If you look at the zemi found at the site of Kelbey’s Ridge on the North-eastern side of Saba, you might not even recognise it because of its rugged appearance. This specific three-pointer is made from coral and was found in a settlement dating to the fourteenth century AD and with affiliations to the ‘Taino’ realm of the islands of the Greater Antilles. The surface of this zemi is quite heavily weathered and, as you can observe, the surface is not very smooth. However, there is something very remarkable hidden from unobservant eyes…
This three-pointed object actually has a decoration on its left end, probably depicting an animal. However due to its weathering it is difficult to see which animal is actually depicted. This unidentified creature probably represents a deity or spirit. It was not uncommon for zemies to be decorated according to the spirit that were channelled through them. There is evidence that different gods would have different functions if they were invocated in a zemi. For example, if someone wanted to grow yuca or manioc crops, they first had to bury the little three-pointed idol housing the zemi of Yucahu, spirit of the crops and agriculture, in their fields in order to get a successful harvest.
To read more about zemies, click here.
Text by Jasper Meijer, based on original published research (see further reading).
Photo: Hofman & Hoogland 2016.
Breukel, T.W., 2013. Threepointers on Trial; A biographical study of Amerindian ritual artefacts from the pre-Columbian Caribbean. Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, Leiden.
Hoogland, M.L.P & Hofman, C.L., 1993. Kelbey's Ridge 2, A 14th Century Taino settlement on Saba, Netherlands Antilles. Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, Leiden.
Hofman, C.L. & Hoogland, M.L.P., 2016. Saba’s first inhabitants; A story of 3300 years of Amerindian occupation prior to European contact (1800 BC- AD 1492). Sidestone Press, Leiden.
Oliver, J., 2009. Caciques and Cemí Idols: The Web Spun by Taíno Rulers Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.