In this Book

Caciques and Cemi Idols
summary

Cemís are both portable artifacts and embodiments of persons or spirit, which the Taínos and other natives of the Greater Antilles (ca. AD 1000-1550) regarded as numinous beings with supernatural or magic powers. This volume takes a close look at the relationship between humans and other (non-human) beings that are imbued with cemí power, specifically within the Taíno inter-island cultural sphere encompassing Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The relationships address the important questions of identity and personhood of the cemí icons and their human “owners” and the implications of cemí gift-giving and gift-taking that sustains a complex web of relationships between caciques (chiefs) of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

 

Oliver provides a careful analysis of the four major forms of cemís—three-pointed stones, large stone heads, stone collars, and elbow stones—as well as face masks, which provide an interesting contrast to the stone heads. He finds evidence for his interpretation of human and cemí interactions from a critical review of 16th-century Spanish ethnohistoric documents, especially the Relación Acerca de las Antigüedades de los Indios written by Friar Ramón Pané in 1497–1498 under orders from Christopher Columbus. Buttressed by examples of native resistance and syncretism, the volume discusses the iconoclastic conflicts and the relationship between the icons and the human beings. Focusing on this and on the various contexts in which the relationships were enacted, Oliver reveals how the cemís were central to the exercise of native political power. Such cemís were considered a direct threat to the hegemony of the Spanish conquerors, as these potent objects were seen as allies in the native resistance to the onslaught of Christendom with its icons of saints and virgins.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. Frontmatter
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. vii-viii
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  1. List of Illustrations and Tables
  2. pp. ix-xi
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  1. Preface
  2. pp. xiii-xviii
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  1. Part I: Introduction and Theoretical Premises
  2. p. 1
  1. 1. Introduction
  2. pp. 3-5
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  1. 2. Believers of Cem
  2. pp. 6-42
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  1. 3. Webs of Interaction: Human Beings, Other Beings, and Many Things
  2. pp. 43-47
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  1. 4. Personhood and the Animistic Amerindian Perspective
  2. pp. 48-52
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  1. 5. Contrasting Animistic and Naturalistic Worldviews
  2. pp. 53-55
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  1. Part II: The Form, Personhood, Identity, and Potency of Cem
  2. p. 57
  1. 6. The Cem
  2. pp. 59-63
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  1. 7. Cem
  2. pp. 64-66
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  1. 8. Cem
  2. pp. 67-70
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  1. Part III: The Social Relations and Circulation of Cem
  2. p. 71
  1. 9. The Power and Potency of the Cem
  2. pp. 73-76
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  1. 10. The Display of Cem
  2. pp. 77-82
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  1. 11. Face-to-Face Interactions: Cem
  2. pp. 83-86
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  1. 12. Hanging On to and Losing the Power of the Cem
  2. pp. 87-102
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  1. 13. The Inheritance and Reciprocal Exchange of Cem
  2. pp. 103-108
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  1. 14. Cem
  2. pp. 109-117
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  1. Part IV: Stone Collars, Elbow Stones, Three-Pointers, Stone Heads, and Gua
  2. p. 119
  1. 15. Stone Collars, Elbow Stones, and Caciques
  2. pp. 121-140
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  1. 16. Ancestor Cem
  2. pp. 141-147
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  1. 17. The Gua
  2. pp. 148-156
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  1. 18. The Circulation of Chiefs’ Names, Women, and Cemís: Between the Greater and Lesser Antilles
  2. pp. 157-188
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  1. Part V: The Battles for the Cem
  2. p. 189
  1. 19. Up in Arms: Ta
  2. pp. 191-220
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  1. 20. The Virgin Mary Icons and Native Cem
  2. pp. 221-231
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  1. 21. Religious Syncretism and Transculturation: The Crossroads toward New Identities
  2. pp. 232-244
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  1. Part VI: Conclusions
  2. p. 245
  1. 22. Final Remarks
  2. pp. 247-256
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  1. References Cited
  2. pp. 257-279
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  1. Photo Credits and Copyrights
  2. pp. 281-285
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 287-306
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