Atebeyra – Arawak Fertility Goddess

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Monumental petroglyphs of Atabeyra

In the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, in Case 150A, Human Form in Art, is a carved rounded grotesque figure (1917.53.288). From the collection of Sir Edward Burnett Tylor and presented by Lady Tylor in 1917. A letter to Henry Balfour from the War Office dated 3.7.1917 reads “Dear Balfour…Your stone looks very nice. It is obviously insular Arawak or Tainan. Not Cuba I think: and not Jamaica, but probably San Domingo or Puerto Rico. Most probably the last.”

The figure is Atebeyra the Arawak or Taino fertility goddess. The mother of Yucaha – god of the cassava – she is the goddess of fresh water and fertility and thus connected to childbirth and the moon. Atebeyra is also known as Mujer de Caguana or Mother of Creation. She has many functional names in Taino religion and culture and these include Atabei, Atabex, Guimazoa and Guabancex the goddess of hurricanes. As an ‘Earth Mother’ and ‘Mother of the Waters’ she is also known as Attabeira, Atabey, and Atabei, as well as being a supreme goddess.

Tainos are the pre-Colombian indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles are Cuba, Jamaica, Hispanioloa – Haiti and the Dominican republic -. The Lesser Antilles comprise The Bahamas, the Leeward and Windward Islands. Bahamas Tainos are known as the Lucayan. Seafaring Taino are related to the South American Arawaks. Columbus called the islanders of the north the Taino after the Arawakan word for ‘friendly people’, differentiating them from the hostile Carib from the mainland South American populations.

During the eighteenth century, despite arriving in the Caribbean via modern Guyana and Venezuela around 1000 BC the Taino, during the period of European colonisation, were decimated by enforced plantation working and introduced diseases. Sadly the demise of the insular Arawak left us only some of their words which have been incorporated into our language – potato (batata), hurricane (juracan), canoe (Kanoa), hammock (hamaca), barbecue (barbacoa), and tobacco (tabaco). They left their effigies, some of which are women giving birth, and rock art the length of the Caribbean. One of these goddess figures is the routund and crdely crafted stone figure of Atabeyra in case 150A.

References:

Olsen, F. (1974). On the Trail of the Arawaks.  University of Oklahoma Press.

Rouse, I. (1992). The Tainos. Yale University Press.

January 19th, 2010.

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