Sunday, October 11, 2015

THE CROW'S NEST: Bird's Eye View of History

Indigenous Day, 1492: Premature birth of an early navigation contraption.

Columbus Vulture: "I said INDIA, Crow!!! What the hell is that contraption you got up there?"
Crow: "GPS." 

Columbus Day, 2015 

Wiley “Kayak” Crow: In front of the class implementing his lesson plan The Idiot's Guide to Stealing History.

"Class. What did Columbus NOT discover?"

Student Chick: "That he was an idiot?"

Wiley “Kayak” Crow: "What DID Columbus discover?"

Student Chick #2: "His ability as a conman?"


Columbus Day: The Dilemma

As a source of famous myths, Christopher Columbus is right up there with Santa Clause. His existence as a heroic figure is proof that some humans will believe anything.

The irony of Columbus Day is that it started in the Caribbean with excellent storytellers, the Taino. Six million Amerindians who populated the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and a part of Florida. Their powers of mythological storytelling was so convincing that Columbus and his Spanish entourage, arriving on October in 1492, believed every sign language gesture of the Taino Epic about the mythical travels of their first shaman, the hero named Guahayona (Gwa-ha-yo-nah). Upon Columbus' arrival in the Lucayan Taino's Bahamas, the Taino sat him down and tried to entertain his gold and women hungry entourage with persistent myths. And the gullible Spanish left, believing in the Guahayona epic, later died in the hundreds trying to find these islands of the "Celestial Paradise". The myth itself was later recorded by Father Ramon Pane on the large island of Kiskeya (Hispaniola). But in 1492, not yet knowing the Taino language except mostly through Amerindian signing, Columbus came away with the understanding of a source of endless gold, women and men ripe for enslavement. So goes the Federal Government's and Christian hero (St. Christopher) and his controversial holy-day.

Needed Revision

Christopher Columbus' fame should be revised. At best, he was a conman. Notice how he presented his scam to the king and queen of Spain. Ferdinand did not buy the route to India pitch; Isabella, like the rest of Europe did. The scramble was on following the Taino Amerindian myth of an Island of Women (Matanino) and a twin Island of Gold (14k Guanin). To the Spanish, the bait was so seductive that other life-taking myths ensued.

1. La California was a story by "Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo who first introduced an Amazon queen in his popular novel entitled Las sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500" –(Wikipedia). This became the popular novel about a Black queen, Califia, with her Amazons residing on an Island of Gold. This published tale was believed by Hernan Cortez, who named the California Mountain, which he thought was Califia's abode. For Cortez, the only thing missing from Califia's abode, were the protective Griffins that should have been flying over that tall La California "island".
2. Las Siete Ciudades de Cibola was the Seven Cities of Gold. It was believed to be just a skip and a jump from California into the Zuni territory in New Mexico.
3. El Dorado was supposedly in Columbia, South America. The Amazon River was named for the above Matanino/Guanin Taino myth, since women warriors had shot up their boat;.
4. The Fountain of Eternal Youth was an early Viagra wish that followed Puerto Rican Taino guidance to their trading place on the North American mainland, Bimini, a.k.a. La Florida.

The Persistent Myth

Columbus Day is a divisive federal holiday. Not recognized by many, it stands as a reminder that it officially emanates from the Nation's Capital, the District of Columbia which actually means the "Jurisdiction of Columbus". The holy-day honors a man of questionable slave-holding character, a poor administrator and an Italian mercenary. One suspects that the federal government only prolongs the misinformation about him to satisfy Italian immigrants at the expense of Native Americans. It is equivalent to a federal F-U to Amerindian Day.

Columbus Day is celebrated in the wrong hemisphere. Should he be celebrated in the Americas? In Europe, maybe, but definitely not in the Americas! Amerindians are still here and celebrating a man responsible for their holocaust is, to say the least, cruel and unusual punishment. He was a windfall for Spain and the other countries that successfully followed them into the Antilles and benefited from its exploitation. Natural resources-poor Europe became and stayed filthy rich over Amerindian corpses. It is not as if Spain did not immediately know it’s devastating effect on the indigenous Caribbean populations. Spanish cleric, Frey Bartolome de las Casas fought for the "Indios", but suggested the replacement of their dead and dwindling numbers with enslaved Africans. One evil replacing another. De las Casas' idea became so popular that it continued up until after the American Civil War and after Brazil's final emancipation of enslaved Africans.

Columbus Day is a slap in the face of Native Americans and Amerindians who probably compose the majority DNA in our hemisphere. Federal workers don't mind the day off while some retailers have a sales bonanza. The day is aptly suited to entrepreneurs and is in keeping with Columbus' goals, how to make a buck no matter what the cost to workers. In Columbus’ case, he was responsible for igniting the Amerindian enslavement and the pilfering of their goods. Ever the gold digger, he settled for a form of slavery that triggered genocide. Yet he is given a haloed position and a bonus day on North American soil. He was definitely not the first to "discover America" as school children are taught. According to historical data, he was at least 12th in the line of notable groups of people thousands of years ahead of him. Whether myth or fact, evidence shows that most of the at least 12 earlier arrivals were Asians, some were Africans and Middle-easterners and two were Europeans.

We know that Columbus headed one of a series of humans that arrived in the Americas. In the Americas, he could not have discovered anyone in the true meaning of the word "discovery". Yet, he is credited by many as a demigod whose feats rival the Biblical Creation of one half of the planet. In the imagination of some thinkers after 1492, our hemisphere, like Venus, the "New World" was born fully formed on a specific day of October that year. As a holdover from the era of idiotic "supremacy", this ancient part of the planet is still being called "new". What was Columbus actually responsible for?

1. He was the first to suggest the European form of slavery in the Americas.
2. He spearheaded the near eradication of the six million strong Taino people of the Northern Caribbean and their Island Carib cousins in the Eastern Caribbean
3. He brought deadly epidemics on the populations of the Americas.
4. Founding myths are taught to each successive generation as "history".

Yet he is honored by the Federal Government with a holiday, statues, place names like Washington, the District of Columbia, the capital of an entire country to which he never came. Granted, he sailed to the American territory of Puerto Rico and stopped there, but never on the mainland with places that carry his hallowed name. Maybe after the granting of overdue statehood, Washington, DC will get a name change.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

State vs Federal Recognition: One Scenario

"There are 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the U.S" at this writing. Additionally, there are also Non-Acknowledged Tribes that are tribes which have no federal designation as sovereign entities but may be state recognized. To be recognized as a sovereign entity, tribes must meet certain criteria as "Indians". As of 1978 there were "33 separate definitions of 'Indian' used in federal legislation."--Wikipedia 

Because of sovereignty and self determination status, along with tax, health, educational and social benefits, one of the most prized possessions in American Indian life is recognition. Next to tribal identity, to belong to a recognized tribe is the most coveted state of American citizenship. To gain state or federal recognition as an indigenous tribe of the United States, among other requirements, applicants must provide evidence of unbroken descent from a historic Amerindian group. 

Although proving continuity with cultural practices can be daunting, both state and federal recognition processes are dissimilar. The Federal recognition process is exceedingly more invasive. Not all tribes can successfully survive the gauntlet of scrutiny. It is not unusual for some folks to borrow traditions or fabricate immaculate revelations as part of "an ancient ancestral practice". At stake may be a mythical golden self sufficient road to gleaming casinos that often rise out of the skyline like a Disney mirage. This goal, however, is even more difficult than current gambling concerns think since an established reservation or land held in trust may be a part of the federal requirements. For some, gambling is an acceptable device. After all, wasn't Jamestown, (and by default, America) started by the Great Virginia gambling Lotteries of 17th century London?

The irony not missed by many Natives is that some governmental  bureaucrats, often the beneficiaries of conquest, must decide weather or not you are what you say that you are genetically. Private citizens may identify with whomever they please. However, traditionally, you can only be "Indian" in the eyes of the law if some state appointed commission approves your tribe's petition. Although states may call upon an appointed body of commissioners as part of the recognition process, the most prized or elite recognition is processed by the Beaureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Successful applicants to the BIA are called "Feddies". Members of these lucky tribes act like the upper class of American Indian society. Some Feddies, having gained the prized BIA blessings, often look down on both state recognized and un-recognized Indians as "wannabes". One of their favorite slights. "Heinz-57" is another term describing mixed bloods.

I had the fortune to be a private citizen and extended observer at some of these very contentious recognition hearings. Observed was a case where one unhinged tribal applicant almost physically attacked a female state appointed commissioner with whom he disagreed.

Here below is a composite dramatized animal story of one process of recognition pursued by a fictional group. Resemblance to any human persons is coincidental.

The Eagle & the Crow

"This still does't make you an Eagle."

The Caucus Room

Once upon a time, Chief Bald Eagle, a full blood, headed a large nest of American Eagles. He called a meeting that included Crow and Chickadee.

Chief Eagle: "Get Crow in here!"
Chickadee: "Yes, Boss."

Crow: "Sent for me  sir?"
Chief Eagle: "What the hell is this? Some civilian says here you are not an Eagle! You a Dodo, Crow? I don't know of any crow-Eagles."
Hands Crow a letter.
Crow reads the letter. Face feathers turn pink.
Crow: "My mother wasn't an Eagle... But I am a Spiritualist Eagle."
Chief Eagle: "Christ! That makes you a crow, Crow. Nothing to be ashamed of. Don't make us look stupid, asshole! Get DNA.
... Take care of this!" 
Chief Eagle hands Crow the letter to investigate himself.

Unable to definitively provide proof of Eagle DNA kinship to raptors within a 500 mile area from his believed homeland, Crow reverted to the Eagle's Adam & Eve scenario. 

Crows had a history of migrating from other continents. Their Eagle pedigree was fictional. However, in Crow's case, Adam was an albino Hawk and Eve was a Blackbird, but this still didn't make him an Eagle. Besides, officials at the Bureau of Eagle Affairs (BEA) determined that Crow's petition to be an eagle was invalid since "most of the members of the applicant's tribe had no more 'Raptor blood' in them than the average bird in the state." Since the time of The Great Invasion, confusion abounded. Birds either flew away, or in the case of the flightless Dodo, walked off never to return. Laying eggs in other bird's nests became epidemic and the BEA had to separate the eagle chicks from the chumps. The campaign was called "Chicks for Chumps".

The above scenario is not common to all petitioners. Most birds who pass BEA muster have proof of unbroken lineage to recognized historic Eagle nests. Even if as eggs, they may have mistakenly ended up in the wrong nest since crows sometimes lay eggs in other bird's nests. Crow's "proof" of Eagleness was, however, more Biblical than actual. Not what the BEA looks for since wearing sacred eagle feathers doesn't necessarily make a crow an eagle.

Crow: Mumbling to himself. "DNA? &$@FK!!! Oh, copulate me!" 

Beads of sweat begin to undo Crow's processed feathers. The crow took the letter and begins to plot a witch-hunt. A kinky locks fell from a balding yellow forehead, cutting across blue Mongoloid crow's eyes. 

"Got to get the heat off me. How the 'FK' do I redirect? Who can I scapegoat?"
Crow paused then jumped for joy... "Those bastards on the Eagle Commission, Duck and Cohonk, voted for my dim witted cousins to be the first recognized Eagle tribe in our state. I bet the governor will approve recognition. Bovine excrement! They are just a bunch of gigaboos posing as Eagles. I will out those uncircumcised Eagle Commissioners!
"Wait. I am a government employee and I can't go after the public for tribal gain. Ahah! I will get my rabid cousin, Coony to do it. That alki owes me one."

The Witch Hunt

Crow's cousin, Coony Auraccoon organized two carloads of his mutant blackbird relatives and headed for BEA Commissioner Cohonk's tribal center 400 miles away. Cohonk was chosen as the easy target since Commissioner Duck had cited connections to an extinct tribal group. Arriving in a cloud of dust, Coony knocked on the door of a trailer scrawled with a sign, "Eagle Trading Post".

Coony: "Is the chief in?" 
Possum #1: From behind a squeaky screen door. "No. Gone to New Jersey."
Coony: "Is the asss-istant chief in?" He stuttered.
Possum #1: Assistant Chief Muskrat is down by the fishing hole." 
Door slams. 
"What the hell these blackbirds want?" She murmured to herself with a suspicious air.

Coony: Stumbling down the step he mumbled to his posse. "Bastard. Don't recognize a chief when she sees one? Black feathers must have turned her off. See how she looked at us? Must-a thought I was Blacula... fangs an' all! Got to get these coon rings from around my eyes."

At the riverside, the troop of coon morons with out-a-town tags found a Muskrat fishing from the river bank. 

Coony: "Hey, fellow. You de Asss-istant chief?"
Muskrat: "Nope. Tribal Councillor. Ass went to the crapper. I'm his cousin. But for the right price I could be him." Flashing a broken incisor tooth grin. "What you fellers want?"
Coony: "Don't get much work around here, I expect? Can I buy a letter off you?" A crooked grin curled across a yellow pecker-like beak.

Muskrat: "You think this is Sesame Street?"
Coony: "No, no. I want a letter from your chief. I collect autographs." He lied.

Muskrat: Smiles at the opportunity. "Meet me over yonder at that there boat house in five." 
Scurrying back to the tribal office, the accomplice enters the chief's room, grabs a few of the chief's signed letterheads and heads for the boat house. 

Coony: "Yeah! I like the chief's signature! I will dictate."

The Letter

The forged letter stating that the BEA Commissioner, Cohonk, was not an Eagle and should be disqualified from the Commission, mysteriously found itself in the hands of Chief Bald Eagle, the staff of the Eagle's nest, the BEA Commission and anyone interested in gossip. The bogus letter was even widely published on the Animalnet.

In spite of missing DNA and flunking the eyeball test, Crow's peeps were accepted as Eagles. Their wings now cast a shadow along the eastern corner of the continent spreading pedigree myths while claiming territory everywhere crows have passed urine. 

Morals: Who said life is fair? Not all that glitters is gold.

In spite of Crow and Coony's under-the-radar approach to recognition, they became honorary Eagles. Not because they cheated, but because their cousin Raven, as questionable as the state's recognition methods were, did provide proof of prehistoric "tri-racial raptor descent". Crow and Coony came into the Eagle fold on Raven's tail feathers.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Who is a Native American? Or, it is hard out here to be an Indian!

An artist must be able to portray phenotypes in portraiture, especially in sculpture, painting, illustration and caricature.  Since this is my profession, I have been a keen observer of nuances in facial structures, body types and skin colors. Similar to a dentist who observes teeth upon a first encounters; I notice facial bone structure, eye and mouth shape, skin texture and color. However, Amerindian identity is so mired in mythology that accurate phonotypical portrayal in the visual arts is problematic. More confusion to the issue of Native identity was added by the Federal Government’s “blood quantum” rule in 1934. This rule was inspired by the racist 1705 [English law] when Virginia adopted laws that limited colonial civil rights of Native Americans and persons of half or more Native American ancestry”. -- Professor Jack D. Forbes (2008). "THE BLOOD GROWS THINNER: BLOOD QUANTUM, PART 2". University of California-Davis. 

Five hundred years of racial mixing in this hemisphere has created a category of human beings that have varying physical features some of whom choose to accept or ignore their Amerindian genes. Throughout the Americas, identifying with the indigenous has continued to be controversial. Peoples of the Americas are often ignorant about Amerindian cultural and historical achievements. Little is taught about the hemisphere that produced pyramids, large cities, empires, multitude of medicines and is the source of 60% of what humans eat. Yet, against some remaining obstacles, there has been resurgence in Native pride. Compounding the problem of identity are the labels Mestizo, Métis, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Black Indian, etc.  

Some newly formed tribes handle the issue of resurgence well, while others create havoc in trying to be “more Indian” than the rest. One example of this extremism is the group’s attempt at historical revisionism by usually stating that “We are the Indians” of a geographical location on which their tribal name never historically appeared. This con-game was also played out by the late Italian-American actor “Iron Eyes Cody”.  Hollywood Westerns of an earlier period played a pivotal role in this confusing sham by casting Italian, Middle Easterner, English and Irish actors as Indians.

Notwithstanding Columbus’ confusion; the answer to who is “Native” is not cast in stone. For example, a Mexican (even with a high percentage of Amerindian DNA) would say that unless you speak your language, you are not Indio. In North America the answer to this question is more fluid.

Top Row:  (1) Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee. (2) Chief Joseph, Nez Perce [Nimíipuu is their name for themselves].
 (3) Charles Curtis, 31st Vice President of the United States who had maternal grandparents on the Kaw reservation.
(4) Noted sculptor Edmonia Lewis whose father was black and mother an Ojibwa Indian who named her Wildfire. She grew up with her mother’s family of basket makers on the reservation. Both African and Native Americans claim her.

Bottom Row: (1) Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999). He impersonated Native Americans in Hollywood films. (2) Astronaut John Herrington, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation. (3) & (4) Irish-American actor Burt Lancaster who played Massai, an Apache leader in Hollywood’s Apache (1954).

Native American  n. (1) Aboriginal American. a member of the indigenous people of the Americas, belonging to the Mongoloid group of peoples. (2) adj. relating to any of the indigenous American peoples, their languages, or their cultures. Encarta World English Dictionary

full blooded  adj. thoroughbred of unmixed breed. Encarta World English Dictionary

half breed  n. an offensive term referring to a person of mixed racial parentage, especially Native American and Caucasian.  Encarta World English Dictionary

Mestizo n. American Spanish. A combination between Indio (Amerindian) and Spaniard.

Pardo n. American Spanish. A person who is mixed with Amerindian, European and African.

Except for the last two pictures of Burt Lancaster and Iron Eyes Cody, the above images are of people whom some Indian tribes would call Native Americans today.  Although, in the United States, we often reserve the term Native American for only the indigenous people of the mainland USA.  This attitude has caused many legal and “illegal aliens” from south of the border to insist that they too are Native Americans.  According to some anthropologists, we can evaluate the survival of indigenous populations in the Americas since 1492 in two ways.  Either, (1) Disease and genocide drastically reduced the Americas’ multimillion indigenous populations. Or, (2) Racial mixing has greatly increased the numbers of indigenous people within the Americas since 1492. 

The second theory, however, has contributed to a Native American identity dilemma for people without and within those ethnic groupings.  It is also difficult to identify Native American phenotypes especially in states with a high percentage of American Indians and Mexicans.  For example in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I found it hard to make a visual distinction between both populations.  Although most Mexicans are from the same indigenous genetic pool as other Native Americans, in Albuquerque there were incidents of animosity between both groups.  This dilemma caused a prominent Native American artist in another locale whose son had been beaten up by Mexican youths, to state, “Why would they beat up my son?  Don’t they know that Mexicans are also Indians?” East of the Mississippi River, the ability to identify who is an Indian is even more difficult.

The Native American identity problem began after 1492 when Columbus believed that the Caribbean’s Taíno and Island Carib were the Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.  Although there is documentation that indigenous Americans had been arriving on European shores at least since the Roman Empire, their sustained impact on the rest of the world began in earnest in 1492.  According to Dr. Jack D. Forbes, author of The American Discovery of Europe, “What we do know is that two or more Americans, at least a man and a woman, reached Galway Bay, Ireland, [in two dugout logs] and there seen by Christoforo Colomb (Columbus) long prior [around 1477] to his famous voyage of 1492.”  Dugout canoes are from the east coast North America, South America and the Caribbean so it is unclear exactly from whence these Americans came.  It is believed that indigenous Americans either came east to Europe at varying times via their own volition and/or were hijacked by Atlantic storms.  Oceanic tempests and Atlantic currents had floated American trees into Galway Bay where there was once a local business in American driftwood lumber. Today, heavy Atlantic shipwrecks still end up on Ireland’s coast.  Descriptions of people arriving at various times from the west going eastward, both dead and alive, matched the phenotypes of various indigenous Americans.  At that time, it was very unlikely for people from Asia to have been blown ashore on Western Europe and the Azores.  In Europe, they were mistaken for people from “Catayo” or Cathay (meaning China), and India.  Later, Columbus’ encounter with the people of the Lucaya Bahamas convinced him that they were Indians from Asia’s subcontinent.

Were ancient American phenotypes similar?

It is obvious to the casual observer that the Inuit (“Eskimo”) are decidedly different in appearance from the Olmec and Maya of the Yucatan, or the Cherokee, Iroquois and Algonquians of North America’s Eastern Woodlands.  The pre-Columbian  diversity in skin color, hair texture, facial and physical composition varied greatly among peoples of the Americas.  Even in two isolated and recently contacted Amazon tribes phenotype decidedly differed.  One group was tall, slender and yellowish (the Zo'e) wearing lip plugs; while the other was shorter, muscular, brown skinned and
 seemed not knowing how to make fire.  Although many people believe that Native Americans belong to one monolithic “race”, DNA studies tell us differently.  Geneticists trace all indigenous Americans back to six “original mothers”.

A study released on March 12, 2008 “identifies the six surviving Native American mtDNA lineages that are dated to approximately 20,000 years ago, designated as A2, B2, C1b, C1c, C1d and D1. Today's study also confirms the presence of five more rare, less known and geographically limited genetic groups: X2a, D2, D3, C4c and D4h3.”

Who or what is a Native American?  Can the average American identify a Native American?  The influx of European, African, Asian and “Hispanic” admixtures has made the answer more complex. 

Who is a Native?

The answer to this question lies in how the sovereign tribes of the United States and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) define a Native American.  First, tribes have varying criteria for membership that range from ½ to 1/16 “Indian blood” (See the July 22 blog article on “Blood Quantum”).  Tribes themselves define who is eligible for membership in the Native American family. Similar to loosing American citizenship, tribes can excommunicate blood members for reasons that go against the American Constitution. Federally recognized tribes are sovereign nations.

Second, in a case brought before the BIA, a man in North Carolina tried to discredit his wife who identified herself as a Native American by calling her a Negro (since she was mixed).  The federal agency replied to his charge.  In their response, the BIA stated in essence that they did not care about the other racial composition of a Native American.  Although many Americans harp on the notion of the authenticity of “full bloods”, there are both tribal and federal acceptances of the multiracial composition of individuals who call themselves Native Americans.  This self-identification factor in sovereign “Indian Country” confuses the average American.  Hollywood further muddied the issue by painting Italian, Irish and Jewish actors brown (such as Jeff Chandler, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman and others) while casting them in leading roles as either Native American full bloods or “half breeds”.  A founding member of a District of Columbian indigenous American organization once told me that a person who wants to identify as a Native American, regardless of blood quantum, must be publicly acknowledged as a Native American by members of both the Indian and non-Indian community.

The Crossover
From the time of 17th century Jamestown, Virginia up to today’s Vice-Presidential nominee Governor Palin’s Alaska, Native Americans populations continue to be both hated and expendable.  The English from Jamestown went out twice yearly to kill Powhatan men, women and children in attempts of early ethnic cleansing.  This practice caused some Virginia Indian families to go underground and as they say, “hide in plain sight”.  Also, societal, economic and peer pressures have caused many Native Americans to identify themselves as black or white.  In spite of gaming windfalls, Native Americans are still on the lowest end of the American society’s economic and health ladder.  In some parts of Virginia and Washington, DC, Indians were forced to be reclassified as colored, mulatto, Negro, and later black.  They were threatened with physical violence or loss of their jobs if they publicly acknowledged their Indian heritage.  Some lighter skinned descendants of these Native American families moved out West into the Sun Belt to pass as tanned whites.  Since it has become safer to identify with one’s Native roots in recent years, some of these family members have now enrolled in Native American tribes.  Historically, many Native American families from the times of the Southern plantation system could only live in black neighborhoods.  Dr. Walter Plecker, an avowed white supremacist and advocate of eugenics compounded the case against Native American identity by fiercely recommending the enforcement (by incarceration) of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of March 20, 1924.  

A Washingtonian relative in her 80s told me of the case of Sacagawea H. a Delaware Indian childhood friend whose family owned a store in D.C.’s Georgetown, who committed suicide.  Attempts to identify herself as a Native American in Washington, D.C. met with typical skepticism.  My source said that as proof of her Native American ancestry, “The chief of a Delaware tribe attended her funeral.”  Another story is of a Mattaponi woman who was denied a federal job for “lying” on an employment form by stating in the “Race” category that she was an Indian.  Also, consider the case of a prominent New York gallery owner who identifies herself as black.  Her full-blooded Indian parents had escaped with their lives from the persecution of Cherokees in the South.  They were spirited away to the North by a sympathetic sea captain.  They could only live in an African-American community in Boston.  Or the saga of prominent sisters from the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina who were misidentified as attractive “Negroes” in black entrepreneurial Washington, D.C.’s early U Street corridor.  Maybe someone should write an Oscar awarding song titled “It is hard out here to be an Indian.”

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