Friday, June 20, 2014

Football: Where would it be without the Olmec?

The Olmec, “the mother civilization of Mesoamerica, flourished in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco, Mexico from around 1500 BCE. The name "Olmec" comes from the Nahuatl word for the Olmecs: Ōlmēcatl [oːlˈmeːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or Ōlmēcah [oːlˈmeːkaʔ] (plural). This word is composed of the two words ōlli [ˈoːlːi], meaning "rubber", and mēcatl [ˈmeːkat͡ɬ], meaning "rope", so the word means "rubber line or lineage"-Wikipedia

Above: (L) A Caribbean Taino ball player on a soccer ball.
As seen by the Spanish after 1492. This image is similar
to the one captured in Spain and reported on by
the Portuguese ambassador tho the Spanish Court.

Above: (R) A Maya ball player striking the
solid rubber ball through a carved stone
hoop. If not done properly, bones were

Above: (a) Ruins of a Maya ball court in Yucatan, Mexico.
(b) Carving of a Maya ball player.
(c) A carved stone hoop removed from a stadium wall.
(d) Manuscript drawing of a ball court representing how
the game was played.

 So, What About Soccer?

The FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil is continuing the traditional international fervor for ball games. The World Cup started in 1930, Brazil has won the most times, fittingly with five wins under her belt. Next to the Olympics, this is the most watched and celebrated sport event in the world. The rubber ball game began in the Americas, so, why has it been so hard to chronicle ALL of football, or "soccer's" contributory beginnings? Especially when the people who invented rubber from a tree sap named themselves after their world-changing invention. The product took over a thousand years to hit the world market.

When I was a lad growing up in the Caribbean we played football, the game that actually describes how it is played. When I arrived at Howard University in 1962 the game that Americans called soccer was dominated by the foreign students from the Caribbean and Africa. The ball that I played with was made from sewn strips of leather, a lace to close the innards, and a tube or bladder made from an ancient Amerindian invention, rubber. It was this borrowed indigenous sap or blood of a Tropical American tree, Hevea brasiliensis, that made soccer/football possible. Without this vulcanized invention we would be left with how the game originated, kicking a stuffed leather or grass ball. With that dead trajectory, we might as well be playing rugby. It is doubtful that football would have gotten off the ground to become a World Cup event. I am still trying to find mention of the Olmec genius who figured out how to bleed a tree and, through the process of vulcanization, produced a bouncing ball, waterproof capes and shoes, an exfoliant, bungee straps, and toys. It was not until the 19th century that this Amerindian invention was exploited (as most other indigenous  goods were) taken out of the Americas only to return to the Amazon jungles with world-wide fixated attention. Even the Latin name for the tree is “Brazil”. The only more appropriate homecoming for the ballgame, would have been Mexico.

Hevea brasiliensis

Maybe latex is in the blood of Brazilians, Mexicans and others who have dominated the rubber ball game for centuries while other people were kicking around tufts of grass or the skin of an animal. Do I expect Mexico's Olmec, who invented the rubber ball and one of the world's earliest team sports, or the Caribbean's Taino civilization, who introduced the magical sphere to World Cup football to get credit at all? What about the offshoots, basketball, volleyball, tennis or any game played with a bouncy ball? Not really. After all, it is only rubber on the tip of a pencil or as a condom, right? I often muse at the arrogance of the invaders in citing Amerindian accomplishments. "They did not develop the wheel", is the common refrain. Yeah. Only for toys. On the other hand, the wooden and steel wheels were dragging along in an Eastern Hemisphere wasteland for centuries, until Olmec rubber revolutionized the wheel, often mentioned as a benchmark of "civilization". With Amerindian rubber, the cart or carriage became an automobile, truck and aircraft only by the grace of the Olmec. Try driving one of those around on steel rims! The ungrateful benefactor generations that inherited the Olmec legacy have never been taught this Amerindian lesson. What do they know of the other treasures, precious metals, stones, pearls horticultural products and Amerindian technologies that enriched their "First World" homelands? It is summer, so, just whip out the Amerindian hammock and throw a shrimp on the Taino barbie! Don't forget the Mexican invented corn.

Early soccer/football was like a three legged dog. It could function, but could it run at Greyhound speed without a fourth appendage? So too is the fast-moving composite game called soccer. In the book by David Goldblat titled "The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer" the author chronicles the history of the game that the world calls football. He stated that cultures like the Australian Aborigines, Chinese, Native Americans [the Powhatan Confederacy of Virginia], Egyptians, Japanese and other SE Asians, all played a type of football. The Chinese want to take credit for its invention... But hold on! Their balls were made from straw, others from rattan or stuffed leather. During the "founding of America", Virginia Governor William Strachey, described how Powhatan Indians played a fast ballgame with their feet or with a bat. He failed to be mention that the Amerindian, specifically the Olmec of Mexico discovered how to use latex from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis tree.  Their use of rubber completely revolutionized the ball and how the contemporary game of football/soccer is played. The Maya, who built impressively large ball stadia from stone, were successors to the Olmec, whose name translated loosely to "People of the Rubber". This lack of credit to Amerindians by some writers is typical. The World Cup football contests are being played out in the homeland of latex rubber, and yet it is made to seem like an import to the Brazilian Amazon from of all places, 19th century Europe.

When the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean with Columbus in 1492, the rubber ball game was already more than one millennium old. The Spanish marveled at the bounce of the Taíno batu, calling the elasticity of the bounce witchcraft. Male Taino ball players used their hips to keep the ball airborne. No sissy stuff with the hands or feet. Women either did the same or kicked it or swatted it with a bat. They played on a clay court using two teams. When the ball hit the ground, it was considered dead and a point would be awarded. One can still visit these ball courts or batey in Puerto Rico. The rubber ball game was found as far north as Arizona. During rough times, the Mexica (Aztec)imported increasing number of rubber balls from the Yucatan provinces to placate the people. In Central America where the ballgame was invented, the emperors built walled stadia with two carved stone circles, protruding from the East and West walls, with a hole in the center, just large enough for the sold, bone-breaking latex ball to pass through. Sounds like basketball, doesn't it? There, both teams were warriors intent on playing a spiritual game, the outcome of which involved the gods and fate. Gambling kingdoms away were sometimes at stake and the building of stadia increased when strife threatened the Mexica (Aztec) Empire. In some versions of the game, warrior-players were prepared to die, some as honored sacrificial messengers to the gods; others as losers. The movement of the ball in the air could represent the all important movement of the sun, whose fate was in the hips of the ball player. Teams could represent light or dark. 

With the fall of Mesoamerican empires and Spanish intervention both in the Caribbean and Mainland Central America, the rubber ball game almost disappeared. Although it is still played in villages in Mexico, it was replaced by football. Not much is different between the ancient spectator ballgame and other rubber ball games that took its place. While batey was played as a social game in the Caribbean (you know us; we like sun and fun), gambling was prevalent among the Amerindians of both the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. Like the Catholic practice of a bloodied, sacrificed Son of God that replaced blood sacrifice in Central America (not to mention the introduced Christian practice of ritually drinking the blood of Christ and eating his body), football replaced the need for dispatching warrior players as messengers to the gods. However, the brutality that follows some European fans (especially in stiff upper lipped England) still seems to call for spilled blood. Not from the players, but from their beer crazed fans.

(I think that with the advent of the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament, this article was worth reviving. Go to my blog at http://yamaye1.blogspot.comto read my article on "The First Ball Game")

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


by Michael Auld
Taquitock (tah-qui-tock) , n. Algonquian, 1. The Harvest. The fourth of the five seasons of the year in which celebrations occurred. 
 Thanksgiving, n, English, 1. The time set aside for showing appreciation.

If on December 4th, you can’t find one of the above persons, thank an indigenous Bahamian, a Dominican, Haitian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, or Virgin Islander. Or thank an Amerindian Mexican, Virginian or New Englander.


(Above) Etched 17th Century images by DeBrey of the First American Thanksgiving and the more likely, the meal that followed. (L) Although this first illustration may have been a Springtime festival, Taquitocok, it is one of the 5 Algonquian seasons and the indigenous name for the harvest. (R) “The manner of feeding is in this way. They lay a mat made of reeds on the ground and set their meat in the middle thereof, and then the men sit around on one side, and the women on the other. Their main dish is boiled maize/corn, and tastes good [in such a way that I described in an earlier treatise] with venison, and other animals and fish. They are very sober in their eating, and drinking, and consequently long lived because they do not oppress nature.” - The New Found Land of Virginia

(Above) The typical image of the idealized “First Thanksgiving”. A 1914 painting by the English artist Jennie A. Brownscombe. Here the artist used one of the traditional painting and advertising compositional formulas in which figures of primary importance are made the largest and placed in the foreground; secondary figures are smaller and placed in the middle ground; figures of less importance are placed in the background. All figures, except the mother, bow or face towards the standing religious person. The artist’s depiction of a Madonna and Christ-like image of a child in a cradle in the foreground of the composition may portray the artist’s suggestion of a birth of a new nation. Also, notice the symbolism of subservience and religious overtones in the middle and backgrounds. The Indians at the table have Plains headdress not Wampanoag regalia.

At the ending of National Native American Month, why should we thank an Indigenous American? Because their ancestors made America and Thanksgiving possible. It is also a form of adoration or showing gratitude. Why not thank one of the descendants of the First Americans to our south, the Taíno. They were the first to fall victim to Spanish and Portuguese commercial exploitation of their conucos (gardens). Have you ever wondered about the billions of dollars that many of the planet’s economies garner yearly from Amerindian agricultural products? Think latex rubber; corn/maize; potatoes (sweet and Inca); yucca/cassava; dried beans; peppers (capsicum); pineapples; tomatoes; etc., etc. China heads up the list of producers of corn in Asia. Corn/maize that we know today is a grain that Ancient Mexican horticulturalists “invented” to suit a variety of soils and climates. Many African countries continue to grow, export and feed millions with byproducts of plants that are endemic to the Tropical Americas.

At the Thanksgiving dinner that we just celebrated, we ate Taíno gifts that were the first contributions of the 1492 Encounter. Their gardens added the pumpkin, peanuts, sweet potato, corn/maize, peppers, pineapple, and allspice to the menu. Our Thanksgiving menu also called for the domesticated Mexica (me-she-kah) or Mexican turkey and vanilla bean (ice cream) complemented by the Native American cranberry sauce. Since Columbus was searching for the Indian Subcontinent, we added nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves from that other part of Asia.

This is November and the real Thanksgiving is not yet over!

The Thanksgiving Day that we now observe was decreed by President Abraham Lincoln. The Pilgrims of New England have become the main actors from the elementary school stages to the lavish street parades. However, a more accurate Thanksgiving Day observance was included in a statement by Virginia’s Governor Douglas Wilder. At an annual pre-Thanksgiving treaty ceremony that was held on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion with the descendants of the two surviving Powhatan Confederacy reservations (America’s first Indian reservations), the Pamunkey and Mattaponi of King William County, Governor Wilder stated the following:

“The Pilgrims of Massachusetts ate the bones from the first Thanksgiving meal that was held in Virginia”.

(R) Governor Douglas Wilder (who served from 2005 to 2009) in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Virginia welcoming the chiefs of Virginia’s Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indian Reservations. He accepted the annual payment of deer as part of the annual treaty ceremony the week before Thanksgiving. The gift to the Colonial English governor was originally 20 beaver pelts.

Governor Wilder was referring to the celebratory English who began arriving in 1607. Englishmen and women sat down at Berkley Plantation in Virginia’s Powhatan territory to have a Thanksgiving that predated New England’s Pilgrim arrival at Plymouth. The New England version was the third of this kind of celebration on American soil. The first American Thanksgiving (and maybe the second) at Berkley Hundred, a 8,000 acre property that later became Berkley Plantation, was held in the extensive Powhatan Chiefdom’s tri-state “tribal” territory ( At the plantation, Powhatan’s people may have provided the main dishes, since the English relied on Powhatan corn and game for survival. However, no enslaved Africans had yet graced the table since in that year only indentured Africans, confiscated from a Dutch ship, were to arrive in the new colony.

Pictograph of the Pamunkey Treaty observance. Although the time when “the geese fly” may refer to Spring and not Fall.
Undoubtedly, Native Americans had the earliest Thanksgivings in the United States. The first official colonial Thanksgiving was on 4 December 1619 at the Berkley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia located between Richmond and Jamestown. The third, “more official” Thanksgiving was a food fest that is still promoted as “The event that some Americans commonly call the ‘First Thanksgiving’". It was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. However, this may have occurred in July after another arrival of immigrants in 1623. “The event now commemorated in the United States at the end of November each year is more properly termed a "harvest festival". Another source stated that the original festival was probably held in early October 1621 and was celebrated by the 53 famine-surviving Pilgrims, along with the [sachem (leader)] Massasoit and 90 of his [Wampanoag] men.” The first New England Thanksgiving was not likely a religious event and was a feast that lasted three days and was a typical English method of thanksgiving after a battle or an important event. The confusion about the true thanksgiving is why we see Pilgrims at the Macy’s Day parade instead of 17th Century English “venture capitalists” waving at the gullible consumers in the crowd lining Park Avenue in New York City. As an advertising major, I secretly love to watch the televised fictitious commercial spectacle with cartoon characters, marching bands and Broadway previews. This year among the multitude of floats, flying balloons and marching feet, I saw one Oneida Indian Nation float with Native Americans standing on a large turtle or “Turtle Island” (their name for the United States) representing Mother Earth, on whose back stood the “Tree of Peace”. This *float represented the Native Americans who were actually the majority present (in the woods) at the truly first, first, first Thanksgivings. 

Wikipedia sights: “Berkeley Plantation was originally called Berkeley Hundred and named after the Berkeley Company of England.” The article also includes the following by Captain John Woodleaf [who] held the [first] service of thanksgiving. “The Charter of Berkeley Plantation specified the thanksgiving service by decreeing; ‘Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival [on December 4, 1619] at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.’" (

So, Thanksgiving Day has not yet really arrived. Why aren’t we taught these points in the history of the creation of America? Apparently, we prefer to delete that which is embarrassing. It seems that, in our education system, we have chosen to promote religious Pilgrims over America’s first capitalists. Building a myth on “religious freedom” soothes the conscience and puffs up the chest more than the reality of a country founded on a business proposition initiated by the Virginia Company of London.

*To see the Oneida Indian float and article go to

Glossary of terms:
Taíno = one of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. The other is the Island Carib.
Mexica (Me-she-kah) = Also called Aztec, a people of Mexico.
Powhatan = The indigenous people of Tidewater Virginia whose territory included Jamestown and lay within present day North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
Wampanoag = One of the indigenous peoples of New England

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Celebrating Jamaica's 50th year of independence

This article was written to celebrate Jamaica's 50th Independence Anniversary in 2012. Without the contributions of the island's indigenous Yamaye Taíno, there would be no "Jamaica", a Taíno word derived from their Arawakan language. 
(Sculptures and installation by Michael Auld)

Taíno of Jamaica: A debt owed © Michael Auld
Noble People 
Although the Taíno were not Jamaica’s first inhabitants, we must honor their contributions to Jamaican culture. Writers often disagree on the name for the island’s earliest residents. Since there are differences of opinion on the name of Jamaica’s first or [1] "Archaic” people, let’s call the earliest humans who inhabited Jamaica (possibly over 6,000 years ago) the pre-Taíno. These first and later waves of humans to enter the Caribbean seemed to have originated in the mainland Americas (Belize - Central America; Venezuela - South America; Florida - North America). The earliest group may have traveled from a mainland to the island of Jamaica via cays or keys. These small islands were more abundant when the sea level was lowered by captured seawater in the Earth’s then larger, frozen poles.  From a European point of view, these “discoverers” were hunter gatherers who may have also practiced agriculture before the Arawakan-speaking, seafaring, agriculturalist Taíno arrived.
Who were the Taíno? What did they contribute to contemporary Jamaican culture? Are they extinct, as many writers often believe? Researchers are trying to answer these questions, yet many don’t agree on popularly held notions of the identity of Jamaica’s early people. Unfortunately, until Jamaica became independent in 1962, the island’s colonial education system taught us painfully little about our indigenous origins and its people, then mistakenly called Arawak. As an artist whose works rely heavily on the application of indigenous Caribbean aesthetics via the portrayal of three and two-dimensional works of art, my continuing research has led me to the following conclusions:
[The [2] Taíno] lacked an overall name in Columbus’s time. Its members referred to themselves by the name of the localities in which they lived: those living in what is now Puerto Rico called themselves Boriquen, their name for the island, and those in the Bahamian Archipelago called themselves [3]Lucayo (small islands).—The Tainos, Irving Rouse, 1992, 5
Yamaye [was] the possible Taíno name for the island [of Jamaica], based on Columbus’s journal. (D.J.R. Walker). Traditionally Jamaicans have been taught that Xaymaca was the Taíno name given to the island meaning “land abounding with springs” from which “Jamaica”— land of wood and water — was derived. — The Earliest Inhabitants: The Dynamics of Jamaican Taíno, Edited by Lesley-Gail Atkinson, 2006, 1
For the Taíno, it all started with Yaya the “Extreme Vital Principle, great creator of existence, ancestral agriculturalist and innominate spirit.” Not unlike our “Big Bang” theory or the various beliefs in Ancient Egyptian or later Judeo-Christian concepts, the Taíno also had the idea of an unfathomable Yaya, the originator of the Creation. Their stories were also explanations for natural occurrences caused by entities often visually embodied in spiritual sculptures called cemis, in petroglyphs and drawings. Cemis are similar to Christian or “pagan” iconography of saints or deities. The explanation for the creation of the first real humans, the Taíno, occurred in one of [4] twin womb-like caves of Cacibajagua and Amayauna. Iguanaboina, the source of life through agriculture, was visually represented as an [5] iguana lizard (sun) and boina, the black snake (raincloud).--See images below of both my metal and Plexiglass sculpture, as well as my wooden construction of the bohio (roundhouse) in which Anacaona sits on her mixed-media dujo--

(Top-L.) Jamaican rock iguana, erroneously thought to be extinct. (Top- R) Sculpture of “Iguanaboina”. The Iguana (the yellow sun) and the Boina, the black raincloud snake. (Bottom)  Sculptural installation: “Anacaona” (Golden Flower). 15-16th century cacique (ruler) of over 100 sub-caciques of Ayti (Haiti/Hispaniola) in her bohio (roundhouse) with carvings of iguana and boina centrally supported by the sacred ceiba (cottonwood) three. The gigantic ceiba features prominently in Taino and Jamaican lore (to some folk in Jamaica, duppys/spirits are also associated with ceiba/silk cotton trees). Like the Taino, some Jamaican fishermen still build dugout canoes from this tree.
 The Taíno were born from a union between one of four “twin” sons, Deminán Caracaracol the scaly one, and a caguama (Turtle Mother) through fertilization of [6] guanguayo discharged onto Deminán’s back by Bayamanaco, the irate Spirit of the Fire, also the fabricator of casabe (cassava bread) from the poisonous yuca tuber. This story of Deminán and Bayamanaco relate how tropical Amerindians came to learn to use the power of the sun and fire in cooking on a burén (a circular clay grill) to transform the poisonous yuca (bitter cassava) tuber into an edible bread they called casabe.

Some of the fruits and vegetables that Jamaicans enjoy and agriculturally profit from were brought to the island by these sets of ancestors. They either brought Mainland plants [7] (yuca, batata, maisi) or utilized endemic flora and fauna that abounded in Jamaica and which these ancients taught us how to exploit. Some of these products that we casually consider to be real Jamaican are cassava and bammy, corn (ground into meal for making turn-cornmeal, dumplings, pone, dukonoo, pudding, etc), pumpkin, chocho, beans, peppers (or ají as the Taíno called capsicum), sweet potato, yampie, [8] callaloo and Indian kale (for Taíno “pepperpot”), hog plumb, pawpaw (papaya), pineapple, sweetsop, soursop, custard apple, stinking toe (locust), guinep, guava, naseberry, starapple, [9] calabash for abortions/containers; woods like mahogany, mahoe, lignumvitae, and much more. The uses of many curative Jamaican bush medicines from endemic herbs are Taíno in origin. When Jamaicans have aphrodisiac Irish moss, medicinal strong back, sersee tea, cold bush, soursop leaf tea, sarsaparilla, chainey root, etc., for health reasons, they are using Taíno remedies. Jamaica’s Coat of Arms honors the Taíno people as the root of our diverse population of today.
Jamaica’s proud Taíno Coat of Arms.

Some of many Taíno retentions
When you bite into a piece of Jamaican [10] jerk meat, you are experiencing a Taíno gift that spans millennia. Unknowingly, your taste buds may shout a Jamaican style, “Bowy, dis food cris’!” What you have truly experienced is a gastronomic equivalent of our motto “Out of Many, One People”. You are literally eating a part of the antique history of Yamaye in an ancient and diverse pre-Columbian hemisphere, much later invariably called the “Indies”, the “Antilles”, the “New World” or the “Americas”. The primeval method of grilling that you experience through “jerk” is a Taíno based gift that they called barbecoa. In Jamaica, a barbecoa became “barbecue” a concrete platform on which cacao (chocolate) and coffee beans are sun dried. The Jamaican style of jerk was the Taíno method of spicing agouti/Indian “coney” (“rabbit”) or sacred iguana with Scotch Bonnet pepper and pimento/allspice. This method of preparing and preserving meat was later borrowed by the [11] Maroons who became masters of jerk pork. It predates the Caribbean’s Pristine Era when nomadic Asiatic humans breached the virginal shoreline past the first trees that the later arriving seafaring Taíno called mangle, the word from which we got mangrove. Taíno watercrafts that arrived onto our shores slithered through a translucent, fish-laden blue-green bagua (sea). It was ruled by, Yúcahu Bagua Máorocote, the life-sustaining deity of the yuca ( [12] cassava) and the sea. He was without grandfathers, being the son of the [13] virgin mother Attaberia, goddess of fresh water and of childbirth. 

The Myth of Extinction: Does DNA lie?
My training in portraiture and the intimate involvement in the Native American community in the USA for almost 50 years, lead me to the following conclusions. Examine the photographs below. The first two that were taken soon after 1865, exhibit, in my opinion, three distinct facial phenotypes in Jamaica. They are African, European and Amerindian bone structures present among the Maroons and the English officer. The subjects in the more recent photographs (A) & (B), also show evidence of Amerindian admixture.
Facial bone structures don’t lie (A): A photograph of Jamaican/Welsh BBC television personality and athlete [14] Colin Ray Jackson CBE, has 7% Jamaican Taíno DNA. The photograph (B) below is of a Jamaican woman, also with Taino bone structure.

(B) Shirley Genus from Treasure Beach (or *Savanna-la-Mar), 1993 by antiquarian Steve Solomon. She identified herself as an “Arawak”.  It would be interesting to discover if she also had "shovel teeth", an Amerindian dental trait.

[* The word Savanna is from a Taíno word "sabana" -- a flat land/plain.] 

In 1992, I received an investigative grant on indigenous retentions in the cultures of four Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Antigua and Dominica, whose people at that time, like the Jamaican iguana, were supposed to be extinct. I began at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. That year’s Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival theme was “Maroons of the Americas.” Maroon societies from Jamaica and Surinam, as well as descendants from Florida’s Seminoles who had fled to Mexico, assembled on the Mall to demonstrate their cultural retentions. Jamaica was represented by Accompong and Mooretown Maroons who demonstrated cooking jerk pork on a wooden grill called a [15] caban; cordage used for strong rope woven Taíno-style from the inner bark of the Trumpet tree (Cecropia peltata) and [16] hammock-making from the bark-cord. Its hollow branches were traditionally used to make flutes similar to the “trumpets” that Columbus recorded seeing the Taíno use in Bahía de la Vaca (“Cow Bay”) after his Second [17]1494 Voyage. Jamaicans learned how to make medicine for both a cold and sore throat from the leaf of the Trumpet tree. In the tradition of other indigenous Americans, the Taíno forest was used as a pharmacy in which one could find chew stick for cleaning the teeth and thirst-quenching [18] water wiss vine. This survivalist practice was also found among Amazonian Amerindians. The birds that we admire, the foodstuff we eat and our “bush medicine” from endemic plants, originated with the indigenous people who had used them locally for millennia. It is highly unlikely that new 1494 arrivals to Jamaica were instinctively capable of identifying the curative qualities of endemic herbal plants. We are what we eat, so the acquired knowledge of asthma bush, cold bush, bellyache bush and fever bush is part of a cornucopia of natural medicines that have made us more Yamaye than we may suspect. Without the Taíno, we could not celebrate 50 years of independence. This spirit of freedom, first exhibited by the cimarrones Taíno, was passed along to the welcomed runaways who acquired the title “hero” held by Nanny and Cudjoe. Yet, Jamaica has no sculptural monuments to the Taíno. It’s about time we correct this omission of our “First Jamaicans” from our national monuments.


[1] The names Igneri, Ciboney, Guanahacabibe (de Las Casas) were invariably used to denote an early people who occupied the islands within the Circum Caribbean.
[2] “Meaning 'good' or 'noble', because several of its members spoke that word to Columbus to indicate that they were not Island-Caribs (Alegria 1981)” — Rouse 1992, 5.
[3] Cayo, a small island, is the root word for cay or key.
[4] The Taíno believed in a balancing system of twin entities. As a Maya elder put it, “We live in a world of polarity — day and night, man and woman, positive and negative. Light and darkness need each other. They are a balance."
 [5] The Jamaican rock iguana with serrated back and sunned itself for acquiring body heat. It provided the Taíno a visual image for the sun. Liguanea from (La)-iguana is an area in St. Andrew, Jamaica.
[6] A “spittle” from inhaling the hallucinogenic, trance-producing cohoba dust was blown as snot on to the back of the intruding Deminán. It turned into a swelling from which Turtle Mother was born, not unlike Eve being created from Adam’s rib. Turtle Mother mated with the four brothers who fathered humankind. The Taíno told an arriving Spanish chronicler that an earlier cacique (ruler/chief) had seen the destruction of their civilization in a cohoba trance. They had then mistakenly believed that the destroyers were the Carib.
[7] Yuca became “cassava”, (sweet) batata is the origin of “potato”, and maisi is the source word for maize that translated into Old English “corn”, or the word for wheat. This is the origin of “Indian wheat/corn.”
[8] Callaloo from the indigenous amaranth family. Jamaicans religiously eat callaloo as a vegetable.
[9] Maraca is a Taíno implement from the womb-like higuera “calabash” with fertilizing seeds in a white membrane. Dried, it represents the duality of a food container and musical instrument used in both the areito (dance) and in sacred ceremonies by a bohuti (shaman).
[10] Jerk (North American “jerky”), is from a Maya word for drying and preserving meat over a fire.
[11] The best jerk pork still comes from Boston Bay on the eastern tip of Jamaica. The meat is barbecued on a green pimento branch rack over a pimento wood fire. Maroons clandestinely traded jerk/barbecue meat to passing ships belonging to England’s enemies.
[12] Cassava comes from cazabi, the Taíno large, flat, tropical mold-resistant tortilla-style bread made by grating the peeled root and squeezing out the cyanide based juice (used as a meat tenderizing casareep). It is then sun dried into a flour, sprinkled onto a burén, cooked to drive out any remaining cyanide, and placed on a thatch roof to sun-dry. The bread is sometimes stored for months without spoilage. According to the DICTIONARY OF JAMAICAN ENGLISH, Jamaicans call a thicker version of this pan bread, “bammy”, which is baked in a heavy iron mold. It may be the same as mbeiyú the Amerindian Tupi word for a flat manioc/yuca style cake. In the 1908 Maroon Medicine, a grill[ed] bammy with jerk pork was taken as provisions for a journey.
[13] Similar in concept to Jesus the Christ’s virgin birth from Mary and the seed of God/Yahweh.
[14] DNA tests for the BBC’s “Who do you think you are?” series revealed that “The Taíno mixed with [enslaved Africans] who had escaped from the Spanish and made their own ‘Maroon’ communities, so it's possible that Colin's remote ancestors were Maroons - or cimarrones (from the Spanish cima, or summit).”
[15] Mooretown Maroon informants used the word caban for the Taíno barbecoa grill made in the traditional indigenous American style platform for the meat supported by four “Y” shape legs driven into the ground over a fire. The grill made of green twigs could be lowered closer to the fire by circular strings that hung down from the 2 ½’ tall “Y”-shaped legs. Caban is Spanish for “cabin’, similar to barbecue that can also mean a platform.
[16] From the Taíno hamaca, a tropical American bed. One of the first Taíno space-saving technologies borrowed by Europeans for their ships. The English then made hammocks from canvas that seamen took with them on shore.
[17] Columbus met unfriendly Taíno in war canoas (Taíno canoe) on the North Coast on May 15, 1494 and later sailed around to its south coast where “There were many Indian villages near the Bay and where Columbus says he found the most intelligent and civilized aborigines of all he met in the Antilles. By means of an interpreter, he had the most interesting conversation with the cacique of a large village on a mountain slope, who together with his family and chief followers [nitaino], paid the Admiral a visit.” –The Story of Jamaica, Clinton V. Black, 26. Columbus’s description of the Taíno retinue, its regalia that included a feathered “Coat of Arms” is indicative of the traditional high level of Taíno governmental development. Jamaica, like that other large Caribbean islands, was divided into cacigazos or districts governed by caciques and a stratified collection of sub-cacique advisers, the Nitaino, or “Nobles” as the Spanish called them.
[18] Sir Hans Slone, 1707, “This vine growing on dry Hills in the Woods where no Water is to meet with, its trunk if cut into two or three Yard long, Pieces, and held by either End to the Mouth, there issues out of it so plentifully, a limpid, innocent and refreshing Water or Sap as gives new life to the droughthy Traveller.” JAMAICA TALK: Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica, R. B. Le Page, 374

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Are "Indians" Indians?

  1. Top left:Indian on an Indian;” Silkscreen print of Pamunkey George Major Cook (a Virginia Powhatan tribe chief) advertising the popular early 1900s Indian Motorcycle. Silkscreen print by Rose Powhatan & Michael Auld
  2. Top Center: Two Indian girls cooking rice in Jamaica. New immigrants from Northern India who came to Jamaica in the late 1800s as indentured workers after the emancipation of enslaved Africans.
  3. Bottom Left: Evidence of pre-Columbian contact between India and the Americas? Disputed temple sculpture in Somnathpur, [India]. “We find two male and 63 female attendants to the deities holding the ‘maize ears.’", CARL JOHANNESSEN ON ANCIENT INDIAN MAIZE, (p. 170)
  4. Bottom Center: Etching of Columbus landing on Kiskeia/Haiti Bohio (later to become Hispaniola)
  5. Right: One of a variety of painted version of Lord Rama

Indio n, Spanish. "Indio" means Indian, as in Native American. The more politically correct word in Spanish is indígena, but indio is also used, just like Indian in English.
Hindú /hindoo/ n, via Urdu to mid 17th century Persian (pronounced in-doo in Spanish) Indian from the country of India.
Dravidian n, Possibly the first people who became “Indian”. According to a view put forward by geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in the book The History and Geography of Human Genes, the Dravidians were preceded in the subcontinent [of India] by an Austro-Asiatic people, and were followed by Indo-European-speaking migrants sometime later.
Indian n, from Sanskrit sinduh, via Old Persian Hindu “Indus” [River]: 1. A native of the subcontinent of India. 2. Applied to the native inhabitants of the Americas from at least 1553, on the notion that America was the eastern end of Asia.
“India”n More accurately Bharat, Bharata, Bhārat, or Bhārata may be a transliteration of either Bharata (Sanskrit: भरत, lit. "to be maintained") or Bhārata भारत, lit. "descended from Bharata") and may refer to: “Originating from Bharata, brother of the god Lord Rama.”

Given the above explanation of the name “India”, the people from that subcontinent do not necessarily refer to themselves by the Persian word “Indian” from “people of the Indus River”. They use their own religiously associated Sanaskrit word, “Bhaarat” to refer to themselves.
Many of the popularly held notions about the Americas began in the Caribbean with the Columbian Encounter of 1492. The most basic retention after meeting the Taíno in the Bahamas was that they were Indians in an extension of Asia. To Columbus, they were, in color, like the Afro-European mixed people of the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession off the West Coast of Africa. The English, coined the use of “Red Indians”, a designation that differentiated this ethnic group from the “other” Indians of India.

  • According to the British who colonized most of the Caribbean islands until 1962, people born on Caribbean islands and South America (British Guyana) were called West Indians.
  • In the Caribbean and Guyana an East Indian is a person whose family originated in India. Does this make them an East Indian West Indian? Incidentally, some people from India are opposed to the term “East Indian”.
  • Some Indians from the subcontinent (true Indians), do not think that American Indians should use the name “Indian”.
  • To confuse matters worse, Native Americans often are misidentified as an Indian (from the country of India) by non-Indians and people from India and other South East Asian countries. “Columbus made the same mistake,” is often the reply by some Native Americans to the query, “What part of India are you from?”
  • Pakistanis (pak= pure and stan= land) were Indians until they were partitioned from India, “which went into effect on Aug. 15, 1947”.
Growing up in the Caribbean, most people love to watch World Cup cricket played between, among others, India, Pakistan and the West Indies. Who then is the real Indian? In this hemisphere, this dilemma of cultural misidentification began with Columbus. The term became entrenched with the 16th century Spanish who created “a Juzgado de Indias or judicial zone [of the Indians/Indies] that was established in the [Canary] islands in 1566” to control trade with the Americas. We tend to blame Columbus for this dilemma, yet come to think if it maybe he did run into “the eastern end of Asia” in 1492.

Asia Extended

Asia [from the Greek name for] “the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.6% of the Earth's total surface area (or 29.9% of its land area) and with approximately 4 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population.” Wikipedia
Mix up the world’s population and every 3rd human you meet would be Chinese. Every 5th person would be from India. The rest of the continent includes millions more of other Asians in East Asia and the Pacific.
Added to these Asians, approximately 47,834,251,490 indigenous people who are genetically “Asiatic”, live in 16 countries in South and Central America. There are roughly 3,672,790 in the USA and Canada. These overall numbers do not include the indigenous Caribbean populations or the extremely large meztizo and other African, European and Asiatic populations with indigenous American genes in this hemisphere. Even Europe (and possibly other areas) had its mixing of indigenous Americans soon after Columbus brought some Taíno back to Spain. Some meztizos in the Americas obviously relocated to their father’s homelands in Europe and Africa (For example, Jamaican Maroons to Sierra Leone and African Americans to Liberia).

Is the vast Western Hemisphere of the Americas also a part of Asia? Some folks think so. However, not according to some writers. Yet, indigenous Americans, they contend, are believed to have come “from Asia over a land bridge that connected both Asia proper and the Americas.” Indigenous Americans, at the time of Columbus, were genetically, philosophically and religiously “Asiatic”. Columbus was on his way to Asia when he collided into the Caribbean homeland of these Asiatic peoples, the Taíno and Island Carib. To him, they appeared to be Indios. Sailing down from the Guanahani in the Bahamas, he arrived in Cuba. There he sent out an overland expedition to find the home of the Great Kahn of China. Until his dying day, maybe he was rightfully convinced that he had encountered, explored and temporarily governed Indians (Indios) from the outer reaches of Asia’s subcontinent.

Who are the real Indians?

“East Indian” is not seen as a positive term by some people indigenous to the subcontinent of India. A close family friend, who is from India, lamented that the word “Indian” should only apply to their people, is a frequent refrain heard among “true Indians”. “Native Americans are not Indians”. Some Indians, like members of the Goins family (from Goans) originated from Goa, India and married into Virginia’s Native American families as early as the 1700s.

The 1492 misnaming of peoples in an entire hemisphere is very confusing. They can be called “American Indian”, “Native American” “Amerindian”, or “Indigenous Americans”. Even the word “America” may be troubling since it was coined from an Italian named Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian man who never set foot in the Americas. The indigenous people of the Americas had as many names for themselves and their territories as they had languages. The people whom Columbus met in 1492, called themselves “Taíno”, which appropriately meant the “Good” or “Noble” people, a self-identifying concept that eluded both the Spanish and Columbus. The Island Caribs, another indigenous Caribbean group, were appropriately called the “Strong Men” by the Taíno.

Although Columbus was responsible for the first Caribbean misnomer, the other being Caribbean people as “cannibals”, he was highly overrated as a “discoverer”. Many have now come to believe that, for indigenous peoples of the Americas, Columbus’ “discovery” of a “New World” was dismissive. The Spanish now distinguish between the indigenous people of India and the Americas in the following way. Indu (in-doo) = the real Indian. Indio (in-di-oh) = Indigenous Americans. Today, when we call over the telephone for technical help with our computer, we often get a real Indian on the other end of the line. Maybe we are talking to people who are more “local” than we think. Remembering the invention of gunpowder, trigonometry, etc., etc., what makes it equally interesting is that both they and the Chinese are well on their way to dominating the known world…AGAIN!

NOTE: The Names They Call Us

Some tribal names that Indigenous Americans traditionally call themselves and what their rivals called then are:
  • Taíno (the Caribbean's "Good"or "Noble People"), called "Arawak" (a South American people) by the British. 
  • Diné means "the People". Called Navajo, from Spanish "Apache de Navajo".  Navajo is originally a Tewa (or Tano) word from the Diné neighbors. The Tewa are a linguistic group of Pueblo American Indians who speak the Tewa language and share the Pueblo culture.. 
  • The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota were called Sioux ("snake") by their enemies.
  • The Karifuna, called "Carib" (meaning "Strong Men") by the Taino, and Caribales/Canibales by Columbus.
  • Mexica (me-she-ka) are the so-called "Aztec" ("people from Aztlan" ) named after Hernando Cortez and the Spanish in 1519. The Spanish allied themselves with Mexica subjects to defeated the Mexica's  "Aztec Triple Alliance" empire, which has also become known as the "Aztec Empire" that included the Acolhuas of Texcoco and the Tepanecs of Tlacopan).

Friday, October 22, 2010


: (a) Taíno
ball players as seen in the Caribbean (Hispaniola) and reported by the Venetian Ambassador to Spain at the Spanish court, Seville in 1493.
(b) Taíno
stone belt worn by a player that counterbalanced the body during play. Carved belts like this found in Puerto Rico weighed between 15 to 57 pounds. Conquest of Eden by Michael Paiewonsky

(a) Ancient Maya ballcourt ruin at Uxmal, near Merida, Mexico, 2008 (Photo by Michael Auld). Note the ballcourt ring protruding from wall above woman to the left.
(b) Ceramic effigy of Maya ballplayer.
(c) Ballcourt ring.
(d) Ballcourt illustration from an Aztec codex. The ballcourt rings in the middle of this illustration may represent the fateful movement of the sun across the sky centered between skulls at the four corners of the sacred cardinal directions. Two players representing their teams prepare to lob the ball into play.

History’s First Team Sport

Imagine that you are part of an ancient civilization of warriors. One fateful morning you calmly stand and prepare to pray to the four cardinal directions. You light the brazier and waft sacred smoke over your body. You then strap on protective gear over your elbows, knees and hip. You are preparing to join your unit in a battle against evil forces and this may be your last day in this existence. Your death will be swift and today will indeed be a good day to die. The ceremony in which you are about to engage with teammates will spill blood to seed the earth. You will fight to gain the honor of being the people’s emissary to a god. If you are fortunate, in admiration your family will bury you with a ceramic effigy or a stone sphere representing the vulcanized blood of the hule tree. For your rebirth, your family will lovingly place the glimmering feathered body of a hummingbird on your grave. These hopes pass through your mind as you enter the stone walled ball court. Its sides are teeming with shouting admirers, some of whom are gambling on your fate.

This ceremonial game began with the invention of rubber and by the Mesoamerica’s mother civilization, the Olmec. Some Amazonian peoples used the “blood” of the rubber tree to remove unwanted body hair. Mesoamericans used rubber to make toys, bungee straps, wrappings for cushioning tool handles and for waterproofing shoes and capes.

Because of its antiquity, the Mesoamerican rubber ball game is considered to be “History’s first team sport”. When the Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish first arrived in the Americas in the 15 th century, the Caribbean’s indigenous Taíno people played an Amerindian rubber ball game called batu. According to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places Itinerary, “The first written description of the game, played with two teams and a rubber ball, appeared after Columbus' first voyage.” Unable to believe their eyes, the arriving Spanish thought that the miraculous bouncing of the rubber ball was a result of witchcraft. The Taínos played a non-fatal version of the ball game on a clay court called a batey. Many Taíno villages had a batey that was also a center for social gatherings.

In Puerto Rico, a major archeological site in Caguana, Utuado has over 30 ball courts (bateys) built in 1270 AD, estimated to be over 700 years old  ( ). The most impressive playing enclosure is a large clay court that resembles a soccer field bordered in one side by paved stones. At one side of the field are flat upright stone slabs with incised images of Ataberia, the virgin mother of the Supreme Being, Yucahú Bagua Marocotti. Some stone slabs bordering the field weigh over one ton. Women’s teams sometimes played the Caribbean version of the game, unlike its Mesoamerican ancestor. In Mesoamerica, the ball courts were often “I” shaped fields bordered on the east and west sides by sloping stone walls. Some walls had stone rings set in the side through which a player bounced the solid nine-pound ball off his hip, elbow or shoulder. In both versions of the game, the players could not use their hand hands although in one version of the game ballplayers struck the ball with a bat.
Today in the Americas, fans of soccer and basketball have redirected their fervor for this indigenous American rubber ball game to more modern versions of the sport.

Early in the history of the Americas, this organized team sport, like maize, had travelled from Mesoamerica to Arizona and into the Caribbean. In some cultures, the ballgame represented the movement of the sun across the sky and the ominous outcome of this astrological phenomenon. In other places it was a source of communal gatherings where betting was the norm. Supposedly, sometimes either the winner or the loser’s head was decapitated as an honorable sacrificial offering “sending him directly to heaven”. The following are wall copy from a ball court in Uxmal, Merida (in Mexico’s Yucatan state) at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. For one of the “Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die”, a visit to this impressive museum is necessary for anyone interested in learning the history of our hemisphere, the Americas.

Wall Copy from the Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
(1) The ballgame is one of the defining characteristics of Mesoamerica. First found on the Central Highland Plateau [of Mexico], dates back to before 1200 BC when social and religious organization in these cultures reached complex levels. From time to time, the ballgame formed part of a cult, given finding of objects related to ballplayer’s attires. These included small yokes that symbolically represented the protectors used on hands and knees, and stone balls, symbolizing the original rubber ones. These balls were used in funerary and visual contexts. The stone balls, approximately three to four inches in diameter, were a little larger than a softball.
(2) The ballgame developed as a characteristic of Mesoamerica cultures; importance can be appreciated by the presence of buildings devoted to the execution of this ceremony.
The Ball Game Among the Mexicans
(1) All the people of ancient Mesoamerica practiced the ballgame, a ritual sport that determined the dangers faced by the sun on its daily journey across the heavens, thus predicting its fate.
(2) For the Mexicans the sacred ballgame was ullamaliztli (from “rubbery” used to make the ball). Characteristics of the ballgame were:
• Precise bounce which surprised the Europeans.
• The court was called tlaxico in Nahuat (a patio in the shape of an “I” or double “T”.
• On either side—slopes;
• Walls rings called “tlaxtemalcatl”, one to the south and one to the north. Balls go through them when struck with hip or forearm.
• Ends of court were west and east.
When a play was made that went against the movement of the sun, a decapitation was carried out. The blood vitalized the earth and the sun. Secular betting was one feature of the game.
The Ball
•Made from a tree named “hule”- the material is also called the same name of the tree. Hule came from the area near the Gulf of Mexico.
•The tree sap became rubber through a vulcanized process using diverse plants.
•The solid, heavy ball was the size of volleyball.
•The wall ring through which the ball had to pass was approximately one foot across.


Amerindians from the Mexican state of Sinaloa play a version of the game, called hulama.