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Athena Review Image Archive

Zemi relief sculpture from Puerto Rico

Zemis were local deities or ancestral cult figures, worshipped in the form of sculptures or relief carvings by Caribbean peoples of the Taino culture. The Zemi cult was active at the end of the 15th century AD when the Spanish arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and other islands of the Antilles. They are first described historically by Peter Martyr, the Spanish court historian (whose works are extant), and Fray Pane, who compiled an ethography of the Taino culture during the second voyage of Columbus, but whose writings are lost, and preserved only in an Italian .

Many images of zemis are preserved in Puerto Rico and other regions of the Antilles, both as figurines and as relief carvings. They were often carved in ballcourt settings in PreColumbian Puerto Rico sites including Caguana and Tibes, where they may be seen today in situ.

[Fig.1: Relief carving of zemi from Puerto Rico (photo: Athena Review).]

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