The Caribbean and the US East Coast have been hit with a number of hurricanes this year. Is it just one entity responsible or is it the multiple named Tempests of Shakespeare’s imagination? I’ll go with the oldest interpretation of just one; the Taíno angry goddess Guabancex and her two accomplices.
Figure 1: Guabancex the Hurakan is the ancient Taíno’s Angry Woman Goddess, Rider of the Winds. Here the hurakan/hurricane is portrayed as three entities of a warning, destruction by wind and water. Her yearly job is to clean the Earth of accumulated debris and bring renewal. – Image of a 4’ x 3’ 8” mixed media wall sculpture by the author, made from fractured ceramic, cherry wood, wisteria vines and metallic copper paint.
We are in the middle of Global Warming which has brought an angry goddess into our hemisphere more than just once this year. As if we have not learned our lesson of destroying the planet, she comes as a reminder of our errant ways. To the Taíno, this is normally the cleansing season of the very displeased Guabancex the Hurakan. Born in the Sahel Desert of North Africa, she, is our hurricane deity who has come to our area for millennia. Twin brothers accompany the Angry Woman Goddess, the Rider of the Winds. The Taíno believed that GuatauBa! the thunderous lightening Herald announces her pending arrival. While his brother, Coatrisque, the dangerous Deluge from the mountains, cleans up after Guabancex blows rotting things down. We humans just happen to get in their way.
THE CARIBBEAN HURRICANE
- Huraca’n (uh-ra-kah-an), Taíno.
- Huracan (uh-ra-kahn), Spanish.
- Hurricane (hurry-cane) English.
- Hura = wind + Ca'n = center, i.e., the Center of the Wind. Sometimes confused with the Maya god Kulucan, the Spirit of the Storms. The Spanish were headquartered in the Taíno and Kalinago (Carib) Caribbean for over 20 years before acquiring words like jerk from the Mayan language of Central America, now used for Jamaican Taíno spiced barbecoa grilling. But our hurakan is not Mayan.
A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with winds of 72-74 miles per hour or 33.1 meters per second but rarely exceeding 145 mph or 65 meters per second, usually accompanied by thunder, lightning and rain. So far, Wilma, the strongest, reached 185 mph in 2003.
Figure 2: Two ceramic sherds from pots made by Taíno women which captured the image of the hurakan. -- “Cave of the Jagua: The Mythological world of the Taíno,” by Antonio M. Stevens-Arroyo.
Figure 3: A contemporary satellite photograph of a hurricane over the Bahamas.
The ancient indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Taíno, had a perfect understanding of the weather phenomenon that annually plagued their Paradise-like territory. The huraca’n was definitely an angry woman goddess, "Rider of the Winds". Female ceramists depicted her on pottery as a head whose “S” shaped arms protruded from her shoulders or temples, much like the view of a flailing person seen from overhead. Uncannily, the Taíno’s version of the huraca’n had the same configuration as satellite photographs of hurricanes taken 500 years later in the 20th century. The main difference in interpretation between the original Taíno image and that of contemporary meteorologists was that the Taíno saw the “eye” of the hurricane as the face of a woman. Which begs the question, “How did the Taíno women know this hurricane detail?”
Her name was not really Wilma, Katrina, Ivan, Camille, Diane, Rupert, or Ann. As seen above, before the birth of Christ, she had been Guabancex (gwa-ban-seh) the angry woman spirit of the huraca’n. An early Spanish chronicler in the 15th century Caribbean wrote: “They say that when Guabancex becomes angry, she makes the winds and waters move and casts houses to the ground and uproots the trees." This statement attests to the concept that she was not necessarily seen as an evil entity, but a woman who can become angry. Interestoingly, it was the women who made ceramic pots who used her image, Thus, “The Angry Woman Goddess” was used and not the Evil One, a devil-like concept not recorded in the Taíno religion or belief system.
So, the huraca’n is the composition of the angry wind goddess Guabancex, and her two enablers the gods Guatauba (gwa-ta-ooh-BA), and Coatrisque (ko-ah-tris-keh). Combined, they were the Wind, Thunder and Flood spirits of the huraca'n. GuatauBa! (my spelling), as the god of thunder, was the herald who announced Guabancex's pending arrival. Coatrisque followed the wind and thunder and brought the devastating power of the flood from the mountains. The Taíno understood that three entities of the hurricane (wind, flood and tide surge) caused the most damage. The Spanish continue to use the word “huracan” and it is from this source that the English coined the word “hurricane”.
The early chroniclers also reported that the Taíno curtailed long sea voyages during the hurricane season of June to October. Boriken (Puerto Rico) Taíno spoke about the mountain battles between the Supreme Being, Yucahú and the violent spirit of the huraca’n. “Oh, yes,” a Puerto Rican informant told me , “Guabancex and Yucahu fight up in the mountains.” Today, many descendants of Boriken, Kiskeya (Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Cubanacan (Cuba) Taíno live in New York City. Before hurricane Katrina, some meteorologists predicted that “The Big One” will be a huge hurricane that may do incalculable damage to New York City in the future. The subway tunnels may act as gushing conduits for the storm surge.
Hurricanes have influenced many writers who were not from the Caribbean. The most enduring is a storm named story created in 1611. William Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, a play with various his contemporary interpretations of location but whose main monstrous character was likely a mythical Caribbean “Caribal” or cannibal called Caliban.
Figure 6: One of the oldest images of Shakespeare’s Caliban. Etched and published by John Hamilton Mortimer in 1775. Note its Africoid appearance.
The Although the English had eyes on the Americas, it was the Spanish who fed Europe Caribbean myths. Figure 6: One of the oldest images of Shakespeare’s Caliban. The Tempest has been described as “likely to show the value of mercy and forgiveness.” However, it’s portrayal of Caliban smacks of a belief of the superior intellect of the English who saw a naiveté and barbarity in the Indigenous people of the Caribbean. This character, not unlike Guabancex’s unpredictability, embodies a tempest. Today, the hurricane is still seen as one of nature’s negative forces. However, it may be similar to the underbrush clearing of forest fires, and so she also has the intended historical traits of a cleansing agent. Besides, "these hurricanes could also be termed as the tropical cyclones. Apparently, these cyclones prove to be an important part of rains. They increase the availability of rainfall by 25% for the countries like Japan, India, and Southeast Asia."
* Some sources:
1. Dictionary of the Taíno Language
2. Webster's New Encyclopedic Dictionary
3. Cave of the Jagua: The Mythology and World of the Taínos, Antonio Stevens-Arroyo
4. Image created from Taíno pottery sherds identified by archaeologists as Guabancex, the goddess of the hurricane.