Taino Petroglyphs: Art For The Spirit
Paul H. Williams, Contributor
From time immemorial, man has always used his imagination and skills to create works of art, conveying abstract or explicit messages. From the postmodern artists to the primitive, people have been recording their ethos, mores, and lifestyles through the medium of art, and from art, we can learn much about ourselves and those who have gone on before us.
Right here in Jamaica, some of those who have inhabited the land long before us were the Tainos, once thought to be extinct. They were the ones the Spaniards came upon when they first landed here in 1494. The island was then called Xamayca. Like other peoples the world over, the Tainos were artists and artisans, among other things.
But according to Cacike Jorge Baracutey Estivez, a Taino born in the Dominican Republic, Taino art is not just about aesthetics - art for art's sake. While serving a practical purpose, the art has a strong spiritual meaning; everything is connected. After the practical and spiritual considerations, beauty is then infused into whatever they are creating.
"Tribal people try to express themselves to the fullest of their abilities, so they inject that beauty into whatever they do," Cacike Estivez told Arts & Education. He now lives in Connecticut, United States, and was in the island last week hosting a Taino camp at Source Farm, located at John's Town, St Thomas.
When Arts & Education visited the camp on Tuesday, January 6, Estivez conducted a workshop on how to make traditional feather headdresses. It was a very interesting and educational session in which participants were challenged to make their own headdresses from material provided by Estivez.
The making of traditional headdresses were out of style, but now, the flamboyant pieces are being reintroduced as a cultural identifier, Estivez said. They are very important, he also said, for group identification, and a source of pride. "We have things that are our own, and we want people to be proud of that," he told Arts & Education.
The feathers for the headdresses are mainly natural ones as the Tainos are close to nature.
They are a people who are connected to the land and sea. As such, many of the objects and craft they create are made of natural materials. They use stones, shells, wood, grass, leaves, vines, straw, palm fronds, seeds, beads to create religious symbols, utensils, cutlery, musical instruments, tools, clothes, necklaces, headdresses, etc, which are invariably artistically designed.
And though Cacike Estivez is not a Jamaican Taino, some of the objects he brought to the camp are made of materials that are found right here in Jamaica, even in our own back yards - no need to go searching for them in caves and under rocks.
The Tainos are also known as proficient rock carvers, and in some of the areas in Jamaica in which they lived, their images, petroglyphs, have withstood the weathering of time. In fact, there is one in particular, in Woodside, St Mary, called 'One Bubby Susan'. It's the upper body of a woman, with one of its breasts eroded.
One Bubby Susan is one of four Taino sites in Woodside that are now under consideration by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust to become national monuments. There will be a community meeting on Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Woodside to discuss "the 'whys', the 'hows', and what a community stands to gain from such a declaration".
Representatives from the Trust and other stakeholders will be in attendance. And while One Bubby Susan, etc, are getting some protection, it is said that Taino petroglyphs in south Manchester's Canoe Valley are being removed. But Taino art is not confined to inanimate objects. Their bodies are canvases on which they create permanent or temporary art work. They are also into body piercing.
The Tainos are no longer the dominant racial group in Jamaica, but we can learn more about them by studying their art and the objects they have left behind. Perhaps their art will help us to make ancestral connections.