Monday, January 30, 2017

Iguana: A god as food

The Rock Iguana (Cyclura collei) here is primarily herbivorous and was both a god and a source of food for the Yamaye, Jamaica's indigenous Taino people. Probably fixed on a barbecoa (source word of barbecue) with habanero pepper, allspice (pimento), other endemic spices, and sea salt. (According to one source, the Taino of Turks and Caicos Islands produced salt for trade with the Maya). Today, the iguana has been replaced in the wild diet by introduced chickens and often domesticated or feral pigs prepared as "jerk", a Maya source word linked to "jerky". Eaten in those areas of the Caribbean and other parts of the Americas, the flesh of this large lizard is said to "taste like chicken" (Anthony Bourdain?). As an important source of protein, it was hunted into near extinction on some Caribbean territories.

"The Jamaican Iguana declined dramatically during the second half of the 19th century, probably due to the introduction of the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus [=auropunctatus])"-IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
                                     Rare Jamaican Rock Iguana -- Hope Gardens Zoo, St. Andrew, Jamaica. (1994)

(About): The Hope Gardens Zoo was named for a large estate once owned by the family who also possessed the infamous  (cursed) Hope Diamond, now in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. The iguana, once plentiful throughout the island, was thought hunted into extinction. This one was part of  a clutch with eggs found in the Hellshire Hills, in the parish of St. Catherine. The Jamaican iguana was discovered in the early 1990s in the Hellshire's dry forest that became a sanctuary. The area also has an important Yamaye petroglyph inscribed Taino cave with a clearwater spring at the base of a limestone cenote-like pit. The area is strewn with thorn or maka bushes (maka--from maccaw or makafat palm, a favorite fruit of the now extinct bird) and a variety of exotic cacti.  --Photography and artwork copyrighted by Michael Auld
As a god, the large lizard was revered as a representative of the sun. Also appearing as a Jamaican schoolboy's best pal in the story, Ticky-Ticky's Quest,  (Illustration below: The spider-boy, Ticky-Ticky sits next to his best friend Iggy Iguana as a busted Duppy balloon's seeds float around them like snowflakes.).  The the hero, Ticky-Ticky, grapples with the concept of "eating a god". He asks his friend, Iggy Iguana, who answers in the island's informal patois;
  • "Iguanas love de sun, so we sit on rocks soakin' up its life-givin' ultraviolet rays," Iggi said, using more big words that he had learned in biology class. "De iguana's back is like de rays of de sun. When dey eat us, de Taíno tek in all de energy from de sun dat is in our flesh," Iggi explained.
  • "Woi! Yu don't hate dem for that? I mean, bein' hunted by dem an' all," Ticky-Ticky asked.

  • "Mí gran-fadah say dat dese are de laws of nature dat we mus' follow," Iggy explained. "Him say humans 'unt us, an' dis is how nature is. Him say dat we iguanas eat plants, an' dat's de plant's destiny. My fadah tol' me dat humans, other animals, de plants, de sea, de universe... every t'ing mus' follow dese laws. But de Taíno believe dat they should neva eat de young. If a 'unter turn a young animal into a orphan, de 'unter had to adopt an' tek care of de orphan.

The Twins: Iguanaboina

As Iguana-Boina, the god was equal to sun deities around the world and a major half of the concept of "the source of life".

Right: Boinayel. mboi = serpent. una = dark. His name 
means Son (el) of the Dark Cloud-Serpent (
boina)
Left: Marohu (ma = without. aro = clouds). Boinayel's twin brother is the iguana lizard whose serrated dorsal crest suggests the rays of the sun. 
Above: Sculpture of the Iguana-Boina (a) Plexiglass and welded steel; 9 feet tall); 
 (c) Iguana-Boina intersect as support of a house,
the visualization of an agricultural
people who believed that the sun and
rainfall were the twin sources of life.
(b) Detail of a wooden upright of a bohio or
roundhouse.

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