Last post I mentioned a little bit about Atabeira (or Atabey). Today I want to explain a little bit more about her significance and a little about what I've learned about Taino myth and culture. Atabeira has many names. this is significant because Taino Indigenous peoples are a group that were prevalent across several islands. Today it is agreed (for the most part) that the Taino's migrated from Venezuela (or in other opinions some part of the very northern border of Latin America). They moved to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica and the surrounding islands that are now part of these countries. They are a subgroup of the Arawak Indigenous peoples and are sometimes referred to as the Indigenous inhabitants of the Greater Antilles just to cover all ground. The commonalities of these groups despite migration to a wide range of islands lies in their pottery, similar petroglyphs referencing gods and goddesses and documents written by early Spanish colonists. The problem with really identifying these people lies in the fact that in the early 16th century, colonialism began to unravel the Taino fabric fairly quickly leaving behind only traces of their culture often misconstrued by the Spanish settlers. Today, anthropologists, ethnographers, archaeologists and many others are taking these documents often fraught with mistakes to task. For a very long time the general consensus was that the Spanish killed off or "integrated" through forced marriage the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. There is proof, however, that some of the Taino may have lived far longer than previously assumed when they were simply forced to live in hiding. Many early documents regarding Taino myth were written from a perspective that belittle they're worship of Cemi's. Spanish colonists believed that the Taino were child-like and savage, completely dismissing the significance of they're practices. Today, however, we have the sophistication to this significance and understand that perhaps all along the Taino were much more aware of their surroundings than the Spanish.
Back to Atabeira. The Taino communities of the Greater Antilles were a matriarchal society. This means that your lineage was determined by your mother's ancestral line. In mythology, Yaya was the head cemi; the god of all gods. He was a masculine god but had little to do with the people directly. Instead, Yaya had intermediaries. Attabeira (Atabeira, Atabey etc. etc.) and Yucahu (Yucahuguama, Yucabagua etc. etc.) were the main intermediaries. Because the Taino's depended so much on both fresh and salt water for travel and agriculture, the intermediaries are mostly water beings.
Attabeira is a feminine goddess (Diosa Madre). She is the mother of Yucahu. This is unique in the sense that she would technically be considered more powerful than her masculine counterpart. Today their is a common misconception that machismo is a unique trait to Puerto Ricans. While this might be true, it is important (at least to me) to note that in many families the female figure often carries the most authority irregardless of the universal fear of the masculine. This, I believe, is just in the fabric of Puerto Rican culture and can be traced way back the the Tainos. Attabeira is the mother of water, mostly fresh waters, rivers and ponds. She is also the symbol of fertility and is often depicted legs splayed like a frog. This imagery isn't meant to be erotic or demeaning but a symbol of her power. It is by her that all life is sustained and by the female that all men and women in Taino culture gain they're rank. Women often prayed to Attabeira for a safe child-birth and she was coined the 'Venus of the Arawaks' by early anthropologists. Images of her can be found near sacred places in Puerto Rico. She is often larger than life size and carved into stone.
Yucahu is often depicted in stone as a tri-pointed, three-dimensional sculpture. The top point is often phallic, indicating his masculinity. Other names for Yucahu signify that he is the lord of Yuca (primary food on the island), the lord of saltwater or fishing and 'without male ancestors.' Kind of like a Jesus type figure but with less sanctity. I'm still researching more about his significance so I'll probably dedicate another post to him shortly.
Frogs and Yuca go hand in hand, believe it or not. Yuca was planted with the phases of the moon and often indicated that it was mating season for the islands many species of frogs. Frogs were kind of an erotic symbol but not in the va-va-voom sexy way we think of eroticism today. Frogs kind of helped men and women in indicating that it was time to get it on. It's not like they were like "I hear frogs mating so we should have sex tonight" but more as a kind of method of keeping track of a woman's cycle. When the frogs came out, it was indicative of a multitude of really important events that all harken to the cycle of birth, rebirth and fertility. So when the frogs came out, it was also time to plant yuca with the surety that it will be a plentiful harvest, and time to conceive children. One of the ideas I really liked was the idea was that when it was time to plant yuca, it also meant that the women were "close" to the the earth again. The implication that women traveled spiritually and had the capacity to sort of control when a man can get close to them physically seems significant.
All of this is going to inform my most recent piece. I've decided that since I'm dealing with identity I kind of want to make each piece a self-portrait of sorts. I'm going to start researching how women play a role in santeria and afro-caribean religions that sprouted post-colonization. I have the basic framework of the piece mapped out and have made a maquette of what I want it to look like so far. As I read and research I tend to experiment with different methods of construction and different media. The beginning and advanced classes are slowly working up to their first assignments and I'll be helping more next week. My studio-mate and I get along great and will be working together a lot as both our work tends to be large and figure based.
Unrelated to the residency: I have my schedule all planned out for my Masters program! I'll be taking two courses this quarter and am looking at graduating in Spring of 2017 with a Masters in Arts Administration. So this year I'm going to be pretty busy with my job as Franklin and Marshall's photo-tech, the residency at Millersville AND my Masters Program. F&M starts this coming Wednesday so I'm looking at splitting my days between the two locations and working in time for coursework on the weekends and evenings. I'm tired just typing that!
Here's to being young, ambitious and Latinx!
This blog functions as a space for me to articulate what goes into making my artwork.