Caribbean Mythology: History, Beliefs, Gods, Legends +19 Myths

Discover with us all the Mythology of the Caribbean. Know all the most fascinating stories with their origins, gods and most popular myths.

Caribbean Mythology
Caribbean Mythology

Caribbean Mythology

The mythology of the Caribbean was very similar to that of the peoples of Central and South America. They shared ideas regarding the beliefs of the cosmos and the essence of spirits in the physical world; their basic ideology was metamorphosis, which is nothing more than the ability to change from animal to human appearance and vice versa.

Within the mythology of the Caribbean we can appreciate human figures that possess superhuman forces, and also animal figures that share human sensibilities. They represented their ancestors in many of these animals and the souls of their chiefs in trees sacred to them. Many of their myths and legends tell us about the way they saw and understood the world and its creation.

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History of Caribbean Mythology

The Caribbeans are the members of a native people of South America, they moved to the islands that were in the sea around the year 1000 A.D.; they settled on the islands of Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent and Dominica making them the main cities of the Caribs.

At the time of the colonizers, they were characterized among other groups by their great warfare skills as they fiercely defended their territories. It was common for women to be in charge of agricultural and domestic tasks, while men were responsible for hunting and fishing.

The most transcendental aspect of Caribbean mythology was “cannibalism”. It played a very important role in their religion because they ate human flesh and made ceremonial drinks with some unknown liquids and the pulverized bones of their relatives and bravest warriors; but it was only part of their rituals to acquire the skills of these fallen warriors.

Roots of Caribbean mythology

The roots of the Caribbean mythology come from South America; mainly from the lowlands of the rainy zone of the Amazon jungles. Bringing with them their shamanic vision. Despite the large influx of migrations, the indigenous Caribbean peoples maintained contact with their peoples through trade and their participation in warfare with the colonizers.

The migrations caused a great exchange of ideas and beliefs that influenced changes in pottery, clothing, language, customs and even their rituals and beliefs. The geographic system also had a great influence on the roots of the Caribbean mythology, due to the separation of the islands by the wide sea, I believe limitations at the economic, social and religious level.

Caribbean Mythology Region
Caribbean region

Making it difficult to maintain the integrity of their roots; however, they retained in common many aspects of their South American roots such as the belief in a physical world filled with spirits and ancestral beings.

The Caribbean islands did not have the flora and fauna of South America, so they had to adapt and change their customs in the areas of hunting, feeding, gathering and above all in their religion.

They replaced predatory animals with local animals, which greatly influenced their mystical representations. For example, it seems that dogs served as substitutes for the jaguar on many occasions due to the similarity of their fangs.

Myths and Legends of Caribbean Mythology

As a custom in the mythology of the Caribbean is the oral transmission of myths and legends full of expressions, songs, rituals and stories that express the history of their ancestors. Among its most renowned myths and legends we find the following:

Bachue

She was a woman who came out of the Iguaque lagoon at dawn with a child in her arms, she was beautiful with black hair so long that it dragged and only had on a tunic. Bachue was in charge of populating the world and had many children, thus forming the Muisca culture. She taught them everything they needed to survive, hunting, gathering, manipulating fire and stone, among others. For this reason, they all worship the Iguaque Lagoon.

bachue
Bachue

The Caiman Man

Saúl Montenegro was a person who loved to watch the bathers; when he discovered that a scientist had created some potions, red to turn him into an alligator and white to turn him into a human, he used them for a while. One day the scientist, mistaking him for a real alligator, got scared and dropped the white potion only enough for his head.

The scientist died and the man was left with the head of a human and the body of an alligator wandering forever.

The legend of the mojana

The mojana was a dwarf woman with golden hair so long that it trailed. She lived in a stone house underwater where she raised domestic animals and it was said that she used to bathe with a totuma made of gold. Her legend became famous because she abducted children who bathed around her domain and took them to her house; to prevent her from abducting them, special cords were placed around the children’s necks and waists.

Provincial legend of Francisco the man

In a town of the middle Guajira, specifically Tomarrazon, is this legend of Francisco the man . This man went from town to town, barefoot with his accordion; he was characterized by seducing women, drinking rum and telling the latest news.

Until one night when he was returning from one of his songs he found himself face to face with the devil; and the way he fought for his soul was through a duel with his accordion. He played the Credo backwards with his accordion and won the contest.

Origin of the Macuira Mountain Range

In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a cacique had his hut and could look at the faces of his three sons. One night in his dreams he saw that his sons were moving away to the north of the guajira; he dreamed this many nights.

Until one day, worried about his dreams, he went to the children’s bedroom and saw that they were not at home. Filled with anguish he looked towards the north of the guajira and saw the three peaks into which his three sons had been transformed, thus forming the Serranía de la Macuira.

The rider

They describe a man who has gold teeth, rides a white horse and carries seven dogs behind him; and he appears on nights when the moon is full. He waits at midnight when there are fewer people and then tricks the people he meets on the road by being very kind to them so that they ride with him on his white horse and he makes them disappear forever.

The elves

They call this wayuu little ones that come out during the winter; these come out of the vegetation around midnight making whistling noises. The people who get them make mincemeat out of them and then eat them. The Wayuu keep a fire lit at night and many dogs, because the goblins are afraid of them and do not approach them.

Keralia

When she falls in love, she transforms into a human and visits the human she loves. When she becomes pregnant, she dies in childbirth; and from her womb only toads, snakes and all kinds of animals come out. When she goes out at night she appears as the light of a searchlight, and every man she gets in her path causes her to vomit and die immediately.

Keralia
Keralia

The mohán

It is a being described as an old man who has long hair and an abundant beard. In some occasions he comes out naked and in others he is described as half human and half fish, seen in the rivers and reed beds.

The Caribs called the priests “mohán”; hence the name of this legend. They thought it liked the blood of newborns and took beautiful and younger women to the rivers. The mohán likes salt and smoking, the fishermen offered tobacco and salt to the mohán on the rocks of the river so that he would leave them in peace in order to catch a good catch.

Beliefs of Caribbean mythology

Although the origin of the beliefs of the Caribbean mythology comes from South America, when adding the migrations they had, they created a modification in their culture and religion. They represented their divinities in tablets called “zemis”; they considered trees as bridges between heaven and earth, they called them “mystic stairs” and provided them with the material to make their canoes and coffins for the dead.

They had shamans who were in charge of rituals, communication with the spirits and the healing processes of the people. The animals represented their myths and legends and in some occasions some deities.

There was also a cosmic link linked to jewelry, which represented a cosmic power; they believed that their chiefs were protected by wearing these ornaments. This created the trade of gold, carved jade stones and gold-copper alloys.

Gods of Caribbean mythology

Within the Caribbean mythology basically their deities were limited to the cosmos and creation, their main gods were:

  • Amalivaca: he was considered the creator god of the world and also of men.
  • Zuhé: in Caribbean mythology they loved to worship the sun and Zuhé represented their sun god.
  • Chia: the moon was also very important for the Caribs, and Chia was their moon god. They made many myths about him.
  • Osemma: is the god of agriculture.

Caribbean Mythology Sculptures

To represent and venerate their deities, in the Caribbean mythology there is no evidence of temples or monuments. What they did was to make tablets that they called“zemis“.

The zemis were powerful and represented their gods and mythical heroes; they were made of stone, wood and shell. They were believed to have supernatural power from their raw material to the finished carving.

zemis in Caribbean Mythology
zemis of Caribbean mythology

There is a great diversity of zemis; there were those with bird shapes and also others with human shapes. Ceremonial benches were very common, they were called “duhos”. They were very well elaborated and were used for the shamans to rest while they made their astral trips to the world of the spirits.

Another very famous zemi were the jade frogs; they had an enigmatic face, fixed eyes and spiral decorations. They were half-human half-animal beings representing the powers of nature.

Conclusion

Although the mythology of the Caribbean is less known than that of South America and Mesoamerica; important fragments of their religion remain; it is characterized by its great variety of myths and legends throughout the ages, with animal and human representations. They have a great cosmic vision in the world of the spirits and their deities basically referred to the stars.

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