Dominican Republic, Taino people, cohoba zemí reliquary, c. 1487, guayacan, height 45 cm/17.72 in.
Spanish accounts best described how Zemí reliquaries were used during ceremonies. A hallucinogenic powder or ground paste called cohoba was put on the round platform atop the statue, which participants then inhaled through tubes. Traces on the Zemí testify to the practice. The figure, with bent arms and legs and large round eyes, exudes strength and omnipotence. It was once inlaid with shell or gold leaf, as seen in the variations in color around the mouth. Made of guayacan (lignum vitae), the piece was exhibited at the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. Its excellent condition suggests that it was carefully preserved and worshipped before being deposited in a cave, like many Taino wooden sculptures, while others were buried. Ours comes with the results of a Carbon-14 test performed in 2015 by the University of Illinois dating it to between 1451 and 1518. It was certified authentic by Dr. William Keegan, Taino specialist, Chief Curator of the Department of Caribbean Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, Miami.