Free Essay with the Overview of the Religious Beliefs of the Indigenous People Arawak, Caribs and Maya

Published: 2022-07-28
Free Essay with the Overview of the Religious Beliefs of the Indigenous People Arawak, Caribs and Maya
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Culture Anthropology Religion
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1580 words
14 min read

Native Americans refer to indigenous people of South and North America, and those living in the Caribbean Island. Given the diverse landscape and the size of the two continents, one can reason that the Native American cultures significantly varied from one tribe or group to another (Benn Torres p3). In fact, the religious beliefs and spiritual traditions of the indigenous people are extremely broad. Similar to all other cultures, the Native Americans societies intended to conscript their religious observance in accordance with their social or natural world. For instance, different societies would appease or woo powerful spiritual entities with sacrifices of valuable items and prayer. Some of the early groups in the Caribbean which were discovered by an Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, include Arawak, and Caribs. Later, Hernando Cortez, Spanish explorers, also conquered Maya and Aztecs (Stebbins P31). Despite, scarcity of written materials on the religious lives of Native Americans, the accounts of Columbus among other explorers have been useful to scholars studying the Indian religious traditions. Therefore, this paper will give an overview of the religious beliefs of the indigenous people of Arawak, Caribs, and Maya at the time of Columbus' arrival in the new world.

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Arawak Religious Beliefs

The term Arawak refers to natives who lived in the Northern Caribbean from A.D 1200 to 1500. Although the word Tainos and Arawak have widely been used interchangeably by a number of scholars in different historical accounts the two are distinctive cultural or ethical groups. When Columbus arrived on the island of the Caribbean in 1492, he found a civilization of people that had existed for thousands of years (Bedding p13). Similar to other traditional groups Arawak had a communal orientation to their ultimate reality. For instance, they attributed importance to sacred geography, ancestral land, and local sanctified sites that were seen as portals to their primordial past.

Arawak had a polytheist religion and referred to their gods as Zemis or Cemies. They believed that although the sky-god, Zemi, was far away from affecting them he controlled various functions of the universe (Bedding p15). On the other hand, the natural gods and ancestral spirits controlled the rains, wind, hurricanes, misfortune, luck, fertility and their agricultural produce. Likewise, like any other tribe, Arawak had their creation stories. Among them was that the first man had escaped from a cave with the sun after the keeper of the cave left it open. Also, they are those who thought that the sun decided to leave and had convinced all women to abandon their men. Children were then deserted and after hunger, they turned into frogs. Men later found some sexless creatures and tied them to form woodpeckers. The birds thought that the woodpeckers were trees and they carved out sex organs out of women thus reestablishing possibility of survival.

Arawak had three primary religious practices which included religious worships, dances during special festivals and consultation with Chemie. Each village in the Arawak community had its own spectral Zemi house which was set in a secluded place and away from other buildings. Since ordinary people could not communicate with ancestral spirits and natural gods directly the priests were to pray, offer food and clothes to Zemis. In return the people were healed, agricultural product increased, and Arawaks would have good fortunes. Nevertheless, some festivals such as Thanksgiving and healing were done in public and people had special clothes for the ceremonies. Likewise, although Arawak did not belong to any religion they believed there was life after death. The people held that the soul left the body after death and strolled during the night feeding on mammy apples. The demise of a friend or relative was a sorrowful moment, which ended once the soul of the deceased miraculously got to the charming island in the south to join other souls (Johnson p29). As a result, death was not to be dreaded but people looked forward to their time of departing from their loved ones.

Caribs Religious Beliefs

At the time of Columbus Contact, Caribs were among the dominant groups in the Caribbean. The indigenous people of Caribs originated from Asia and migrated to South America where they displaced Tainos by warfare, execution, and assimilation (Johnson p29). The dominance of Caribs was largely due to their mastery of warfare. Similar to other Amerindian tribes Caribs were polytheists but they believed and worshipped a munificent creator whom they referred to as Tamosi meaning Ancient One. People alleged that Tamosi was never made of flesh and anybody had ever seen him. However, despite being the most powerful god, Caribs worshipped other gods and celebrated their ancestral spirits. The tribe also supposed that Tamosi had twins namely Amalivaca and Vochi and they worked together in teaching the manner Caribs were to live together. Amalivaca and Vochi would transform into multiple forms and appearances while interacting with people.

Makunaima and Pia were among the other prominent figures in Carib tribe. Makunaima meant working by night while Pia stood for medicine man. The two figures were considered heroes who often helped humankind during hunting and expelled monsters from Carib land. Although they are different stories about the creation and existence of Carib people, they believe that a snake rose one time and created their first village. Afterward, they maintained an intimate relationship with animals, plants and other elements of nature. Caribs people supposed that they were spirits and everything around them existed in the same form. The indigenous people also offered sacrifices and just like other Native Americans they smoked tobacco during religious rituals to appease the spirits (Stebbins p35). Likewise, bones of ancestors were preserved as a traditional practice because people believed that ancestral spirits would look after their descendants.

Maya Religious Beliefs

Maya is the indigenous people of Mesoamerica modern day Central America and Mexico (Sharer p12). They created one of the most brilliant and successful civilization several years before Spanish exploration took place. Unlike other Native Americas, Maya had developed art, writing, cities and other hallmarks of civilization established through an independent evolutionary process. The Mayan civilization consisted of several small states ruled by different kings who were relentlessly at war fighting for gifts and prisoners to sacrifice to their gods. The Mayan religion comprised of various aspects of astronomy, nature, and rituals. Mayan had a mythical origin story that claimed their forefathers' gods Qukumatz and Tepew created the earth from the watery void. They later endowed it with plants, animals and eventually humans. Hunahpu and Xbalanque were among the first humans created and they embarked on an adventure where they defeated underworld lords. Their exploration climaxed after the resurrection of their father, the maize god.

Maya people were known for their astronomical buildings and calendars, which they used during religious rituals. For instance, they built two types of pyramids. One of them was meant for human sacrifices to please the gods while the other was open to the public (Harrison-Buck, Megan & Skousen p7). The king had the power to communicate with gods and acted as an intermediary channel between the creator and men. However, unlike other tribes, Maya had several human-like gods. Their gods were born, grew, died and could also take part in several activities such as planting, harvesting divination, and formed alliances and intermarriages.

With over 165 gods and goddess, Maya had a complex and changeable religion. In fact, they had a god to oversee almost every aspect of life (Jarus para 6). For instance, they had gods for birth, death, wild nature, health, maize, and thunder among other gods. Likewise, Mayan believed in life after death. They assumed that peoples' souls overcome all evils after death to spend their afterlives in the underworld. It is believed that even the kings among other rulers ended up in the underworld. However, children and those who were sacrificed overcome live in the underworld. The sacrifices were conducted by priests and involved ritualized cuttings performed in presence of the community. Also, it was presumed that the underworld was filled with evil spirits known as jaguars, which symbolized night.


In conclusion, at the moment the European explorers reached the North and South America aboriginal groups such as Arawak, Caribs, and Maya had established themselves. In fact, they even had stout religious practices as learned from related groups of people and European navigators such as Columbus. Among the Arawak, Maya, and Caribs, Mayan religion was the most civilized and had a number of preserved religious artifacts making it easier for archaeologists and scholars to follow their history. However, with the Spanish Empire expanding their extent of power a considerable part of Caribbean, South and Central America were disrupted. Lastly, Columbus who was working under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand led his soldiers in disrupting tribes such as Arawak, Maya, and Caribs who have swept away with some people being displaced from their settlements

Work cited

Beding, Silvio A., Ed. The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia. Springer, 2016.

Benn Torres, Jada. "Prospecting the past: genetic perspectives on the extinction and survival ofindigenous peoples of the Caribbean." New Genetics and Society 33.1 (2014): 21-41.

Harrison-Buck, Eleanor, Megan E. Buchanan, and B. Jacob Skousen. "Maya Religion and Gods:Relevance and Relatedness in the Animic Cosmos." Tracing the Relational: TheArchaeology of Worlds, Spirits, and Temporalities (2015): 115-29.

Jarus, Owen. "The Maya: History, Culture & Religion". Live Science, 2017, Johnson, Kim. "The Story of the Caribs and Arawaks." Race and History 29 (2003).

Sharer, Robert. "Who were the Maya?" Expedition Spring 54.1 (2012): 12.

Stebbins, Susan. "Native Peoples of North America." (2015).

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