The Arawaks Essay

2729 words - 11 pages



The Arawaks usually settled on the first island they came to and after a few years they would move again. The reason for this is still somewhat of a mystery today. A reason for this type of 'behavior' may have been that life on the coast and islands was much easier compared with the harsh jungle climate and equally dangerous animals. The soils may have been easier to cultivate and maybe because the population was growing, more land was needed to farm, hunt and fish. This type of settlement pattern began to change as the Caribs began their movement into the Caribbean as well.
The Arawaks were gentle, pleasure loving people who liked dancing and ...view middle of the document...

Originating in South America, these Indians had gradually colonized the Caribbean. Eventually they migrated north to the Bahamas chain. These arawaks were called Lucayans.


The Lucayans chosen village sites on the top of hills as a precaution against surprise attacks. Most Lucayans communities were small, although a few had more than a thousand houses. The Lucayans had two types of houses. The bohio, which was the cacique's house, but the name was applied loosely to all houses. Because of his status, the bohio should be rectangular, but the Lucayans found that building this was difficult, so a round house was used instead. The other was the caneye or family house. The construction of these houses is rather simple. Wooden posts were put into the ground in a circle and canes were woven between them and tied with creepers. The roof was thatched in a conical shape and a hole was left at the top to allow smoke to escape. There were no windows and only an opening was left for a door. The houses were thoroughly built and could withstand hurricanes.



The basis for the Lucayans beliefs were a mixture of Zemism and spiritualism with emphasis on nature worship, ancestor worship and protective magic.
They believed in a sky-god and an earth-goddess. The Lucayans had a creation story, which said that the first man escaped from a cave with the sun when the keeper of the cave forgot to close it. Another story said that men were turned into animals and plants because they looked at the sun, which was forbidden.
Since both the sky-god and earth-goddess were too far away to affect them, the Lucayans believed that there were many nature gods and ancestral spirits who controlled the wind, rain, sickness, fire, hurricanes, luck, misfortune and fertility, in the case of the earth-goddess. Each of these gods were represented by a zemi, which were idols made from wood, bone, stone or shell in the form of a human or animal. Cotton zemis held the bones of a respected ancestor. The skulls and bones of ancestors could also be neatly packed in a zemi basket and kept in the household. Lucayans believed that trees, rivers and rocks were the homes of evil spirits. They wore amulets to protect themselves, painted their bodies with sacred designs and took specially prepared medicine. In addition, they also believed in spirits called opia, which belonged to the dead, who returned at night to enter their bodies. For this reason they ventured out at night only in groups, and protected themselves by wearing zemis around their necks or on their foreheads.
Each village had its own zemi house, set aside from the other buildings. It was a shadowy place, and since ordinary people could not communicate with the gods or ancestors through the zemis, then priests had to pray, offered food and clothing, to cure sickness, or bring good fortune, or make crops grow, or keep away the Caribs. A bowl of tobacco or cohaba (powdered tobacco) was...

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