One dark and stormy night, @Latinegro founded the 30 Day Latino Blog Challenge. He scheduled it to coincide with Latino/a and Latin American Heritage Month (I hate the word Hispanic) which began today and ends October 15th. And, hospitable fellow that he is, he’s invited any Latino blogger to join in.
Since I can count on one hand the number of fellow Afrolatina bloggers I know, I think I’ll take the plunge. After all, I haven’t written a post specific to Latina or Afrolatina issues for awhile now. For 30 days and nights, I owe the interwebs at least two paragraphs on the topic o’ the day. To follow along (or backtrack) click the tag “latina/o heritiage month.” Today’s topic(s): Post a picture about your culture and explain its significance
As soon as I saw this prompt, I knew exactly which image I would choose:
Above is a petroglyph of the cemí representing Atabey, Taíno deity of fertility, motherhood and sexuality.
According to José R. Oliver:
“…the Taíno-language term cemí refers not to an artifact or object but to an immaterial, numinous, and vital force. Under particular conditions, beings, things, and other phenomena in in nature can be imbued with cemí. Cemí is, therefore, a condition of being, not a thing. It is a numinous power, a driving or vital force that compels action; it is the power to cause, to effect, and also denotes a condition or state of being.” (Oliver, Caciques and Cemí Idols: The Web Spun by Taíno Rulers Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, 2009, 59)
For the Taínos, the original inhabitants of the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the supernatural occurred on a daily basis. Oliver gives the example of a tree moving its roots. But a better explanation might be how my friend once described the literary genre magical realism: “It’s like, say you’re cooking in the kitchen and a rooster walks in through the back door and starts talking to you. And you talk back.”
According to Oliver, any individual could have an occult experience–dreams, visions, or trees moving their roots before your eyes–but only trained practitioners could interpret the meaning of those experiences. Through ceremony and ritual, these practitioners gave shape to the moment, giving it a name, voice, personage all embodied (with artisan help) in an actual, physical manifestation. The result was the cemí, an interpretation, a hypothesis, a reading which represented that experience risen to the level of extraordinary human perception by the sorcerer/shaman/priest/scientist who then took it further and lifted it to the level of ordinary human understanding as a carving in wood or stone, a petroglyph.
The petroglyph (or other “iconic object”) was therefore a bridge between the specialized knowledge of the shaman and the individual’s personal experience, triangulating by its very existence into something that could be shared by or within the community and society as a whole (placed on a personal or communal altar, prayed to, left offerings for, etc) (Oliver, 61).
Atabey is one of the oldest, most revered and iconic of the petroglyphs that have passed down to us today. She is understood to represent the female side of their supreme deity, is associated with water and childbirth, and is seen as a founding or “universal mother” of the Taíno tribes today. You can also find her inspiration, whether intentional or not (although I think Yasmín Hernandez is too fabulous not to have done this on purpose) in Puerto Rican women’s art, poetry and activism: