The cosmology of the Kalinago, their perception and understanding of the world they lived in, had been inherited from generations of islanders before them. It had been transferred through tribal elders in story and song, by instruction and ceremony so that it gave them order to the chaos of the world. It was aimed at achieving balance between good and evil. It anchored the society in a symbiotic relationship with nature. It gave structure to their lives. This relationship was based on observation and a deep knowledge of their environment. The Amerindian in the islands was an integral part of the natural cycle, and the spirits which held it all in place had to be understood and placated. Without this, the people's access to, and use of, the natural resources available for gathering, hunting and horticulture would be greatly hindered.
The move to the islands meant a cultural transformation from a continental world to that of an island world. The geophysical structure of the islands determined a very different flora, fauna and marine ecology from what existed along the rivers and coastline of the continent. The cosmology had to change as well.
It was not only the techniques and resources of hunting, gathering and horticulture, which had to be restructured. The main characters that made up their mythology had to be transformed. There were no jaguars, tapirs or anacondas here and so the protagonists of the island mythology gradually took on the guise of bat, frog, gecko, owl and boa constrictor. These were important inn placing men and women's roles into the orderly cycle of life's work and the group's survival.
For the Lesser Antilles, the umbilical cord to the mainland was the Orinoco
delta region and the river that rises in the hinterland beyond it. The river
and its tributaries had been the primary means of communication for the pre-Columbian
settlers of the Caribbean. Their river and forest cultures had long existed
within a cosmology tied together by mythologically encoded perceptions of rivers,
water currents, canoes and star lore (de Civrieux 1980; Wilbert 1993; Taylor
1946a). To give an example, the landmass of South America had previously extended
much further north than at present and included all of the island of Trinidad.
This geographical condition existed until 6,000 years ago, when the Caribbean
Sea was at a lower level (Nicholson 1976:4/2; Hodell et al. 1991). Significantly
this geophysical phenomenon remains registered within the mythic geography of
the Warao who now live on the Orinoco delta. Their oral history, encoded in
creation myths, speaks of a time when the Serpent's Mouth was dry and Trinidad
was connected to the mainland (Wilbert 1993:7). The ancestral memory of a period
so remote does suggest the remarkable resilience of tribal history contained
The Volcanic Peak
Coming from the flat river banks and delta region it was the volcanic peaks, rising out of the sea in a gently curving arc along their route northwards which became the main symbol in their mythic geography once they reached the islands. These peaks gave the islands life and they were the source of all the natural resources that the islands contained. The image of the volcano became the centerpiece for the cosmology of the successive waves of island-based tribes that followed the first agricultural and pottery making people now known as the Saladoid. From their arrival in the islands at the beginning of the Christian era, the volcano was represented in shell, stone and clay in the form of a religious object called a zemi. Because these particular zemies are cut, carved or moulded into the shape of the triangle of a volcanic peak, they are called "three-pointers".
Once on the islands, these people were well aware of the power of the volcano. Saladoid sites in Dominica and Martinique have been found covered in volcanic ash. They would have witnessed the periodic swarms of tremors, earthquakes and the eruptions themselves. Along the chain there were fumeroles and smouldering craters and crater lakes as here in Grenada. In Kalinago myth, which was handed down through other previous occupants of the islands, there was a time when all the land was hot and soft and rose out of the sea (Taylor 1952). Animals came upon these soft islands led by the island version of the South American anaconda in the form of antillian boa constrictors. These arrival points were geological features called dykes, where volcanic forces have split the bedrock forcing the lava through the crack horizontally.
Small zemis of this type were buried in fields to make crops grow, larger ones of stone were carved with the earth spirit at their base holding the volcano on the back. "The earth was an indulgent mother who furnished them with all things necessary to life" (Davies:1666:277). "Our gods have made our country and cause our manioc to grow", the Kalinago told Christian missionaries. To the zemis they make offerings of cassava and their first fruit (Davies: 1666:278-79).
The Cycle of the Year
Horticulture had to be even more carefully controlled and understood than hunting and gathering for food and materials for tools. Knowledge of the seasonal changes on this tropical island was crucial and it was also anchored by myth. Every year planet Earth goes through its seasonal cycles as it tilts backwards and forwards in its continuous journey around the sun. For thousands of years, all over the planet, groups of human beings have patterned their lives and their beliefs on this cycle of the seasons. Agricultural people, herders of livestock, hunters and gatherers all created religions to give order to their lives and to explain the world around them and their place within it. Most of their religious festivals were, or still are, based on these seasonal changes and apparent movements of the sun. Winter, spring, summer and autumn are the marked seasons of the temperate regions of the northern and southern hemisphere. When colonizers arrived in the Caribbean from Western Europe, they brought their own seasonal and religious perception of the temperate, Christianized world with them. As the conquerors, this "world view" was omnipotent and it was superimposed upon the tropical environment and the people who were found here.
As the sun was seen to pass south over the equator once more,
halfway through the time of the frog Woman, it was the peak time (in modern
day mid September) for the fearful spirit Huracan to make his appearance. With
powerful winds he tears the forsts to shreds, destroys houses and raises ocean
waves. The women had to have their plants safely under the ground by the time
that the sun had marked its halfway path over the equator, for this marked the
time of Huracan's most powerful wrath. The Kalinago festivals of December 21,
at the end of the time of the Frog Woman also celebrated the end of the season
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