Hanging Atabey Decoration
Sculpture, Puerto Rican
This item brought in by Gladys Moreno Fuentes, an employee at Central Connecticut State University, is a hanging decoration depicting the Fertility goddess of the Tainos people Atabey out of clay on a wooden back. It measures at about 3.5” by 5.25” with string attached to the back for hanging. Mrs. Fuentes was not aware of its initial creation date; however, she believes it is about 20 years old based on when she received it as a gift from a friend returning from Puerto Rico. There is a sticker on the back that says “Made in China” clearly marking it as a tourist item, though it may only be for the block of wood while the clay design is handcrafted as Mrs. Fuentes claimed.
Before European explorers came to the New World, much of the continent and islands were already populated by indigenous peoples such as the Tainos people of Puerto Rico. They practiced their own religion similar to many other polytheistic religions. The goddess Atabey was the supreme goddess representing the earth, fresh water, and most importantly fertility. Through petroglyphs, anthropologists know that she was represented by many forms but the one on this artifact is the most common depicting a nude woman crouching.
Mrs. Fuentes highlights the importance of Atabey’s representation in the modern culture of Puerto Rico as a symbol of feminist strength as well as a tie to the original culture of the island. Puerto Ricans migrating to the United States, like most over immigrant groups, brought some culture with them while assimilating in over ways. Most Puerto Ricans now practice Roman Catholicism but many like to be reminded of where they came from and take pride in traditional cultural items such as the decorative piece depicting Atabey. As Mrs. Fuentes said, it brings back memories and older traditions she remembers experiencing as a child.