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“Gods… Adorned with the Embroiderer’s Needle”: The Materials, Making and Meaning of a Taino Cotton Reliquary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Joanna Ostapkowicz
Affiliation:
World Museum Liverpool, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EN, UK (Joanna.Ostapkowicz@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk)
Lee Newsom
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802

Abstract

A unique cotton Taíno reliquary—the only extant example currently known—provides an unprecedented window onto the complex mortuary and ritual ceremonies of the pre-Hispanic Caribbean. This study explores its cultural context as recorded by the early Spanish and French chroniclers and missionaries who were witness to the use and beliefs surrounding these objects in both the Greater and Lesser Antilles. It provides the first AMS radiocarbon date for the reliquary, placing it within a firmer historical context. It also examines the woven sculpture in some detail, providing a review of the manufacture process and a detailed study of the components—cotton, animal hair, lianas, gourd, resins and shell—that went into its creation. From the wrapping of important cemís (representations of spirits) in cotton, to the binding of the skeletal remains of venerated ancestors within elaborate weavings, cotton had an intrinsic value as a material that wrapped and bound the ancestors to the living and the living to each other.

Un exclusivo relicario taíno de algodón—el único ejemplar conocido hasta la fecha—provee una mirada sin precedentes hacia las complejas ceremonias y rituales del Caribe prehispánico. El presente estudio explora el registro cultural asociado al relicario a través de los registros realizados por los primeros cronistas y misioneros españoles y franceses, quienes fueron testigos de los usos y creencias que rodearon a estos objetos tanto en las Antillas Mayores como Menores. Este objeto provee una de las primeras dataciones por radiocarbono (AMS), localizándolo dentro de un claro contexto histórico. Al mismo tiempo, se examina la estructura del tejido en cierto detalle, brindando una revisión del proceso de manufactura y un detallado estudio de los componentes—algodón, pelo animal, lianas, calabaza, resinas y conchas—utilizados para su creación. Desde la envoltura de importantes cemís en el algodón, hasta la unión de restos de esqueletos provenientes de venerados ancestros dentro de elaborados tejidos, el algodón tuvo un valor intrínseco como material que “envolvió y unió” a los ancestros con los vivos, y a los vivos entre sí.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2012 by the Society for American Archaeology.

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