Caribbean Archaeoastronomy

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The study of Caribbean archaeoastronomy is still in its initial phases. Much of the work has been done by Robiou Lamarche (1985), whose summary is followed here.

The Caribbean Islands were peopled by groups from South America, principally Arawakan and Cariban speakers. Robiou has attempted a synthesis of the mythology with local ecology, astronomically marked seasonal events, and with astronomical alignments, especially of plazas and ballcourts among the Taino. Taino mythology was recorded by friar Ramon Pane in 1498, the earliest recorded work on the beliefs of any tribe in the Americas. Robiou has suggested that three mythological themes may be associated with astronomy on the basis of comparisons with South American myths. The myth of weeping children, abandoned by their mothers, and changed into frogs is, he thinks, to be associated with the Pleiades. In the Taino version, the mothers of the children are carried off by the hero, Gua-hayona, in his canoe. At the start of his voyage, Guahayona drowned his brother-in-law, Anacacuya. Robiou accepts a translation of Anacacuya as "Central Spirit" or "Star of the Centre," which he equates with the Pole Star and with hurricanes as well with the Quiche god Hurakan, who is also identified with the "Centre of the Sky" according to Robiou. Guahayona ended his voyage at the mythical island of Guanin, the name for a gold-copper alloy, for a crescent-shaped ornament made from it and for the planet Venus (Robiou Lamarche 1992, p. 66).

Another myth (Robiou Lamarche 1990, p. 163) tells of the killing of Yayael, son of Yaya, the supreme being, because of his rebellion against his father. His bones were put in a gourd, from which all fishes originated. When the gourd was tipped over by two pairs of twins, the water that poured out of the gourd became the ocean. Then, a turtle was created on the shoulder of the twin, Deminan (Robiou Lamarche 1990, p. 167). Parallel South American myths of the origin of fishes suggest to Robiou that this myth should be associated with Orion.

Robiou (1990, p. 166) describes a number of sites that he thinks indicate sophisticated solar observations. The most clearcut of these is at Bajuro de los Cerezos, where a line of standing stones is oriented to the winter solstice. At

Figure 14.35. The asterisms of the Wayana of Surinam and French Guiana. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Chacuey, among many other features, is an ellipsoidal plaza. A line from the western entrance to the eastern entrance marks the rising of the winter solstice Sun. The reciprocal line of summer solstice sunset is marked by a cairn. Outside the ellipse, two parallel causeways, running toward the Chacuey River, are aligned with equinox sunrises and sunsets. Equinox alignments are also found at Plaza M, Cajuana, and at the principal plaza at the site of Tibes. At the present time, there has been no systematic study of site alignments, nor any statistical appraisal, but these preliminary results seem congruent with what we know of Amazonian tribes in their homelands.

Robiou Lamarche (1992, p. 167) finishes by suggesting the use of an agricultural calendar, associated with the frog, rains, and the Moon, and based on the movements of the Pleiades; a separate solar year is associated with the turtle, the theft of fire, the creation of fishes, and Orion. All of this is far from demonstrated but is an interesting attempt to unify diverse kinds of evidence.

This concludes our treatment of the native and pretele-scopic astronomy of all the separate culture areas. We now explore the purposes of ancient astronomy.

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