photo of jaguar in French Guyanan jungle credited to Dr Zoltan Takacs, original drawing of Caribbean Indigen wearing a jaguar tooth necklace and montage "Taino Jaguar Spirit" by Miguel Sague
Tau My Relatives
Not long ago the BBC television programing unit called NATURE featured a series entitled "SPIRITS OF THE JAGUAR". This beautifully photographed sequence of programs was narrated by David Attenborough and focused attention on the various cultures and civilizations of Central America and the Caribbean. The script was careful to note that, in spite of the name of the series, although reverence for jaguars is a factor that unites the spiritual attitudes of many of the cultures covered by the series, the Caribbean islands do not contain these large mammals an thus the inhabitants thereof did not maintain any spiriitual connections with them... Or did they?
In 1985 the Boricua theoretician Antonio Blasini published a book called EL AGUILA Y EL JAGUAR (The Eagle and the Jaguar) (Blasini 1985 Publigraph Press, Hato Rey,Puerto Rico). In this book Don Blasini attempts to make some unusual connections between cultures of the High Andes mountains and the culture of the ancient Tainos to prove his theory of Taino origin in the Andes, as well as making a case for the existance of two moons of the planet Venus called "Eagle" and "Jaguar". I personally am not at all convinced by the vast majority of the material set forth in this book, but it appears that at least in one respect Don Blasini my have scored points in accuracy. There is, in fact, definite archeologial evidence of a prolonged historical period of spiritual reverence for jaguars in the Indigenous Caribbean.
This is remarkable because the Indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean normally never had a chance to see a jaguar, since jaguars really are not native to the region. And yet in the summer of 2003, as her contribution to the XX International Congress of Caribbean Archeology the Boriken archeologist Yvonne M. Narganes Storde submitted a presentation called PENDIENTES ANTILLANOS ANIMALES SURAMERICANOS which features incontrovertible archeological artefacts found on the Boricua island of Vieques that prove some sort of spiritual Indigenous reverence in the Caribbean for animals that exist in South America but not on the islands.
Of particular interest in this presentation is the mention of an actual jaguar canine tooth, A JAGUAR FANG! drilled at the root and used as a pendant This object could only have been acquired at great expense and trouble via a complex network of trade all the way from the South American continent, over the chain of the Antillean archipelago right to Boriken. This is, of course, unless the object was an heirloom item which was actually carried from South America by the ancestors of the current owner when they made the original migration into the islands seven hundred years earlier. I have to admit that my jaw dropped when I saw the actual photographs of a real jaguar tooth submitted by the Boricua scholar, but seeing is believing.
Dr. Narganes Storde makes an extremely compelling argument to substantiate her claim that the early Caribbean Indigenous people (specifically certain ancestors of the Tainos usually labled "Huecoides" and "Saladoids" by scholars) maintained a tradition of reverence for jaguar teeth. This reverence was so intense that even when the actual tooth was not available to be converted into a pendant so it could be worn on a cord around the neck they would fashion naturalistic and accurately imaged effigies of jaguar teeth out of other materials such at manatee bone and sea-shells, which, of course are much more readily available in the Caribbean island region. She submits five teeth corresponding to animals that are not native to the Caribbean islands but instead to the South American rainforest, among them tapirs and peccaries (a distant relative of pigs), and, of course, the fang of a jaguar. These were recovered from a region called Sarce on the south coast of the island of Vieques. In addition to this she remarks: "Ademas entre la parafernalia de adornos religiosos se hallaron dos objetos en forma de colmillo de jaguar, uno confeccionado en hueso y el otro en concha de caracol."
To find such artefacts that were tediously shaped out of shell and bone into the form of a jaguar tooth, made to look just like the tooth of an animal that the artist never got to see, implies that this culture had developed a deeply ingrained connection with those objects (if not with the animal itself) that harked back seven hundred years to their origins in the jaguar homeland of the South American Orinoco river rainforest. Dr. Narganes Storde speculates that these articles represented a reverence for jaguar clan totems, a familial connection to the animal as an ancestor. This is a common shamanic tradition both in North and South America, and can be seen in other agricultural Indigenous peoples such as the Iroquoian Senecas of New York State, who maintain a reverence for bears, snipes, and deer as clan totems.
Pointing out the amazing long-lived survival of such an unlikely connection betwen a people and an animal that only their very distant ancestors had the ability to experience, Dr. Narganes Storde concludes her presentation with the following postulation: "Que mas contundente que la presencia de estas decoraciones en la posterior cultura Taina y la posibilidad de la supervivencia del culto al jaguar", theorizing a possible (and quite probable) survival of this reverence for jaguars right on down to classic Taino era. Is it possible that among the Taino ancestors who faced Columbus in 1492 there might have been individuals wearing heirloom jaguar teeth that had been in their families, passed down from generation to generation for over a thousand years? HAN HAN KATU!!!!!
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague