Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cat-O-Tonic History Tales!

We would like to thank today's guest blog writer, Janis Danner, for writing today's blog posting!  By incorporating blog posting from various writers, we can give you a blog with diverse ideas, opinions and comments, giving you a full picture of who we are at In-Sync Exotics.  So sit back, and enjoy today's blog posting, written by one of our own volunteers!

The Jaguar in Mesoamerican Culture & History

Can you guess which exotic wild cat is described as quick, agile, cunning, powerful, aggressive, elusive, mythical, solitary, opportunistic, predatory, fearsome, and of course beautiful? If you guessed “Jaguar,” then you know your big cats!

The jaguar, a feline in the Panthera genus, is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. So, where can you find a jaguar (hint -- not at In-Sync Exotics)? Well, the jaguar's present range extends from the Southern United States and Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.

Pop quiz - who am I?
Now as you know, In-Sync Exotics has no resident jaguars, but we do have two cats that may be mistaken as a small jaguar-like cat, Jett, Java, and our newest resident, Quisto, our Brazilian Ocelot! Sometimes visitors mistake them for jaguars because their fur resembles that of a jaguar. To help clear up the confusion, you might want to click HERE, for our past story on leopards vs jaguars, and then take a look at Quisto’s coat by clicking HERE. Now do you see the resemblance? It's all in the spots, and of course, size!

Apart from a known and possibly breeding population in Arizona (southeast of Tucson), the cat has sadly been eliminated from the United States since the early 20th century. Apparently, it was once fairly common over southern Texas and nearly the whole of the eastern part of the state to Louisiana and north to the Red River. Can you imagine seeing a wild jaguar in the Texas hill country?  Unfortunately, the last verified records of a jaguar siting was in Texas near the turn of the century. Sadly, the jaguar is listed as "endangered" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The largest contiguous area of habitat now remaining for jaguars centers in the Amazon Basin, but they can live in several types of forest, grassland and dry habitat. They prey on a variety of animals, including fish, birds and reptiles. Like the tiger, wild jaguars actually enjoy swimming!

Jag jaws!
Did you know that jaguars are the only cats in North America that roar? Yep, they can roar! And look out for those jaws! The jaguar has an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armored reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method. In one killing strategy, it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain.

As the apex predator (meaning top“dog, err, cat” in the food chain) in most of the Americas, it is no surprise that jaguars became closely entwined in the cultures, religions, and myths of the indigenous people who lived beside them. The stories told at the campfires of the ancients are myths and legends that give the jaguar supernatural powers.

The Olmecs of South Central Mexico, besides leaving behind large stone heads, also left numerous stone sculptures of “were-jaguar” (an Olmec motif and a supernatural entity, perhaps a deity) babies held by humans.

According to archaeologist Peter Furst, these “were-jaguar”figurines were likely used as household gods for many people and as spirit helpers or familiars for priests or shamans, aiding in transformative acts and other rituals. In 2006, archaeologists in the Vera Cruz region of Mexico found the 3500 year old skeleton of a male who had his teeth filed down to stubs, apparently in order to wear a set of faux jaguar fangs! Yikes! That’s one toothy grin!

There are numerous fables told about the connection between man and jaguar. Rising each day in the East, Jaguar Sun prowled the skies getting older during the course of the day until finally falling into the darkness of the west. During the night, Jaguar Sun fought the Lords of Xibalba (the Underworld). Then, with strength and cunning, Jaguar Sun wins the right to rise the following day in the East. Some Maya say that when you spread the skin of a jaguar you spread the heavens of a starry night.

Another story predicts that the end of the earth will come when jaguars ascend from the underworld to eat the sun and moon, maybe the entire universe, and an eclipse will foreshadow this final event. Could that be what will happen this December, 2012?

Nahua jaguar mask

The Maya, Olmecs, and Aztecs (Nahuatls) in particular had very special relationships with the jaguar. In a culture where the natural world is many times explained by the supernatural, the strength and power of the jaguar was transferred to the ruling and warrior classes.

It was believed that actual physical strength could be drawn from these totems. Jaguar thrones became the actual seats for the rulers. Many carved stone jaguar thrones have been found throughout the region, the prime example being this red throne complete with real jaguar teeth and decorated with turquoise spots. It was found in an interior chamber of the Castillo Pyramid in the Pre Columbian city of Chichen Itza in the Mayan lowlands of Mexico.

Modern Maya still use the ancient term Balam, literally “tiger”,to refer to the big spotted cat. The Ancient Maya venerated the jaguar in various guises as their most important deities. There was the Jaguar God of Terrestrial Fire and War, whose spouse may have been IxChel, the Jaguar Goddess of Midwifery and War. Then there was the Jaguar Patron of the War Month of Pax, God L has jaguar ears and a jaguar mantle and lives in a jaguar palace. The Aged Jaguar Paddler is associated with Night. Not to mention The Jaguar Twin Hero and numerous Jaguar Protectors. Quite the collection of power!

The teeth, claws and skins of the jaguar were also believed to impart power and these became highly valued possessions. The ultimate luxury item, the jaguar pelt was worn exclusively by the ruling and warrior classes, or used in rituals and dances. Images of clothed warriors and kings are found on innumerable items of pottery and on many scenes of the few surviving murals and codices from the Pre Columbian era.

Folk traditions honoring jaguars still mingle with Catholicism in the Tarascan and Huasteca tribal dances, believed to have their origins in Aztec roots. These dances tell tales about living alongside the jaguar and are still performed to this day. The costumes and masks along with the movements of the dance mimic the jaguar. It is said that “Jaguars possess the power of God.”

As for music, not much remains of the notes and rhythms that were used. However, Archaeologists have found a jar in Guatemala, attributed to the Maya of the Late Classic Era (600-900 AD), which depicts a musical instrument that has been reproduced and played. This instrument is astonishing in at least two respects. First, it is the only stringed instrument known in the Americas prior to the introduction of European musical instruments. Second, when played, it produces a sound virtually identical to a jaguar's growl.

Want to hear out a jaguar sounds like? Well, believe it or not, there is a musical instrument that when played, mimics the sound of a jaguar growl!. The vibrations travel the length of the string into the drum which produces a most interesting sound.

The video (below) is a comparison of the actual jaguar growl, and then the recreated instrument being played by a Princeton University Professor. With some practice, it is conceivable that this instrument’s sounds would be almost indistinguishable from the throaty rasping snarl of an adult jaguar. It would surely conjure up fear and terror if performed during ceremonial rites. Listen for yourself and see what you would think hearing this instrument!

Music, dance, friezes, stone carvings, murals, pottery, myths and legends all attest to the fact that the Mesoamerican indigenous peoples assigned the jaguar great significance in their sacred and profane world view.

As one of their most sacred icons, it is no wonder that the jaguar also was part of the Mayan and Aztec calendars. Enjoy the artwork because any attempt at explanation would take us into a highly charged world of conjecture! 

Mayan calendar glyph
Aztec calendar glyph

We hope you enjoyed today's blog posting! Be sure to check back tomorrow for more fun and informative information about our exotic cats and their friends of In-Sync Exotics! Don't forget to let us know your reaction to this posting by clicking on one of the reaction buttons below--and share this blog posting with others please ~ Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Very educational; loved the jaguar sounds.