Rare Taino spatula
Taino culture, Hispaniola or Jamaica, 1520-1668 AD
Wood with traces of resinous black pigment
Length : 27 cm
Provenance : Old private collection, Scotland
Rick Gallagher, New York
Kevin Conru, London
John Giltsoff, Spain
Finch & Co., London
Collection Alexandre Bernand, Paris
In June 1792, near the settlement of Vere in Jamaica, a surveyor who was measuring the land in Carpenters Mountain region found accidentally a small group of wooden sculptures hidden in a natural cave near the summit of a mountain. These three figures were exhibited for the first time at the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1799 by Isaac Alves Rebello. The figures’ subsequent provenance after this remains obscure before their acquisition by the British Museum.
All three figures are carved from a tropical hardwood called guayacan (Guaiacum officinale L.). The surface of the sculptures were probably polished with pebbles to bring the resin to the surface and attain the black lustre.
The present object, an exceptionnally rare vomitive spatula, was carved by the Taino people of the Greater Antilles around the time of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Carribean, at the turn of the fifteenth century. This spatula, like the three figures mentioned above, are quite different than other Taino sculptures of the same corpus. The Taino produced a large number of sculptures spread over several centuries and across a vast region, with a great diversity of local styles. The very few spatulas and zemi figures held in museums are quite different from each others, in the typology but also in the style of carving, the wood and the patina.
The comparison between the above spatula and the three sculptures from the British Museum becomes relevant when one examines the surface of the objects closer. The four objects show the same lustrous patina, a dark brown colour with traces of black resinous pigment, and the knotty aspect confirms that it is most probably the same wood. More interesting is the similarity between the slightly engraved network of motifs along the surface of the spatula and the crown on top of the bird-headed figure from the British Museum, consisting of a row of ondulating lines ending by small dots. Furtheremore, the radiocarbon dating of this particular figure is comparable with the results obtained for the Spatula.
The carbon-14 analysis performed by Ciram laboratory has indicated a datation comprised between whether 1520-1576 or 1622-1668.
The Taino centered their religion on the worship of zemis, or deities. Shamans (behiques) served as intermediaries between supernatural and natural worlds. They communicated with deities by inhaling cohoba powder, a hallucinogen that was mixed with tobacco to maximize its effect.
Snuff, made from the crushed seeds of the piptadenia tree, would then be taken in front of the Zemi through a forked tube. This caused hallucinations during which the Zemi would make known his will. Carved spoons were used to ladle the powder, which was then inhaled through the nose with a tube. Before ingestion, the shaman purified himself by purging with a vomiting stick. These spatulas were made of wood, bone or shell, and were essential to the ritual of purification. Ritual objects of bone and wood such as the ones seen here were exquisitely carved with images of zemis, who helped the shaman achieve ecstatic states. Zemis were the spirits of ancestors from whom the Taino sought assistance in their everyday life, and whom they worshipped through the carvings that were made to represent them. Once a year every Taino village would pay homage to the Zemis of their chief.
The ceremony began with a procession of villagers wearing their ornaments carrying baskets of cassava bread and singing songs about the Zemis. The chief sat at the entrance to the temple beating a drum while the priests entered and dressed the Zemis. The villagers presented themselves before the temple and purified themselves by pressing a vomit spatula down their throat to induce vomiting. The women then brought cassava bread to the priests who offered it to the Zemis. Dancing and singing followed praising the chief, the ancestors and the Zemis. Prayers were then offered for the prosperity of the village. Finally, the priests broke up the cassava bread and distributed pieces to the heads of families and these fragments would be preserved throughout the year as protection against accidents and illness.
Price : on request