Indigenous Caribbean Network

Tau My Relatives
Many of us are aware of a sacred entity that our ancestors revered,
and who was very intimately associated with the respect and honoring
of the dead. This entity is the canine spirit who is considered to be
the guide that accompanies the souls of the departed to the after-
life.His name is Opiyel Guobiran. images of dogs and dog-like cemies
abound in taino art.

It has been suggested that Opiyel Guobiran was a Taino counterpart of
the famous "hell-hound", CERBERUS, the canine monster with three
heads and a snake-tail that was said to guard the entrance to the
abode of the dead, "HADES" in Greek mythology. I have even heard and
read the words of actual resurgence-era Tainos who seem to gleefully
embrace the concept of a fierce guard-dog from hell in the form of this
ancient Taino entity. These modern-day Tainos enjoy the image of a
ferocious wolf-like being standing at the gates of Coa Bay blocking
the exit of the souls of the dead. In some manifestations of this
interpretation of Opiyel Guobiran, he is portrayed as the entity that
keeps the souls from escaping out of Coa Bay in the day-time and
allows them to come out only at night. Although I am not adverse to
learning from cultural comparisons such as this Greek-to-Taino
translation, I have to agree with Maria Poviones-Bishop in "BAT AND
she comments:

"As Opiyelguobiran was described with canine language and he was
associated with the spirits of the dead and the darkness, there have
been parallels drawn between this zemi and the Greek Cerberus, the
guardian dog of the underworld. However, there is nothing in the
historical record of Taino religion that suggests a belief that
Opiyelguobiran guarded the entry to Coaybay."


This is the image of an actual archeological find depicting the Taino dog spirit Opiyel Guobiran in the form of a part-man/part-dog being.
I don't believe that Opiyel Guobiran was a fierce guard-dog of Coa
Bay. I would rather raise a much more likely scenarion of cultural
comparison. This scenario is inspired by Maya and other Meso-American
mythology rather than Greek mythology.

It is true that some depictions of the Taino dog spirit appear to present him in a snarling teeth-bearing demeanor but the fact is that the Tainos had a habit of depicting spirit who were associated with Death in skeletal form. That is the way that the Lord of the realm of Death Makatarie Guayaba is always depicted. By the same token the Taino dog-spirit is also depicted in skeletal form, in which case all of his teeth are bared because that is the way the skull of a dead dog actually looks.

I perceive Opiyel Guobiran as a guide-dog more than a guard-dog.
There is well-established tradition in Indigenous culture all over
Central America and Mexico which recognizes a spiritual canine entity
whose duty is to lead the souls of the departed accross the obstacles
that separate the realm of the living from the realm of the dead.

In his tour-de-force "ESOTERICISM OF THE POPOL VUH", Raphael Girard
makes the following commentary concerning the journey that the sacred
twins Hun-Ahpu and Ix Balanque make into the Underworld realm of the
Dead, Xibalba:

"Complying with their destiny, the twins descend into Xibalbá, armed
with their ever-present blowguns and dressed in their 'elements of
splendor.' They traverse the same country described during the
earlier journey of (One Hunahpu and) the seven Ahpú (Seven Hunahpu),
crossing the same infernal rivers; however, they do not go through
those rivers but cross over them using their blowguns as a
bridge...Crossing the river by blowguns illustrates another native
custom whose origin goes back to this legendary trip of Hunahpú. The
Chortís, Lenca, and other peoples ... throw light lines made of palm
or grass fibers over ravines, streams, or deep hollows across which
the spirits of their deceased have to pass, so that they can overcome
the obstacle more easily.
Knowing the symbolic equivalence of the blowgun to the sun's ray and
its correspondence to the divine hair and elements such as thread,
rope, and serpent, we understand that the light line, thrown across
the cracks in the earth so that the soul of the defunct may pass,
corresponds to the blowgun that Hunahpú stretched across the
underworld rivers. And this symbolic equivalence is made plain in the
Quiché dress on which the solar rays are represented by threads...In
Mexican mythology the same symbol is expressed in a different form:
by the figure of a dog that swims across the Chignaguapan carrying
the dead person on its back, and for that reason a golden-colored dog
(colored like the sun) was interred with the body and accompanied the
dead person, as Xolotl accompanied the sun during its underworld
journey. In the Mayan codices, the dog is a symbol of the solar fire
or ray; that is, the equivalent of Hunahpú's blowgun."

In this passage, Girard brings to mind a widespread tradition that
associates yellow-colored dogs with the rays of the sun and with the
blow-gun that Hun-Ahpu, the Mayan spirit of Energy and Life, carried
on his journey into the Underworld. He also makes a connection
between these elements and the concept of a yellow string or thread.

The association of all of these mythological elements appears rather
strained until one analyses the symbolism involved. A thread can be
associated with a strand of hair. The head of Hun-Ahpu has been
compared by several researchers to the solar orb and its earth-bound
correspondent, the Mayan game ball. Some of these researchers include
John Major Jenkins, and Dennis Tedlock.
In at least one educational website,
the relationship between the game ball and Hun-Ahpu's head is
graphically presented in the Popol Vuh episode in which the hero twin
is decapitated and the Lords of Xibalba play the ball game with his
"When the Lords of Death started the game, they used Hunahpu's head
for the ball. As far as they were concerned, this made them victors

We know for a fact that the cyclical back-and-forth movement of the
game ball was a metaphor for the cyclical movement of the sun, which,
again, was associated with the hero's head. In the Popol Vuh Hun-Ahpu
ends up flying up into the sky and turning into the sun at the end of
the story, as pointed out by Tedlock. Furthermore the sun can be
perceived as being surrounded by a circular crown of straight yellow
strands of light which radiate from the bright celestial disc.It is
perfectly reasonable in mythological logic to perceive these strands
of lights as thousands of locks of hair radiating from the divine
head of Hun-Ahpu, all around his head. By the same token, if his head
is imaged in profile, it is perfectly reasonable to percieve one of
those rays to be the blow-gun radiating from his mouth like just
another bright line of sunlight. The association between the hair of
Hun-Ahpu, the yellow strand that is symbolized by the string thrown
accross the river at the death of a loved one so that he or she can
use it to cross into the Realm of Death, and the blow-gun, a tool
used by the divine twin for the same exact purpose, becomes obvious
at this point. The comparison between hair, blowgun, string and sun-
ray becomes self-evident.

Into this amalgam of mythologial symbolism enters the enigmatic
yellow dog. Girard's research among contemporary Indigenous
traditions of Mexico and Central America strongly indicates a close
connection between the golden strands that symbolize the rays of the
sun and the sacred yellow dog that modern-day Mexican Natives believe
carry their loved ones accross the underworld rivers and into the
land of the Dead. It is logical to assume that they believe these
dogs to be a manifestation of the sun's ray and by extension a
manifestation of the hair (and the blowgun) of Hun-Ahpu or some
mythological entity close connected to that hero figure.

The yellow dog is not unknown in North America. Dingo-like canines
have lived in the wilds of what are now the southern states throught
the South-East, right down into Florida since the Ice Age. The
Carolina Yellow Dog is a recognized American breed which, if pure-
blood is highly recommended as a native show-breed, and as a pet by
the American Kennel Association. I present here a pertinent article
regarding the history of migration of dogs into the Americas in
reference to the Carolina Yellow Dog from the website

"Several other dog enthusiasts had been studying these dogs for about
five years and called them Carolina Dogs. They are now registered
with the American Rare Breed Association and they appear as a
primitive breed in the new Encyclopedia of the Dog by Dr. Bruce
Fogle, published in the United States by DK Publishing, NY.The
hypothesis is that these dogs are the pure descendants of the feral
pariah canids who came across the Bering land mass 8,000 to 11,000
years ago following the human tribal masses. These dogs originated in
the Tigris and Euphrates basin (Iraq) and some dogs followed various
tribes as they meandered over the world - to North Africa, here (in
Africa) the dogs became the African Pariahs, (they migrated) to
Australia to become the Australian Dingo, to New Guinea to become the
Singing Dogs, and to the Americas. But they all shared this common
Occasionally the descendants of these shy, timid dogs can still be
found in the underpopulated parts of the Southeastern United States.
Could these wild part of such a sacred and majestic past?
Some were captured for DNA testing. When the tests came back the
information was overwhelming- these were the primitive Carolina
Dogs....These dogs have many fascinating wild traits: the puppies are
born deep in the ground in a small chamber dug by the female and
other pack members bring the family food until the pups can live on
their own; they have small pointed feet and webbed toes and fish hook
tails; they use their front legs and paws like arms and hands; the
puppies are very mature at four to five weeks and can and want
to 'run with the big dogs', a main source of food is under the
surface of the ground and they are constantly listening and digging
little holes when they hear something move.
These dogs found ...throughout the Southeast are, indeed, a
primitive breed- the strong resemblance to the primitive dogs of the
world is not an accident. If America is to have Dingoes - they are
the Carolina Dogs!
Here in our midst is a National Treasure. The Carolina Dogs make
gentle pets, winning show dogs, and good hunting/hiking companions -
even when wild caught. They are willing, smart and never aggressive
towards humans and other breeds of dogs - although they will stand at
a distance and bark at strangers. They look upon their handler as the
pack leader and they respond best to a gentle hand and a quiet
But this remarkable primitive breed faces extinction without our
human intervention. How could that be?
As we mentioned earlier, a rapid change in the ecological balance
has been taking place in the Southeast in the last ten years. A
change that could, in the next ten to twenty years,cause the end of
the Carolina Dog after 8,000 years of existence in the Southeastern
United States."

The article above stresses the ancient origins of this dog in the
Americas and their ubiquitous presence all the way down into sub-
tropical Florida has been mentioned by others. The iconic pet in the
classic film "Old Yeller", was, in fact, just such a dog.

These yellow dogs almost certainly made their way into the Caribbean
via Florida to become hunting companions to our ancient Taino
ancestors even as these ancestors also kept smaller chihuahua-
sized "mute-dogs" whose lineage may have branched off from some
Mexican ancestor and passed into the Taino lifestyle through canoe-
trade from the Yucatan. I am convinced that the smaller dogs were
kept both as pets and for food, while the bigger yellows were used as
hunting companions.

The dog spirit, Opiyel Guobiran, in my opinion, shares much in common
with both the docile, easily tameable yellow dog of the southern
states of the U. S. and the gentle guide dog of ancient Mexican and
Mayan tradition (not the chihuahua), whose task is to either guide or
actually carry the soul of the Dead accross the rivers of the
Underworld to the land of the ancestors. There is absolutely nothing
that I have found in all of my research to indicate that Opiyel
Guobiran is "fierce" or that his duties include forcibly restraining
the souls of the ancestors to stay within the realm of Coa Bay,
whether it is day or night.

Taino Ti
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague

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Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on June 11, 2009 at 12:14pm
Jan Jan brother Samuel. You are correct.
Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on June 11, 2009 at 2:39am
Tau Relative
This drawing that you have posted here is a drawing of a very well-known Taino carving created on a sea-shell. Most scholars agree that the carving represents the dog spirit Opiyel Guobiran in the form of a skeletal image to demonstrate the fact that he belongs to the realm of the Dead.

Here is the original photo image credited to photographer Justin Kerr.

This image has been misinterpreted by some to reresent a snarling fierce snarling dog because its teeth and fangs are visible. Anybody who has seen the skull of a real dog will understand that this interpretation is not accurate. What the artist is trying to represent here is not a snarl. It is simply a skull of a dog. The skull of a dog always shows all of its teeth just like the skull of a person. The teeth appear to be gritted in a permanent grin or snarl because when the flesh is removed from a skull that is the way the skull looks. A snarl is the way we perceive them when the dog is alive and shows his teeth. But when the dog is dead and his skull is all we see the teeth look like that even though he is not angry or snarling at anybody. He is just dead!
Taino Ti
Comment by jonasangelet on June 10, 2009 at 5:47pm
I came across this drawing in a book some time ago and have since used it as alogo of sorts. The mythology of the symbol has long fascinated me. Thank you for the thorough investigation. Any thoughts on this interpretation or its origins.

Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on December 9, 2008 at 9:48pm
Tau sister Nanu
Actually in global shamanic tradition there is a fairly consistent pattern of cross-identification between the Underworld that shamans travel to when they journey and the Underworld that the Dead travel to when they cross over.
Taino Ti
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague
Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on December 9, 2008 at 9:28pm
Tau Sister RixTurey
These are wonderful images of the benevolent dog spirit of our ancestors. Thank you for posting them
Taino Ti
Comment by Rixturey on December 9, 2008 at 1:18pm
More images of dogs. The first two are from Lynne Guitar's page in the Centrelink (thank you!)

Also, I'm not sure but the Aon was a mute dog that was used in hunting hutias. This I believe is what the petroglyph in my painting represents.
Comment by Anita Pagan on December 8, 2008 at 7:05pm
I am curious as to why you believe that Coabay is the same underworld as the one we journey to....
Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on December 7, 2008 at 11:00pm
Thank you for that link That was extremely informative. I am adding that website to my favorites
Taino Ti
Comment by Anita Pagan on December 7, 2008 at 9:56pm
I agree with you on Jung being on to something there...

If you notice Anubis was the guide of the dead to Osiris, Cerberus was the 3 headed dog the guarded the gates of Hades, Xolotl was the guide of the dead, Fu dogs guard the door of homes and temples, Garm is the hound that guards Helheim (Norse land of the dead).

I found this interesting link on the dog as psychopomp.
Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on December 7, 2008 at 4:24pm
I am convinced that Jung's theory or archetypes is the logical exlanation that clarifies the reason that there are so many commonalities in the way that human's approach the supernatural. We are, actually all one species. No matter how different our cultures are there are certain fundamental elements of thought and behavior that do not change and are the same from culture to culture, from country to country. Perceiving the jackal god with the same identity as our underworld dog of the Tainos and Aztecs could be, in my opinion, the way that the Egyptians share in that global tradition, without necessarily there being some sort of direct physical cultural connection between the twocivilizations.
Taino Ti


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