Monday, January 10, 2005

The Great Maw

On Mocha Island off the coast of Chile, chicken bones were found that apparently belong to the pre-Columbian period. Chickens are not native to the Americas and must have come ultimately from Southeast Asia where they were domesticated.

This evidence is also supported by the existence of the blue egg-laying and melanotic (black-skinned) chicken, which form links between the Americas and tropical Asia. It is interesting that the domesticated chicken did not appear to be consumed nor its eggs during early times on either side of the Pacific.

One of the earliest breeds of chicken was the fighting cock. From the fighting cock, special breeds of long-crowing cocks were developed in Asia.

The trail of evidence of transpacific voyages might be obscured a great deal by the northern route which would have led to a thinning out of cultural kits. The drift factor here would loom very large.

Still we do see sometimes some very interesting correspondences. For example, the practice of making barkcloth and the specific tools used to make this cloth. Also, we find the rather unusual practice of ear elongation with disc-like ornaments. Such practices date back in southern Asia to at least the Neolithic period. Shell ear discs have been found at Duyong Cave in the Philippines with a calibrated date of 4,300 BC.

The opening to the underworld in Mesoamerican cultures discussed previously takes on an interesting form known as the double merlon or double step motif. The motif somewhat resembled a letter "U" or "V" in upright or inverted form. This resulted again in the "twin peaks" profile that we have discussed in detail. One example of this are the carved Olmec faces were both the "frowning" mouth and cleft head form inverted and upright double merlon motifs respectively.


Hacha from Oaxaca and a celt from Cardenas, Tobasco from Reilly 1989. The cleft head and mouth represent the Underworld maw. Notice the "twin peaks" appearance of the head.

The monumental heads of Easter Island often have "hats" known as pukao. What exactly the pukao represent is not known but hats, crowns, headdresses and top-knots have been suggested. They may also be a representation of the cosmic mountain.





Easter Island heads with Pukao hats. Notice second figure from left.






Indigenous-style images of Jesus and Mary with child from Easter island. They wear the bird headdress of the Make Make cult.

The hacha image shown above has its hand/feet placed symmetrically on its chest. This posture or mudra is a very common one that occurs early on on both sides of the Pacific. In this posture, the hands are placed in symmetrical fashion either on the hips or across the waist or chest. Here are some examples:



'Mother Goddess' from the Jomon period. Female figurines like this with the hands on the hips or waist are common in Jomon culture.


Figurines from the Kulli culture of Baluchistan.



Dagger hilts from Dong Son and Lang Vac.


The figure on the far left is from Mexico, the other two are from the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific (First two photos from Musee de l'Homme, and the third from the Musee d'Ethnographie).


Monumental stone statue from Raivaevae, Tubuai Group, Bishop Museum.


Statue from Behoa, Sulawesi in Indonesia from Van Heekeren 1958.


These are just a few of numerous examples. Notice that many statues using this posture are female. The symmetrical position of the hands (sometimes the arms are not visible) is key as I believe this is a symbol of duality. The same symbolism is found in the circular eyes often associated with this posture. In most cases, when legs are represented they are square, spread apart and usually in a half-squat position.

The head is disproportionately large as is the mouth, with the latter often gaping wide open representing probably the entrance to the Underworld.

The cleft head motif probably has reference to the anterior fontanelle, a "hole" or soft spot at the top of the skull that hardens as one ages. In many cultures, the anterior fontanelle was viewed as an opening through which the soul ascends to heaven. Notice the feathered plume that extends from the top of the head depicted on the Roti bronze ceremonial axe.


Roti axe head

I submit this plume represents the same thing as the pillar of the Benben Stone of Egypt and the projection at the top of the Aztec glyph for "mountain." They symbolize a volcanic plume which was associated with the Sun.

In Mesoamerican art, we often see the Underworld maw portrayed in dual form as with the Olmec "dragon" and the Mayan bicephalous serpent. This represents the polar openings related to Sun and Moon of the two sacred volcanoes of the Dragon and Bird Clan.


Regards,
Paul Kekai Manansala
Sacramento

References

Johannessen, Carl L. 1981 Folk medicine uses of melanotic Asiatic chickens as evidence of early diffusion to the New World. Social Sciences and Medicine 73-89.

Johannessen, Carl L. and May Chen Fogg. 1982 Melanotic chicken use and Chinese traits in Guatemala. Revista de Historla de America 93:427-434. Mexico.

Langdon, Robert. 1980 When the blue egg chickens come home to roost. The Journal of Pacific History 24:24-36 and 164-192.

Ramírez, José Miguel. 1990/91. Transpacific Contacts: The Mapuche Connection. Rapa Nui Journal Vol. 4 Nº 4:53-55

Reilly, F. Kent. 1987 The Ecological Origins of Olmec Symbols of Rulership. Master’s thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

___. 1991 Olmec Iconographic Influences onthe Symbols of Maya Rulership: An Examination of Possible Sources. In Sixth Palenque Round Table, 1986, edited by Virginia M. Fields (General Editor, Merle Greene Robertson), pp. 151-166. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press.

Simoons, Frederick J. 1966 Eat Not This Flesh: Food Avoidance in the Old World. Madison:University of Wisconsin Press.

Heekeren, H.R. van. 1958. The bronze-iron age of Indonesia. 's-Gravenhage-Martinus Nijhoff, 1958.







1 comments:

Carl said...

My research of Olmec influences on Easter Island and transpacific contacts, led me to your web page.

You make a great statement in which you mention that the cleft head motif probably has reference to the anterior fontanelle, a "hole" or soft spot at the top of the skull that hardens as one ages. In many cultures, the anterior fontanelle was viewed as an opening through which the soul ascends to heaven.

You also mention that the opening to the underworld in Mesoamerican cultures takes on an interesting form known as the double merlon or double step motif. The motif which somewhat resembled a letter "U" or "V" in upright or inverted form. A symbol which forms the "twin peaks" profile, examples of which are depicted on carved Olmec faces (baby were-jaguars) were both the "frowning" mouth (Olmec snarl) and cleft head form inverted and upright double merlon motifs respectively.

As a result of my study (see mushroomstone.com) which follows up on my late father's research Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, I now believe that Mesoamerica and Easter Island shared, along with many other New World cultures, elements of a Pan American belief system so ancient that many of the ideas may have come from Asia to the New World with the first human settlers. These include ideas concerning resurrection based on observation of the constant cycle of death and rebirth in nature, and veneration of the planet Venus based on its predictable cycle of death and rebirth as both an evening star and as a morning star. By the time the first native Mesoamerican religious texts appeared, whether in pictorial codices or, at the urging of various Spanish priests and chroniclers, in Spanish or one of the indigenous languages, there is evidence that this religion was identified with a supreme creator deity. This deity, although known by different names in different languages and culture areas, is clearly identifiable by his attributes. He is probably best known by his Toltec/Aztec name, Quetzalcoatl. I have chosen to call this ancient belief system the Mushroom-Venus/Quetzalcoatl-Tlaloc religion. This Olmec/Maya inspired religion of Venus worship can be found on Easter Island.

Venus was the central component of Maya cosmology. The late Maya archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson (1960:170-172, fig. 31 nos.33-40) identified the Maya quincunx glyph as a variant of the Central Mexican Venus sign. This symbol found on Easter Island is of great antiquity, having been found at the Olmec site of San Lorenzo on Monument 43 dated at 900 B.C. The quincunx is a design that archeoastronomer Susan Milbrath (1999:187) refers to as a reference to the "fiveness" of Venus in the five Venus cycles of the Venus Almanac in the Dresden Codex. The quincunx design also appears frequently in Maya glyphs symbolizing the four cardinal directions and a central entrance to the underworld. The Maya believed that It was through this central portal identified by the color green that souls were resurrected by the planet Venus in its guise of Quetzalcoatl as the Morning Star. According to Maya archaeologist David Freidel (1993, p.124) the Maya called this sacred center, mixik' balamil, which means the navel of the world". Coincidentally the quincunx is a symbol and altar which I mentioned is found on Easter Island. The words "navel of the world" were used by the Easter Islanders to describe their island and their place in the universe.
Carl de Borhegyi

For more visit mushroomstone.com