By Stephen F. Beiner, July 2012

On my most recent trip to Peru, I was once again enthralled by the compelling small ceramic bulls perched on top of many houses. I was travelling with my good friend/antiquities expert/mentor, who explained to me that beyond the aesthetic appeal of the bulls, they have deep rooted symbolism. The bulls originated in the Checa Pupuja community that lies between Puno and Cuzco. As part of their religious and magical culture, the inhabitants believed that the bulls brought happiness, good health, well-being and protection to the family. The closest trading town to where the ceramic bulls are produced is Pucara and the bulls have become known as "the little bulls from Pucara" (los toritos de Pucara).

While the purpose of my return trip to Peru was to revisit the magnificent museums in Lima, to explore the ancient cities/cultures in Paracas and Ica and take the exciting plane ride over the 2,000 year old Nasca lines, I was excited to learn that with some tenacity, it was possible to find and purchase one of the bulls made about 200 years ago in Pucara and legally export it to the United States. As a collector, I am always on the alert for an unusual opportunity to acquire a rare "gem."

The bull that I purchased was made 1820-1850 and is part of the Pucara ceramic tradition that dates back more than 2,500 years. The bull figure, which is also a ritual flask, originally was used by the high priest to drink chicha (fermented corn beer) mixed with the blood of cattle during the cattle-branding ceremony. The little bulls of Pucara are an example in Peruvian art of the fusion of the Spanish culture with that of native Peru. For the Spanish, the bulls represent strength and courage. Despite the fact that the bulls are so typically Spanish, the indigenous craftspeople adopted the bull as their own and incorporated it into their culture.

This ritual bull is crafted entirely by hand without using any molds. Only two mechanical objects are used: a hollow tube is used to mark the eyes and a small mold serves to shape the decorative roses. The bulls were fired in ovens which used a layer of fowl guano as fuel. The bulls were, and to this day are, always placed on the roof so that they have a view of the apus, the mountain gods revered by the Incas. They wonderfully combine traditional Spanish art with a unique Andean influence.

The food in Peru is delightful, the wine compelling. The ancient cultures are exciting to explore. But a high point of my trip was certainly bringing a Torito de Pucara, a little bull of Pucara, back to Boca Raton with me.

STEPHEN F. BEINER is a practicing attorney in Boca Raton. Together with his wife, Dr. Judith Beiner, he owns the GRIFFIN GALLERY OF ANCIENT ART, Gallery Center, Boca Raton, Florida.

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