Thursday, March 20, 2014
The Master Overseer of Salt
Take a good look at this little gal. You've probably never seen her before. She is Cachi Amu, the spirit master of salt, who fiercely guards salt mines in Ecuador. I noticed her last Saturday at the Spurlock Museum, an interesting little cultural smorgasbord in Urbana at the University of Illinois.
Or should I say "I noticed it"?
"Cachi Amu is an undulating, sentient overseer of salt," Norman and Dorothea Whitten write in Puyo Runa: Imagery and Power in Modern Amazonia. "Many women, especially master potters, say that Cachi Amu is strictly feminine, but men, whose fathers made the trips to collect salt, say that Cachi Amu is androgynous."
Across continents and epochs, from modern cities to salt mines in Ecuador, we're always debating sexual identity. Whatever its gender, the charming little effigy certainly appealed both to Edie and I. No sooner had I snapped this photo of the whatzit than my wife drifted over, noticed the creature, and asked if I would take its picture. With a one-step-ahead-of-you-babe smile, I silently showed her the above.
This object is not ancient, but was created in 1987 by Estela Dagua "to show how she tried to protect mines from intruders."
The spirit of Cachi Amu lives on. Most people never contemplate where the salt in their shakers comes from. Any idea? It is mined, as in, taken from the ground, just as it has always been, since ancient times. Morton Salt, headquartered in Chicago, has mines in Texas, Louisiana and Ohio. From time to time, feeling ambitious, I'll call Morton and try to invite myself out to watch their salt mining operation—because really, with all our talk about our jobs being the old salt mines, who among us has actually been down a salt mine and knows what that's like? Seems worth doing. Alas, infused with the fierce guardian spirit of Cachi Amu, however, the Morton folk always say no. Maybe I'll find a potter to create my own mystic fetish object. I've always been partial to the Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, a thousand-year old Indonesian sculpture in the Art Institute. Next time I see her, I'll implore, "Oh Ganesha, soften the sodium chloride hearts of the Morton folk." Maybe she'll help. Or he. It can be hard to tell.