Florida Museum of Natural History


Caribbean Archaeology Program Icon

Caribbean Archaeology Program Icon

The Caribbean Archaeology Program's icon is a wooden statue that reportedly was found in the Turks and Caicos Islands around the turn of the century. Today it is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. This dog-like figure is carved from a single piece of wood and stands 40 inches tall (100.3 cm). Anthropologist J. J. Arrom has interpreted the statue as representing the Taino cemí (spirit) Opiyelguobirán. According to Ramón Pané, the Jeronymite friar who was sent by Columbus to study Taino mythology, "They say a certain cemí, Opiyelguobirán, had four feet like a dog and is [made] of wood, and often he comes out of the house at night and enters the forests. They go there to seek him and bring him back to the house. They bind him with cords, but he returns to the forests." Arrom suggested that this spirit who constantly sought the woods, where the the opías or spirits of the dead dwelt, served as the daylight guardian. Greek mythology assigned a similar role to Cherberus, the three-headed dog who stood at the river crossing that marked the entrance into the realm of Pluto. In line with Arrom's conclusions, Antonio Stevens-Arroyo identifies Opiyelguobirán as one of the twins who assist Maquetaurie Guayaba. Maquetaurie Guayaba was the Lord of the Dead, Master of Sweetness and Delight, symbol of the guayaba berry (whose juice produced a black body paint which symbolized death); he was represented by bat symbols. Opiyelguobirán as Guardian of the Dead and Master of Privacy and Felicity, was the twin of Corocote, Guardian of Sexual Delight, Romance, and Spontaneity, he was a picaresque spirit. However, this is only one of the ways that Opiyelguobirán was represented. As Henry Petitjean Roget points out, "Zemis are not specific representations but symbolic entities...like many symbols, [they] cannot be reduced to a single interpretation." Petitjean Roget associates Opiyelguobirán with the discovery of the first wild bee honey. As such, he is a metaphor for the power of the cacique (chief).

Sources: Ramón Pané, Relación acerca de las antiguedades de los indios, edited by J. J. Arrom. Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1974. Henry Petitjean Roget, Notes on ancient Caribbean art and mythology, in The indigenous people of the Caribbean, edited by Samuel M. Wilson, pp. 100-108, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1997. Antonio Stevens-Arroyo, Cave of the Jagua: The mythological world of the Tainos, University of New Mexico Press, Alburquerque, 1988 (pp. 234-235).

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