Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Taíno Origins: Influence on the Naming of "California", et al

*California (kal-e-for-ni'-ya)
(El Dorado, the Fountain of Youth and the Taíno Myths) 

     *Note: This is an excerpt from Michael Auld's "Good Gifts from Noble People: Impact of the 
               Taíno and Carib Cultures on the Millennia"

The Island of La California (left) as it was seen by Cortez and 16th Century mapmakers.
The gold image representing Atabey, the Taino goddess of childbirth
represents Matinino, the Island of Women. Silkscreen print by Michael Auld

1. The name of a fabled island in the story, “Las Sergasde Esplandian” (The Deeds of Esplandian) (Seville: 1510). 2. From the Greek words kalli (beautiful) and ornis (bird). 3. The name given to the California Mountains by Hernán Cortés. 4. The Spanish American name for the Pacific territory in New Spain. 5. Pacific coast state admitted in 1850 to the United States of America.
 Hernán Cortés, the ill reputed "conqueror of the Aztecs", is credited with the naming of the territory now called California. It is said that after the conquest of the Mexica (Me-she-ka, or Aztecs of Mexico), he saw the California Mountains while in Baja California. It is stated that upon seeing the mountains he called it the "Island of the Califa" (or the "Island of Queen Califia"). To him the distant mountain appeared to be like the mythical island from the most successful printed romantic novel of 16th century Spain. The story about the mythical island was in Las Sergas de Esplandian which was a sequel to Amadis de Gaula. Sixteenth century Spanish explorers were enamored with romantic stories of that era and were prone to rename places with terms from these European fables. Why did Cortez think that this mountain was the famed island of California.

 Hernán Cortés was just a lad of around 8 years when Columbus first landed in the Caribbean. By1498 Fray Ramon Pane had completed a report on Taíno myths and customs in Hispaniola as mandated by Christopher Columbus. It is very likely that Taíno myths of an island of gold was known by many Spaniards in the Caribbean. In 1506 at age 22 Cortez arrived in Haiti (Hispaniola) which was the center of operations for the expanding Spanish American empire. It has been stated that Cortez was of the "Generation 1500" who strongly believed the Americas was the land of their fantasies.

In 1448 the goldsmith Johann Gutenberg and his financial partner Johann Fust set up their first printing shop in Mainz. Soon after this historic event the duplicating of books and their ownership was no longer in the sole ownership of the Church or a local Prince. By 1500 there were about 10 million books in Europe with editions on many subjects. This printing revolution gave rise to the popularization of the romance novel. Many Europeans, some who became conquistadors, read the works of Spanish writer Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo who wrote the novel Amadis de Gaul and its sequel Las Sergas de Espaladian. It was in this sequel of the exploits of  Esplandian that the name "California" was coined. Many Europeans were bombarded with the [1]"works by Sir John Mandeville (and Ordonez) about men with two heads, Amazons, and the Fountain of Eternal Youth which would revive the fading sexual powers of elderly men, and which even rational people would expect to find in the Americas beyond the next cape." Years earlier (1492) the seductive beauty of the pristine Caribbean appeared to be like Eden to the arriving Spanish seamen. Did the 1492 to 1510 exploits of Christopher Columbus and his "discovery" of exotic flora and fauna, attractive nude and semi-nude brown skinned people appeal to the fantasies already in the male European mind? It is also highly probable that within days of his arrival in the Caribbean segments of the Taíno Origin Myths were told to Columbus. In 1492 Columbus recorded key elements of this Taíno myth about a Caribbean island of women and another of solid gold. Among Columbus' first insistent queries to the Taínos concerned the source of their guanin (14k gold) jewelry. The Caribbean exploits of Columbus was the biggest story of the era that seemed have captured the imaginations of European novelists of the time. English writer William Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is another example of how Caribbean people and weather phenomenon found their way into his plays. A tempest was the English word for huracan or hurricane. While the monster Caliban was “Cariban”, a Columbus interpretations of a Taíno word for “Strong Men”. Caribales led to canibales which is the source of “cannibal” a practice mistakenly applied to the Kalinago or Island Carib. One cannot underestimate this impact on European minds about the "finding" if a "New" world.

The Spanish novelist’s legend of the fabled La California told of a magical island populated by beautiful black women living like Amazons. They made weapons and tools from gold which was the only metal found on the island. They were protected by flying griffins (a European described half eagle and half lion) that were fed the flesh of any man taken prisoner. The published story in Las Sergas de Espalandian, about a mythical island of women/gold, had strikingly similar elements to a more but recently garnered ancient Taíno story.  The conquistadors in the Caribbean (islands which they also thought was the fabled Atlantis) had, in 1492, learned of a strikingly similar Taíno Origin Myth. The story was that of the hero Guahayona (Gua-ha-yo-na = "Our Pride") and the islands of Matinino ("No Fathers"), and Guanin ("Gold"). In his letter of March, 1493 to the monarchs of Spain, Christopher Columbus wrote of a Taíno island of women which he called "Mateunin" (a version of the Taíno word "Matinino"). On Mateunin the women acted like men and were armed with "bows and darts" and "they protect themselves with sheets of copper, of which there is great abundance among them". Columbus was also told of an island, which he described as larger than Hispaniola "which abounds in gold above all the others." As early as 1492 the lust for Amerindian gold and women had fuelled the Spanish imagination. These myths caused them to risk life and limb trekking through foreboding tropical and subtropical American terrain with the hope for a rich retirement.
The Spanish interest in Caribbean gold was so intense that the Taínos believed that the god of the Spanish was the copper-yellow metal they knew as guanin. In 1495 Columbus, disappointed in the meager gold resources of the Caribbean, had shifted to more aggressive slave trading and the Taínos were his targets. This turn to force against the Taínos backfired when the fist seemingly docile people began sporadic rebellions and attacks on the Spanish forts of Haiti (Hispaniola). The Taínos had been angered by the cruelty of the Spanish in exchange for a civilized welcome. In 1495 Columbus had decided that he should know more about the "Indios" and in early April he had turned to a priest, Fray Ramón Pane (Pan-aye). He directed Pane to live with the Taínos to learn more about them and their strategies since the friar had learned one of the Caribbean languages. Pane was among the clerics, barely tolerated by the Taínos, who came to the Caribbean on Columbus' second voyage. It was from the skeptical Pane, who stayed at cacique (chief) Guarionex's yucaieke (village) in Magua (in Hispaniola), that the following, more in depth portion of the Taíno Origin Myth was recorded.

Guahayona invites the women of Matinino to leave with him in his canoa/canoe.
Detail of "La California" print

The Flight of the Gueyo Women
          He [Guahayona] said to the women, "Leave behind your husbands
          and let us go to other lands and carry off much gueyo" [a green
          chewing tobacco mixed with salty ashes] .
          "Leave your children and let us take only the herb with us
          and later on we shall return for them" 
          Guahayona , OUR PRIDE, left with all the women and went
          searching for other lands.
          He came to Matinino, NO FATHERS, where he soon left
          the women behind, and he went off to another region
          called Guanin. [guanin is Taino 14k gold or copper colored metal]

The Taíno story went on to tell of Guahayona's departure from Guanin in search of other lands and adventures. The women of Matinino were never returned to their husbands, so their children were changed into frogs when they became hungry and began to cry for their mother's breasts. Frogs were therefore revered by the Taíno and their cries were believed to sound like "Toa, Toa" or "Mother, Mother". Traditionally, the crying of frogs announced spring.

Image with symbolism: The goddess, Atabey, virgin mother of Yucahu, god of the life-sustaining yuca tuber and the sea. This image of a golden Atabey is from Puerto Rico. The symbols within the figure's design reveal the story of  the aftermath of  the above Abduction of the Gueyo Women. Since there were no women left on the main island, some famine creatures were seen down by the river. Some men decided to capture them for their own desires. But their bodies were too slippery. One man who had rough hands was able to hold on tho the females. However, they did not have genitalia. The design within Atabey's torso, shows a woodpecker that pecked out a vagina. (See the bird's vulva-like beak). In this way the "creatures" were able to have children, a connection to Atabey's role as the goddess of childbirth and fresh water, that cascades down the mountainsides of the Earth Mother. Moons of the Four Directions are embed ed in the image as she sits in the shape of a frog. The frog is another symbol of the human transition from a water to an air breather, similar to the metamorphosis of a tadpole to a frog. The rectangular panel superimposed over Atabey'.s legs is from an early woodcut illustration of Taino panning for gold with a batea, as seen with the figure to the left, a practice exported to other gold rush areas in the Americas. Although one source said that "batea" is from Arabic, it may instead be from a flat clay field on which the Taino ballgame batu, was played.

This segment of the Guahayona myth seemed to have been told to Columbus on his first voyage since he used key words from it to describe Taíno islands of mythical women/"Amazons" and gold. The myth fueled the cravings (for fame and fortune) by the conquistadors who braved starvation and death to encroach into continental America. Always believing that there were signs that Guanin/El Dorado/the Seven Cities of Cibola was just "around the next cove" or mountain. In the Americas the first sign that Guanin would be "around the next corner" was the sight of the abode of the Amazons or the island of women (Matinino). For Cortés, who had, beginning in 1519, plundered Aztec riches, the sign of even more booty ahead was the sighting of the "Island of La California". From the Sea of Cortés, Baja's eastern coast, rose steeply, just like the impenetrable coast of the mythical island of La California. The Californian myth seemed to have inspired the Spanish in Mexico to send out expeditions in search of gold further north (in an attempt to find the "Seven Cities of Cibola") into the land of the "Pueblo" Indians – or Zuni (see below.)

Other Searches Influenced by the Taíno Origin Myth
The Image of El Dorado, (the gilded man is from the Spanish word "gold" or "gilt") is based partially on truth as well as a myth in Columbia, South America.

El Dorado
Both the search for El Dorado and the European naming of the Amazon River were influenced by the Taino myth of an island of women (Matinino) and an island of solid gold (Guanin). "El Dorado" means "guided man" and is a South American inspired myth about an alleged ruler who was so rich that he covered his body with gold dust each day and washed it off each evening in a lake. During the 16th century El Dorado was believed to have originated among the Chibcha of Bogota, Columbia, in South America. Their chief was reputed to have carried out the above mentioned practice in sacred Lake Guatavita. Expeditions began in 1530 to find El Dorado. In 1536 Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada who founded the city of Bogotá went on an inland expedition to find El Dorado.

Nine months later, starting with 900 men, he found, conquered, and plundered gold and emeralds from the kingdom of Chibcha in Columbia. Beginning in 1569 he spent three more years again searching for El Dorado. He returned to Bogota,  ill with leprosy, where he later died bankrupt. Cervantes is believed to have modeled Don Quixote after Jimenez.

A 1530 Myth Embellished with the Taíno Origin Story

The origin of the story of the Seven Cities (of Cibola) was created from a tale by an enslaved Native American, called Tejo by the Spaniards. In 1530 Nuno de Guzman, President of New Spain (Mexico), owned Tejo, from whom he was told the story of the northern location of a place where his father, a trader, had brought back "a large amount of gold and silver". Tejo, when he was young, had accompanied his father once or twice on trips to the location where "he had seen seven very large towns (which he compared to Mexico and its environs) which had streets of silver workers" Nuno de Guzman mounted an unsuccessful expedition with "nearly 400 Spaniards and 20,000 friendly Indians of New Spain" to find the "Seven Cities". Instead of finding the Seven Cities, Guzman founded the town of Culiacan. After Guzman's return from the expedition Tejo died with the information of the precise location of the Seven Cities.

In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca, three other Spaniards and Esteban (Stephen), an enslaved African, arrived in Culiacan, Mexico after an ill fated 1527-28 Narvaez expedition to Florida. They were the sole survivors of the Navarez expedition and gave "extended account of some powerful villages, four and five stories high, of which they had heard a great deal in countries they had crossed." This account of their overland survival trek from Florida to Mexico seemed to corroborate the earlier story of the Seven Cities . Estaban (who paved the way with the Indians) was then sent with Friar Marcos de Niza and two other friars, on the search for the Seven Cities.  Estaban, with an escort of 60 Indians (including many pretty women and turquoise which the locals had given him) arduously forged north into the territory of the Zuni people of New Mexico. There Estaban met his death at the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh after demanding more women and turquoise from his new guests.

Earlier in 1493, a similar fate befell Columbus' men on their first trip to Ayti Bohio (Haiti on the island of Hispaniola), around 35 years earlier. Not having even entered the pueblo, and fearing for their lives, Marcos de Niza and the other two friars hastily retreated to Culiacan and gave vivid accounts of "treasures". It is from these friars' account that a more embellished version of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola was given. The new version of the Seven Cities included earlier myths "about the South Sea and islands (Taíno?) and other riches". News of the Seven Cities quickly spread in New Spain (Mexico), even from the pulpit, and an armed force of conquest was brought together. Coronado mounted the more organized expedition and attacked Hawikuh in 1540 but found no treasures.

The Amazon

In 1541 the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana set out up the second longest river in the world. He reputedly saw, or was shot at, by some women warriors from the bank of the river. This confirmed his belief that he had also found the mythical Amazons (probably from the fabled island of California, or Matinino). He named the river the Amazon.
What influence did the Taino myths have on the Spanish in the Americas? In evaluating the Taíno myths, if the sequence of Guahayona's travels to Matinino and Guanin was correct, once "Amazons" were sighted gold was not far behind. The story of the Taíno’s mythical islands unwittingly seduced the Spanish in the Caribbean. The myth influenced them and other Eastern Hemisphere peoples to push further west, north and south onto the mainland Americas. They came feverishly in search of greater quantities of gold which they eventually plundered. "Finding" wealthy Chibcha and the rich Inca Empire did prove that behind every myth there is some truth.

Taino returning from the transforming Bimini's "Fountain of Youth",

Bimini, 'Life of the Spring Waters' and the Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon believed a story about a Taino "island" called Bimini. There, he thought, old men would be turned sexually young again by the waters of a spring. Ponce de Leon believed that the Bahamas was the location of Sir John Manderville's published tale of the fabled "Eternal Fountain of Youth". Bimini was the Taino word for North America's Florida peninsula. 
"Bimini" meant [1] "Life of the Spring Waters" and it was part of a Taino myth which Ponce de Leon learned, probably while in Borik'n (Puerto Rico). He set off from Borik'n on a private expedition to search for the mythical Taíno site which seemed to confirm the existence of the European's "Eternal Fountain of Youth."

The Taíno guides who went with him on this failed 1513 expedition spoke of mainland North America where they said that their people also lived. The Poce de Leon expedition traveled on to the nearby peninsula, which he thought was also a Bahaman island, and named it La Florida. This was because his expedition arrived on the mainland during the week of Easter or Pascua Florida (season of flowers). The expected Bimini/La Florida location of the Fountain of Youth was another Castilian (Spanish) misinterpretation of a complicated Taino reference. The Taíno connotation in their myth about "Life of the Spring Waters" (according to Jose Barreiro, author of The Indian Chroniclers)) may have alluded to the rejuvenation of their expanding civilization which was moving further north island by island into Bimini/Florida.

In 1521 Ponce de Leon again sailed for La Florida where he tried to set up a Spanish colony between today's Fort Myers and Tampa. During a skirmish with the the indigenous Calusa, whom the Spanish disrespected, he was mortally wounded by an arrow. Taken back to Cuba he died there of his wounds. Today, although not taken as seriously as it was in the 16th century, the mystique of the Fountain of Youth has continued in contemporary stories, medical jargon and in tourist promotions of the "Sunshine State".

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


ANANSI:The Spider Chronicles

  • Originally from Africa: In West Africa, [among the Akan people of Ghana] the spider is portrayed as a trickster god, much like Coyote in the Native American stories. Called Anansi, he is forever stirring up mischief to get the better of other animals. In many stories, he is a god associated with creation, either of wisdom or storytelling. His tales were part of a rich oral tradition, and found their way to Jamaica and the Caribbean by way of the slave trade. Today, Anansi stories still appear in Africa [and the Americas].--Spider Mythology and Folklore


One contemporary use of Anansi Stories

 In the era of deadly sexually transmitted diseases, these illustrations provide an answer to the question: "How do I protect myself?" The illustrations are from  "Anansi & Drybones". The story is my contemporary cautionary tale about the AIDS epidemic and one way to be protected from venereal diseases. 
Left: In this ending panel of the story Anansi is the "lead musician" with his Back-Up Reggae Band, "Me, Myself and I&I", who are varicolored self-protecting condoms. Right: The story concludes with Anansi displaying a condom that had covered him during the story and saved his life from "King Drybones" a.k.a "Bro' Death". The latex condom becomes " The Cloak of Invincibility". 

  • Arachnid: Western scientific classification  for spiders. From Greek mythology. Arachne was a woman weaver jealously turned into a spider by the goddess, Athena.

The reverence for spiders is worldwide. While, for some, the fear of spiders is real. Yet, many societies regard these arachnids with awe and respect. Especially those spider characters that appear to have human or god-like qualities. 

These hybrid demigods often belong to this class of deities with supernatural powers. Identified as "the quencher of storms" (Anansi of Ghana), "the bringer of light" (Grandmother Spider of the Cherokee), "present at the time of the Creation (Spider Woman of the Hopi)", a spiritual communicator (Iktomi of the Lakota), as the organizer of communities, or as a "trickster" (Anansi & Iktomi), and other times as "grandmother”.

A spiderweb placed in a fresh wound can heal. In the Andes spiderwebs are known to capture hummingbirds. Philosophically, for the Asanti's Anansi, the structure of the web taught community building; for the Hopi of the American Southwest's Spider Woman, the web's strands connected us all by the forehead, disturb one filament and the vibrations are felt by all. For this reason it was dubbed “The Web of Life”. This Hopi observation of one use by the spider’s web to be a sensory notified by the strands, that food is at hand, was a demonstration to be learned in Nature and applied to how we solitary beings are affected by the actions of another. When the telegraph was introduced on the Plains, it’s wiring seemed to the indigenous people to be a reflection of the spider’s communicative web. The WWW was well named, for its Internet connectivity is a contemporary manifestation of the Hopi’s concept of human interactivity.

In the Anansi tradition, the spider's web can be a symbol of the sun's life-giving radiating light. To the Hopi of New Mexico, the colors reflected by the web filament were colors present at the Creation. Among the Cherokee, Grandmother Spider's web instructed humans how to weave and how to make pots out of coils of clay. Before the telegraph's wires or the World Wide Web it was the spider who showed humans how to connect with each other and form communities.

Iktomi of the Lakota, located on the North American Prairie, is perceived as, although a trickster, he helps children. The Asanti (or Ashanti) of West Africa believe that Kweku Anansi began his life as a man who became a spider-man because of his annoying antics towards his father, N'yane the sky god. As a spider-man, he continued to provide valuable life lessons to both the young and old. Cursed by his father for disobedience, he was turned into a small spider, forced to fend off larger creatures with his brain power. His AnansiStories or Anansesem, often told by elders, continued to teach morals by example. These morals have served the Jamaican code of ethics for centuries. Anansi also uses his brain as a survival tool.

"Kweku" in the Akan language translates as Friday, the name of the day on which he was born. While "Anansi" means "spider". As the son of the Great Sky God, N'yame and his wife, Asase Ya, the Earth Mother, Anansi is portrayed as half  "man" and half spider, yet he actually originated as supernatural royalty. His duality allows him to live among human and other animals indulging in all their identifiable personalities as if he were one of them. Sometimes the physical characteristics of an animal is ascribed to him but he can easily transition into a human with accompanying faults.

In Jamaican lore, Ansnsi may or may not be married to Cookie whose Ashanti name was Aso. Only one of his many children’s names, Intikua, (known as Takooma in the island, was retained in Jamaican stories, sometimes as an adversary or as an independent character.

Stories about Anansi's exploits change from one tale to another. Sometimes he is portrayed as a villain or as a hero. In his stories his brilliance to circumvent dilemmas, change his fortunes or fall victim to his own antics are dependent on each situation that he has been backed into, often by choice. An avid observer, he is always using his brains to maneuver through daunting tasks. Win some, lose some is the hallmark of a well told Anansesem, or "AnansiStorories". Jamaicans describe him in a proverb that states, "Him likkle, but him talawa!" Or, "He may be little, but he is tough." 

Although this description fits him well, in some stories he is a competitive bachelor who vies for the king's daughter’s hand or he may be an unfortunate looser who dies. Whatever his fate, Anansi's plight is often seen as getting his just dessert or escaping with his life. In many of these Jamaican stories the search for food is a common theme. What is most important in his exploits is that a valuable lesson is learned at the story's end.

Anansi's personality is defined by the storytellers who, for centuries, have used him as a moral guide. In Jamaican Anansi stories, the listener knows when Anansi speaks since the storyteller's voice mimics the spider-man's speech, often with a type peculiar to the island’s way of childish speaking. For example, “little” is pronounced child-like as “yik-key”.

He is identified as a trickster, not unlike Iktomi the Spider-fairy, a Lakota figure of the American Prairies who is described as "better dressed than any Sioux warrior". Iktomi, for all his pranks, is seen as a friend to humans. In contrast, the small Anansi is seen as a competitive survivor who uses brain over brawn.

1. Above: A Nazca image of the spider with the Orion
constellation superimposed within its shape. 
2, Below: Orion

The most impressive visual rendering of a spider comes from Peru's Nazca of South America. Their visual interpretation of the arachnid can only be seen from a bird's eye view. This imagery begs the question, could the Nazca physically or spiritually able to fly? Or were they helped by alien beings as some extra terrestrial theorists believe? This line of thinking undervalues ancient people and their potential for accomplishing little understood feats. The shape of the Nazca spider reveals points on the legs and body that seem to mirror star formations. The points of the spider's body reveals the shape of the Orion constellation. The star's location appears at the tip of one extended right leg of the spider. (See the Nazca image).

A bird's eye views of terrestrial phenomena is found on ceramic pots by the Taino of the Caribbean whose ancient imaging of the hurricane was seen as "S" shaped as was later learned from satellite photography. Similarly, the Native American's name for the North American continent is "Turtle Island, because from the air the continent's shape can fit into a turtle's shape, head, legs and back..

The fact that the spider rated so importantly in the Nazca belief system, is not surprising for the arachnid is similarly featured in other world cultures. Birds such as the condor and hummingbird, like the spider, also obviously had an important place in Nazca mythology. Usually, these animals' abilities were explanations for natural phenomena. For the ancient Egyptians, the ibis god, Thoth, only had to speak into the darkness of space, "Let there be light", and the power of the sun lit up the dark universe. For the Jews it was the omnipotent Yawe who also said in Genesis, "Let there be light." For the Cherokee it was Grandmother Spider who transported the sun's light to the dark side of our planet. The Hopi believed that Spider Woman was present at the Creation and her brilliant web connects all beings, animate or inanimate.

The term "the Web of Life" reflects the importance of the spider's weaving ability that taught humans how to make cloth, netting, bags, ceramic pot, a house and how to form a community. Similarly, Spider Woman's web's connectivity is echoed by Anansi's example for human community-building. The use of the Internet's World Wide Web term is a reflection of contemporary Internet connectivity.
Maybe some spider’s stealthy movements or their potential poisonous bite trigger a feeling fear, however, they have engendered awe since ancient times. Stories about their exploits continue to place them in the role of teacher.

ANANSI STORIES CONTINUE; Here characters, Anansi's son, Ticky-Ticky (left) and his high school buddy, Iggi Iguana, sit under a Duppy Balloon tree in present-day Jamaica. Ticky-Ticky goes on a quest to follow  his father's search for relatives in North America. From the book "Ticky-Ticky's Quest: Search for Kweku Anansi" (anansistories.com). 
Notes: For more information on world spider traditions go to https://www.thoughtco.com/spider-mythology-and-folklore-2562730

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MEXICO: America's Scapegoat

Why would anyone think negatively about "Mexicans"?

Modern Mexico is 257 years older than the United States of America. Yet this country with five or more ancient civilizations under its belt is being treated with disrespect by the descendants of more recent immigrants to the Western Hemisphere. Parts of today's United States of America had been formally Mexico.

Current and past attitudes of the People of the Wall towards our neighbors south of the border reached a fever pitch by Trump followers during the 2016 election campaign. This group of fearful people consisted mostly of Anglos and their fellow supporters whose knowledge of history is derived from the indoctrination of a Greco-Roman model of "civilization." This model is the basis of both the Anglo and our "Western" educational systems.

Not bad in itself, the ethnocentrism that follows the Greco-Roman model overlooks the societal achievements of other world civilizations. For example, the Precolumbian Americas were cut off from the Egyptian and *Mesopotamian foundations upon which the Greek and Roman models were built. Most Amerindian wonders that the Anglos encountered seem to have mostly developed independent of "Old World" influences. This is true, of course, if one believes in a no-contact-theory between both hemispheres prior to the arrival of Columbus.
*Ancient Mesopotamia included today's Iraq, Kuwait, eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran-Iraq borders. While Egypt is an African country.

What of Ancient Mexico?

"Ancient Mexico can be said to have produced five major civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec [or Mexica]." --Wikipedia

Also: The language spoken by the Aztec is *Uto-Aztecan (*related to Ute and the American state, Utah), while the legendary location of the origin of the their people was Aztlán. "Either in northwestern Mexico or the southwest US." Many other indigenous people and their languages survive in Mexico and are protected by the Mexican government.

*[Note: The Aztec originated from "along the border between the United States and Mexico, perhaps in the area of Arizona and New Mexico."]

Map of the Political Divisions of the Mexican Republic of 1824. This is 22 years before the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The war can be summed up in a three minute YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNgotEobNOw
In the 1800s, as a result of war and purchase, while Mexico was shrinking, while the United States of America was expanding west from its Eastern states. The mostly Anglo country gobbled up six large Mexican states of La California, Colorado, Utah, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Old Mexico consisted of massive populations of Indigenous Americans called "Indios" some of whom came from the Anglo-occupied US. Along with large Amerindian populations, Mexico is composed of mestizos who may or may not have Indio ancestry, Spanish, some Africans and a variety of Middleastern and Asian immigrants. The most dominant genetic markers are probably Amerindian. Mexico, although predominantly mestizo, by blood or affiliation, no longer classifies its complex, mostly mixed  populations by race. A term in current use is "La Raza". In Latin America, La Raza may mean "race" or "people" especially with Amerindian or mestizo ancestry. "The term originated in the 1925 book, La Raza Cósmica (English: The Cosmic Race) by the Mexican writer José Vasconcelos."--Wikipedia

Mexico had a checkered history of racial and class peculiarities that were more pronounced but changed over the centuries. A look at one census illustrates what was true for the times.

1793 census
Indigenous Population (%) = 66.1%
Mestizo Population (%) = 16.9%
European Population (%) = 16.9%

Emigration and migration reflected each state's varying percentages of the three racial groups. For example, Puebla's Indigenous population was 74.3% while Oaxaca's Indigenous population was 88.2%.

Above: A casta (Spanish: [ˈkasta], Portuguese: [ˈkastɐ, ˈkaʃtɐ]) was a hierarchical system of race classification created by Spanish elites (españoles) in Hispanic America during the eighteenth century.--Wikipedia

Today, the greatly reduced sized country called Mexico was born out of conquest of the last of its ancient empires, the Aztec. This Mexica (may-she-kah) civilization (1300-1521) was built on the early cultural accomplishments that, in many instances, surpassed those of the invading Conquistadors who themselves were later arrivals to the earmarks of "civilization". These Spanish invaders were heir to Arab and Greco-Roman civilizations and could not appreciate the Amerindian form of cultural achievements recorded by some Catholic priests. "Mexico" had existed as complex societies for three thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. They were later ruled by Spain for only three hundred years.

Mexico City has remained the largest city in the Americas with the greatest number of surviving Native languages. However, as it has been seen around the world, the indigenous people were quickly similarly demoted to the bottom rung of Mexican society. The fact that the Aztec speak a Uto-Aztecan language and said that they came to the area they now occupy in Mexico City, means that their mythology of origin is correct. That extensive area of origin in the modern US before partition caused by the Mexican-American War, was called Nothern Mexico.

In Mexico, many wars of resistance were waged in most of the territories from the Maya in the Yucatan to the Comanches, Apaches and Navajos in the swath of territory called "Los Californios". Unfortunately, a large portion of the American public does not know much about Mexico's cultural history or its tortuous past with the US Government. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican–American_War#Roots_of_the_conflict_in_Northern_Mexico)

Many people who crossed or are crossing the southern US border, although not all, but were considered to be Mexicans in the past. They have been portrayed as menial workers. Recent wars and social unrest in Guatemala and El Salvador have forced refugees to also seek safety across the southern US border. The people who make the trek bring profound heritages and bloodlines of the indigenous Amerindians, *Californios and Africans, among others.

*Californios included the descendants of agricultural settlers and retired escort soldiers deployed from what is modern-day Mexico. Most were of mixed ethnicities, usually Mestizo (Spanish and Native American) or mixed African-American and Indian backgrounds. Despite the depictions of the popular shows like Zorro, few Californios were of "pure" Spanish (Peninsular or Criollo) ancestry. Most with unmixed Spanish ancestry were Franciscan priests, along with career government officials and military officers who did not remain in California.

What do Americans know about Mexico? Some obviously have visited south of the border for many reasons. In my case, my visit to Mexico was mostly educational. I had been previously aware of its ancient historical achievenents. Getting a first hand view of outstanding accomplishments was even more impressive. My wife and I visited three diverse regions of the Yucatan, Mexico City and Cuernavaca, (the Land of Eternal Spring) in the mountains. Three of our grandchildren have a Mexican mother whose birthplace is Cuernavaca, a resort town at 5,060 feet above sea level, and is the capital of the state of Morelos. Morelos is the birthplace of the Mexican Revolutionary hero, Emiliano Zapata.
Emiliano Zapata with his ceremonial sword and sash, dressed in the charro (horseman) fashion of his village. According to Frenchcreole.com, Zapata, an accomplished horseman and military strategist, came from a family that was an Afro-Mexican mix.


The Yucatan with its Chichen Itza and other temple pyramids, sprawling cities, as well as gigantic governmental buildings, magnificent sculptures, and  walled, ancient rubber-ball courts, is in Maya territory. Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere and is considered the oldest city in the Americas. It was originally built as an Amerindian city by the Aztec (Mexica) and called Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was constructed on a built-up island in Lake Texcoco. My favorite structure in Mexico City is the beautiful National Museum of Anthropology and History, a large building containing magnificent Mezoamerican artifacts.

Calakmul is a one of the many Mayan sites hidden inside the jungles of the Mexican state of Campeche. It is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered with over 6,500 ancient structures identified. Calakmul’s 55 meter (180 foot) high pyramid is by far the largest structure at the site. --touropia.com

My Visit

A few years ago, my wife and I visited Mexico's Yucatan region. The pyramid of Chichen Itza was advertised as a highlight of Mexico, since it is one of the world's outstanding marvels. The Precolumbian city that extended into the surrounding forested lowland, far exceeded my imagination. The Maya Civilization is only one of the many high levels of achievements found in our Mexican neighbors to the south. The descendants of the Maya, Olmec, Mexica, Zapotec, and Toltec (just to name a few of their outstanding Mexican ancestors) have often been despised by past, and current leaders of America. The irony of today's attitudes of the present administration is not new. It is a reflection of times from the Mexican-American War of the 19th century through the Great Depression of the 20th century to the 21st century when Donald Trump decided that his supporters needed a revival of Mexican scapegoats.

Trump is not indigenous to the Americas. He is descended from German and Scottish foreigners who sought a better life than that offered by their ancestor's European homelands. Most of the people whom he is scapegoating are indigenous to this hemisphere. What comparative civilized achievements did the ancestors of Trump's chosen scapegoats achieve? One example of Mexican exceptionalism speaks for itself:

Chichen Itza
CHEE-chen EET-sə; from Yucatec Maya: Chi'ch'èen Ìitsha' [tɕʰiʔtɕʼèːn ìːtsʰaʔ] ("at the mouth of the well of the Itza people") was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period.
Chichen Itza was a major focal point in the Northern Maya Lowlands from the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900) through the Terminal Classic (c. AD 800–900) and into the early portion of the Postclassic period (c. AD 900–1200).--Wikipedia

Chichen Itza is a step pyramid. During the Spring equinox, a shadow is cast down the sides of the pyramid showing the cascading body of snakes whose heads were carved at the structure's base. During the Summer solstice the shadow on the pyramid repeats its Spring equinox appearance.

Aerial view of Chichen Itza. (For a slide show of more buildings in the largest Mayan   city (1.9 sq mi), go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza#/media/File%3AChichen_Itza-16.jpg)

Another view of the Spring solstice, when the sun's shadow is cast to reveal the body of a snake cascading down the side of the pyramid.

Ancient Mexican Writing
Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (right) [8-Deer was the year of his birth in 1063 to his death in 1115, by sacrifice] Meeting with Four Jaguar, in a depiction from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall. His name glyph (a deer head and eight red dots) is above his head.--Wikipedia

Always portrayed with a jaguar headdress, the codex relates the history of his family, his exploits and conquests of 94 cities during his lifetime. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Deer_Jaguar_Claw#Biography

Mesoamerican Alphabet

Writing is often used as a method of classifying a society's achievements. It is usually learned from previous or neighboring civilization. For example, our alphabet resulted from a series of borrowed pictures that changed from one culture to the next. Our letter "A", when turned upside down meant food and was originally a drawing of the head of a bull. It was called "alef" and was then turned on its side to its current position, meaning "alpha". "B" was on it's flat side and represented a house, or "beth". It became the Greek beta. Both letters combined to be the source of our word "alphabet".

Mesoamerican writing, independently of Eastern Hemisphere influences, developed very early and was practiced by many Mexican civilizations. Writing was often incorporated in art. In contrast, Western writing systems were created from Africa's Egyptian civilization. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima's book, "They Came Before Columbus", espoused the theory of Precolumbian African interaction with the Amerindians as evidenced in the facial features of the Olmec rulers. The theory was that some faces revealed an Afro-Amerindian ethnic mix.

Olmec head 1, La Venta [Mexico]. Notice the pattern on his "helmet". The pattern differs in each ruler's portrait and may relate his name or status.--Ancient Scripts.com

Given these insights into the history of Mexico which comparatively recently became part of the United States of America, can we consider Mexicans who "cross the border" illegal? Or are they simply journeying north on their ancestral lands? Today's United States of America includes historic Mexican territory.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Taino-Carib: A to Z

Taíno-Carib A to Z
Copyright 2017


Have you ever had delicious Jamaican jerk chicken, fish or pork? "Jerk", is related to jerky, from a Maya word for drying meat. Jamaican jerk is the local name for the indigenous Yamaye Taíno form of cooking on a grill, called barbecoa, the origin of the word barbecue. Two of the main spices in jerk are habañero peppers and pimento, or allspice.

Before jerk chicken, there was jerk pork, mainly from wild pigs hunted by Jamaican Maroons. Maroon, is from the word Cimarron (meaning "untamed"), who were originally Taínos who had moved themselves away into the wilds from subjugation on Spanish ranches. In English, "Maroon" later described those enslaved Africans and mestizos who had escaped into the wilds to join and learn from the Cimarrones. 

For millennia, in the Western Hemisphere the Taíno and Kalinago (or Island Carib) people of the Caribbean had been using spices, foodstuffs and technologies that eventually entered the Eastern Hemisphere, beginning in 1492.  For both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres the most important event of the second millennium AD was the Columbian Encounter. The Encounter began when the voyages of Christopher Columbus brought the Eastern and Western Hemispheres together upon his entry into the tropical region of a territory which came to be known as the Caribbean. Although there is evidence of Chinese and other Precolumbian contact, the 1492 event was sustained when competitive European rivalries saught to exploit the Americas for trade goods, exotic woods and precious minerals. The ancient islands and continents of this western hemisphere came to be called the New World and ultimately the Americas. Obviously, “New” only applied to the Europeans whose recorded knowledge of the Americas began in the 15th century AD. There is no doubt that these Amerindian encounters resulted in the greatest impact on the forming of our modern civilizations. 

This article is the first that begins alphabetically with an ancient Tropical American spice that, in one "All-spice" berry, contained multiple flavors of those spices originally obtained mainly by overland caravans from Mollucca Island group in Indonesia.

During the Middle Ages, Chinese, Arab and Malay traders purchased nutmeg in what is now Indonesia and Southeast Asia and carried it in boats to the Persian Gulf or by camel and pack animal on the Silk Road. From the Gulf the spices made their way to Constantinople and Damascus and eventually Europe.---http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub345/item1610.html
(Constantinople fell last to the Turks by 1453). ... a Turkish Blockade to stop trade with Europe and fostered pirate sea raids. With the Turkish blockade, Spain was about to be introduced to the Caribbean’s Allspice.


Allspice (all-spice) 1. The English word for the Taíno berry which is grown commercially in Jamaica.
2. Locally called pimento (from the Spanish "pimenta", who thought that it was a pepper) and exported internationally as allspice.
3. A most unusual spice which is reputed to have the combined flavors of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and a mild pepper. 4. Once called “Jamaica pepper” by the 17th century British. In 1662 (three years before seizing the island from the Spanish) a British comment in London described Jamaica Pepper as “that most delicate of Spices”. Imported in Europe in 1601. https://www.britannica.com/plant/allspice

In search of lucrative spices from the East the explorer Christopher Columbus brought back what some Europeans called “false” spices from the Caribbean. To them “true” spices were black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon imported since ancient times from the East Indies through the Arab markets of North Africa. The expansion of the Turkish empire effectively cut off Europe from its overland source of almost indispensable Asian spices. Cinnamon came from Siri Lanka, nutmeg and cloves from the Muluccan Islands of Indonesia and black pepper from India. Columbus’ first voyage took him to the Caribbean in 1492. This voyage was intended to find a sea route to the East to obtain the spices of the (East) Indies. The rival Portuguese chose to reach the East by a route around the southern tip of Africa. Columbus believed that a better route was to sail west across the Atlantic to arrive in Asia. In the Caribbean, on his 1492 voyage, Columbus did encounter the genetic relatives of Asiatic peoples who called themselves Tainos. One of the results of his expeditions to the Caribbean was an introduction of ancient spices and foodstuffs of the Americas to Europe. Both the Spanish and Portuguese were later responsible for the spreading of many of the important products of the Americas to the rest of the world. One of the Caribbean products introduced to other cultures was allspice.

To the European taste buds the allspice berry was like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a mild pepper. Biting into a dry allspice berry produces a peppery sensation that first assails the tip of the tongue. This taste experience is followed by a pleasant warmth which bathes the lips and mouth. The allspice is native to Jamaica (which is the major exporter of the spice) and other parts of Tropical America. The tree is a member of the myrtle family. The glossy dark and light green aromatic leaves are openly spaced on branches which terminate in small bunches of white flowers. After blooming and pollination the flowers are formed into small green clusters of berries which later ripen to a purple color.  

The 30 foot tall trees once grew wild in the cool Jamaican mountains. Commercially grown allspice trees were later evenly laid out in orderly pimento “walks” (groves). For sun drying, mature green berries were harvested then spread out on large, flat concrete platforms called “barbecues”. The dry coca-brown colored berries were bagged in burlap sacks  and exported to processing plants where the allspice was then packaged whole or ground into a powder. [1] Essential oil  is also extracted from the allspice berry. The oil is commercially used in catsup, meat sauces, baked goods, in the reproduction of certain fruit flavors and as spice blends for pickles and sausages. In Jamaica a liqueur called pimento dram is made by steeping the ripe berries in overproof Jamaican rum with added cinnamon.

Allspice spice is used in the seasoning and making of Jamaican jerk pork, chicken or fish. To “jerk” meats is a Taino method of barbecuing (and preserving meat) over a slow fire. This Taino cooking technique was passed down to the present time through the Maroons of Jamaica. Eastern and western Maroons were skilled at hunting the Spanish-introduced wild pig and making jerk pork. The barbacu (a Taino word from which we get “barbecue”) built by Maroons is called a caban and is best constructed from green allspice branches (see barbecue). For years, before the commercialization of jerk chicken, the best jerk pork came from Portland, Jamaica.

The [2] validity of allspice as a healing herb has been confirmed by modern science. Allspice powder is used to make a tea which soothes indigestion. In Jamaica hot allspice tea is taken for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomachs. For muscle aches and pains an allspice polstice made from the powder mixed with water into a paste and spread out on a clean cloth can be applied to the sore area. Persons with sensitive skin should avoid topical use of allspice since it may cause inflammation or a rash. In Guatemala crushed berries are applied to bruises, sore joints and achy muscles. Allspice, if used as a healing herb, has two sides to its effectiveness since it has both carcinogenic and cancer-fighting properties. On one hand, allspice contains a mild antioxidant which prevents cell damage that may eventually cause cancer. On the other hand, another active ingredient, eugenol, promotes cancer growth. The scientific jury has still not passed a verdict on which way the balance tips. [3] It is recommended that persons with a high risk for cancer should avoid the herb. A high concentration of the essential oil should never be swallowed since one teaspoon can cause nausea, vomiting and convulsions. As long as it is not swallowed a drop of the essential oil is used for its healing properties and when carefully applied lessens the pain of toothaches.  

*Recipe for Pimento Dram; 1 cup light rum; 1/4 cup whole allspice berries;1 cinnamon stick; 1 1/2 cup water; 2/3 cup brown sugar. Steeping ground berries in rum takes a few months.Go to http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/02/diy-vs-buy-should-i-make-my-own-allspice-dram.html

[1] "Allspice", Grolier Electronic Publishing
[2] Viable Herbal Solutions, http://www.viable-herbal.com
[3] ibid.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ticky-Ticky' QUEST: A truly Caribbean story

As the son of one of Jamaica's folkloric heroes, (the other is the risqué Big Boy) Ticky-Ticky is the pet name for Intikuma, Anansi's youngest son. (anansistories.com) His story is published in a book titled "Ticky-Ticky's Quest" and introduced  as the following:

 "Ticky-Ticky is a twelve-year-old with a secret: He is the youngest son of the infamous trickster Anansi the Spider-man. Hiding in the human world, Ticky-Ticky fears his father’s enemies will recognize and punish him for being the butt of Anansi’s embarrassing pranks. Now, the joke’s on Ticky-Ticky.  A school incident forces him to follow his missing father’s footsteps on a dangerous quest across time and reality. Riding a magical ghost-bat canoe with a dog of the dead as his guide, Ticky-Ticky encounters Anansi’s folkloric foes out for revenge. After a lifetime of avoiding his father’s legacy, can Ticky-Ticky find his father before he loses his life or even worse: becomes just like him?"

How important is Ticky-Ticky's Quest: Part 1 ...in Caribbean folklore?

Although the Anansi family is from the Asanti (Ashanti) of Ghana, most of the stories told in the Caribbean island are typically Jamaican in flavor. Because of their location in an Amerindian island with strong indigenous Yamaye Taino influences, some stories specifically employ local fauna and flora ("Anansi and the Yam Hills", "Why Johncrow Have a Ballhead"--i.e. Turkey Vulture of the Americas). Jamaican Anansi stories reflect this history of European, African and Taino realities that are the result of the creation of a slave society, literally built on the backs of the island's earliest inhabitants, who were Yamaye.

We must first examine the Akan (Ghanaian) influences of the Maroons, some of their outstanding Asanti leaders (Cujo, Nanny, et al) after the 1665 British takeover of Jamaica, and accept the reality of the first Cimarrones who taught the later arriving sugar plantation escapees how to survive in an alien geography. An unquestionable example of Yamaye influence is exemplified by borrowed knowledge and usage of endemic bush medicine pharmacology. Added to this evidence of local indigenous influence (the Yamaye) is the Amerindian phenotype and possible DNA, as can be seen in 19th century Morant Bay Rebellion photographs (earlier blog on Honoring the Taino).

The AnansiStories And The Taino Tales As Mythology
AnansiStories and those of the Taino are part of an ancient mythology that is rooted in West African and Caribbean folklore and concerns the interaction between divine and semi-divine beings, royalty, humans, animals, plants and seemingly inanimate objects. These stories continue to provide a moral foundation for the community. Anansi the Spiderman and Guahayona the Shaman existed from the time when deities, humans and animals were able to converse with each other. 

The book, MYTHOLOGY, The Illustrated Anthology Of World Myth & Storytelling, states that "Myths are the timeless expression of the imagination -- a continuous creative process of making sense of the universe."
Also, "Myths can be understood as magic mirrors in which the reflection not just of our hopes and fears, but also those of people from the earliest times can be viewed. Some of these stories are unimaginably old and almost certainly recounted long before the birth of writing and the dawn of recorded history."

Traditional storytellers did not use the term "trickster" to describe their folkloric heroes. They used local names for their characters. More recently, tales like the AnansisStories have been placed in the Trickster Hero genre of mythology. As a trickster, the main character often deceives and exploits his fellow creatures
for his own benefit. "Tricksters will themselves be duped and humbled. And however selfish and course they are, their antics provoke affectionate laughter, while their quick wits and mystic power inspire awe."