Barasana Caterpillar Jaguar Constellation

The Barasana are a group of forest-dwellers in the Colombian Amazon. They survive by a mixture of fishing, hunting, and gathering, supplemented by slash-and-burn agriculture. June, July, and August (in our calendar) are difficult months for them, since their regular food sources are scarce. But at this time of year pupating caterpillars fall down from the trees and provide a much-needed source of nutrition. The date this happens coincides with the time when the Caterpillar Jaguar, a constellation regarded by the Barasana as (among other things) the Father of Caterpillars, rises higher and higher in the sky at dusk. Since the Caterpillar Jaguar is formed by stars in our constellations of Scorpius and Cetus, it is easy to explain, from a Western perspective, the association that the Barasana observe: the time of year following the acronical rising of Scorpius and Cetus happens to be the time of year when several species of caterpillar pupate.

The Barasana can explain the phenomenon too. They say that the Father of Caterpillars, by rising higher and higher in the sky at dusk, is directly responsible for the increasing numbers of earthly caterpillars. In the Barasana worldview, there exists a direct correspondence between two entities that from a Western perspective are quite distinct: the position of a constellation in the sky and the behavior of terrestrial creatures.

This is a good example of how a non-Western worldview can make sense of the cosmos by drawing direct connections between things that we would regard as quite unconnected. It is also a good example of a way of understanding the world that (at least potentially) has predictive capability: when the constellation rises, then the caterpillars will start to appear. This characteristic of Barasana cosmology, some would argue, means that we could regard it as a rudimentary form of science. However, it might also be described by others as astrology in the sense that events of earth are perceived to be determined by, or at least directly linked with, the configuration of objects in the sky.

See also:

Astrology; Cosmology; Science or Symbolism?

Heliacal Rise.

References and further reading

Aveni, Anthony F., and Gary Urton, eds. Ethnoastronomy and Archaeoas-tronomy in the American Tropics, 183-201. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1982.

Hugh-Jones, Stephen. The Palm and the Pleiades: Initiation and Cosmology in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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