Coa

Development of the ceremonial coa

Desarrollo de la coa ceremonial

The use of digging sticks for the cultivation of the soil is a widespread custom among native peoples all over South America. There is evidence that many tribes who engaged in the agriculture of tuber roots such as the potato of the Andean Incas and the yuca of the Amazonian Arawaks utilized digging sticks with foot rests that allowed greater force to be applied to the tool via the use of the leg muscles.

We believe that the ancestors of the Taino used two kinds of digging sticks, one with a foot rest and the other without. Today only the digging stick without the foot rest survives in the peasant farmlands of Cuba and still goes by the ancient Taino name of “coa”. However, modern Andean farmers still use the foot rest type of digging stick in the highlands of Peru.

El uso de palos punteagudos con los cuales se abren hollos en la tierra para sembrar es una costumbre ampliamente difundida entre los pueblos indigenas de la America del Sur. Hay evidencia que comprueba que muchas tribus que suelen cultivar tuberculos como las papas de los pueblos andinos y las yucas de los Arauacos amazonicos, utilizan estos instrumentos de agricultura. Algunos de esos palos estan dotados de una clase de apendice firme que sirve para acomodar el pie y con el afincar duro para mas profundo poder hundir la punta en la tierra.

Creemos que nuestros antepasados Tainos usaron dos clases de palos de siembra, algunos con dicho apendice y otros que carecen de el. En el dia de hoy solo los que no lo tienen continuan en uso entre los guajiros de Cuba y se les llama “coa”. Pero en la cordillera de los Andes Peruanos los campesinos todavia usan palos de siembra que tinen ese apendice.

inca digging stick

inca digging stick 2

Drawings of Inca farmers using “foot-rest” type of digging sticks in the fields of ancient Peru. Estos dibujos representan labradores Incas usando palos de siebra dotados del apendice para afincar con el pie.

digging stick

Primitive coas were easily built by the Tainos quite early in their history out of wood. A wooden coa of the “foot-rest” variety could be conceivably fashioned out of a long straight branch of a hardwood tree. A lower branch of this limb could be shaped into the foot rest and the portion that originaly attached to the main trunk of the tree could have been pointed and fire-hardened as the digging end.

The Taino inclination for decoration very probably prompted the carving of the area closest to the digging point where the thickened crook of the branch remained.

It is evident that the end of the “foot-rest” was decorated with the image of a snakes head. The Tainos associated farming with the fertility of the Mother Spirit Ata Bey and she appears to have been associated with this reptile.

Coas primitivas fueron elaboradas facilmente por los antepasados de los Tainos muy temprano en su historia. Es posible que coas de la clase que tienen el apendice para afincar la herramienta en el suelo con el pie fueron fabricadas de una rama de arbol de madera dura. Una rama que crece en la parte inferior de tal palo se cortaba hasta dejar un apendice de seis pulgadas de largo. Este seria destinado a servir como descanso para el pie. Abajo, el otro extremo del palo se apunta hasta convertirse en una pua larga y afilada. Esta pua se endurece aplicandosele la candela. Ese tendria el fin de ser la punta que se hunde en la tierra. La inclinacion tipicamente taina de decorarlo todo probablemente inspiro a los artistas indigenas a tallar el area gruesa de la madera donde la rama corta se unia a la rama larga. Es evidente tambien que la apendice que servia como afinque para el pie fue esculpida en forma de cabeza de serpiente. los Tainos asociaban el espiritu femenino Ata Bey con la serpiente y la reconocian como la potencia de la fecundidad de la tierra.

The archelogical author Eugenio Fernadez Mendez (Fernandez-Mendez 1972) maintained that the Tainos associated the Taino Mother spirit (whom he identified as Ata Bey and Gua ban Ce) with the image of the snake. He also maintained that the so-called “stone collars” were actually representations of the maternal snake spirit, an allegorical “serpent” as a result of the similarity in shape and form. The coa also was such a sacred serpent which allowed to peek into the inner reaches of the Mother Spirit’s womb every time the Taino farmer pushed his or her foot down on the foot-rest and the coa was buried into the soil. The coa was used as a kind of messenger to the inner Earth Mother to plea to her on behalf of the farmer for good crops.

The Tainos, no doubt, found a way to ritualize the long snake-like shape of the coa further by taking ceremonial, non-utilitarian wooden coas and soaking them until it was possible to start bending them. This action allowed the Tainos to make the shape of the agricultural instrument more “snake-like” by turning it into an image of a coiled serpent. The end of the long pole was then tied to the foot-rest to create the characteristic ovoid shape that is familiar to anyone who has seen the famous Antillean “stone collars”.

As they often did, the Tainos adapted this wooden image to their other favorite art medium, stone. Obviously the stone pieces are the ones that most easily survived the ravages of time and Spanish Inquisitonal destruction.

El autor arqueologico Eugenio Fernandez Mendez (Fernandez Mendez 1972) supuso que los tainos asociaban al espiritu materno (quien el identifica con los nombres Ata Bey y Gua ban ce) con la imagen de la serpiente. Tambien presenta la tesis que los llamados collares liticos en realidad representan esa culebra espiritual en posicion enroscada. Se puede postular que por su forma larga y angosta la coa pudo llegar a representar tambien esa culebra espiritual. Indudablemente el collar litico no es nada mas que la representacion en piedra de un objeto de madera que originalmente se formo al doblar una coa ablandada con agua para formar un ovoide o un ovalo amarrando las dos puntas del palo doblado. Despues los tainos, quienes eran famosos por trasladar obras elaboradas en un medio a otro medio, empezaron a tallar esa misma imagen en piedra en vez de madera. Estos objetos de piedra sobrevivieron el tiempo mas facilmente que los de madera.

ballgame_collarThe ritual oval-shaped coa-hoop not only represents the coiled sacred serpent but also the pear-shaped outline of a human uterus. It is the image of Ata Bey’s all-creative womb and the reflection of the circle created by the 28-day menstrual cycle. It is the imagery that comes to mind when one thinks of the moon “Karaya” and its allegorical link between the human woman and the Divine woman.

stone collar 2

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