culture.

Mexico, Colima Dog, 300-600 CE
From John J. Brady Jr. Estate BCF 1990.22
Blanden Mueum, Ft. Dodge, IA

One thing the dogs were used for was protection.  They kept both intruders and evil spirits out of the house.  The dogs who were best at doing this were used for breeding.  These were often some of the bigger dogs, which is probably why a Xolo dog today can weigh as much as 60 pounds.

"Colima Dog with Puppies" by Angel Ceron

Sadly, sometimes the dogs got eaten.  A Spanish clergyman named Diego Durán reported that at the time of the Conquest, hundreds of dogs were for sale in the market at the pyramids in central Mexico.  He also said that dog meat was delicious.  One source I read said that dogs were only eaten for special occasions, but Rev. Durán made it sound like more of an everyday thing, especially among the Aztecs and other cultures in the central part of the country.  Anyway, when you see a figure of a really fat dog, especially one that has an ear of corn in its mouth, that is probably a dog that is getting fattened up to make someone a yummy dinner.

Another thing people believed back in those ancient days was that a dog went along on the journey with a person's soul to the underworld.  Dog sculptures and mummified dogs were often placed in tombs, and these dogs seem to be companions for the dead people.  The Xolo dog was named for the god Xolotl, the Lord of the Universe.  This was the god who helped the dead make their journey to the afterlife.

Shaft tomb in Colima

The Colima Dog was also believed to be a healer.  Because of their hairlessness, these dogs put out a lot of heat, and people thought the dogs could keep them from getting rheumatism, asthma, toothache, or insomnia.

Colima Sleeping Dog, Protoclassic, ca. 100 B.C.E.-C.E. 250
Dogs were the only domestic animals that the ancient people of Colima had.  Because of their connection to the god Xolotl, the dogs were his helpers in bringing thunder, lightning, and rain.  The wrinkles in a hairless dog's skin were symbols of lightning.

Anyway, if you want your very own dancing dog figurine, you can get one in Colima.  The capital of the state of Colima is also called Colima.  The state's main cities are Manzanillo and Tecomán.  The biggest tourist attraction is the beaches of Manzanillo.  You can do sport fishing there or just hang out on the beach.  Another popular place to go is the small town of Comala, which has lots of traditional architecture and has been declared a national monument.

These dancing dogs might be too big to fit in your suitcase!

And of course, while you are in Colima, you will want to go to a gift shop because they have clay dogs in every size and shape you could ever want!

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