Insects And Human Culture

Aside from their importance as pests and our academic interest in insects, these creatures, spiders, and related arthropods have considerable influence in that portion of human activity that may be called the humanities—music, art, literature, language, religion, and folklore (fig. 1.8). The study of these influences is a general area of insect study called cultural entomology (Hogue 1987). Examples appear among historical, modern, and indigenous peoples. (Some of the more general are cited below; many other specific cases are scattered through the remainder of this book in the sections on the various insects involved; for Mexico, see MacGregor 1969.)

Insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions appear in the Mayan Codices (Dresden, lro-Coriesianus, and Peresianus), indicat-

Figure 1.8 Decorative plates from modern Peru prominently featuring images of the fly (chuspi), revered in Incan times and a design motif in Andean art today. (Original, author's collection)

ing an appreciation of their existence and their inclusion in cultural events, such as rituals, ceremonies, and dances. The famous Nasca figures include an immense spider (fig. 1.9). Portions of same are also stylized as glyphs having linguistic significance (Tozzer and Allen 1910). In the eighteenth century, it was believed that a small, red insect (still unidentified but called "coya" in the Orinoco region) caused severe skin eruptions; its effects could only be remedied by ceremoniously passing the body through a fire made from a specific grass ("guayacan") (Kamen-Kaye 1979). Many such curious accounts of insects fill the accounts of early visitors and colonists in the New World (Cowan 1865).

Insects have lent their names to many places in Latin America. Among the better known are Chapultepec, the "hill of the grasshoppers" (chapulin = grasshopper + tepee = hill) where the Aztec Emperor Montezuma's castle was built in what is now part of Mexico City, and Urubamba, "plain of the insect" (uru = spider or

Figure 1.9 The spider was an eminent symbol in Peruvian cultures of prehistory. It is displayed on a grand scale among the Nasca figures in the southern desert.

Figure 1.10 Political graffiti on wall in San José, Costa Rica, by group using a social insect, the ant, as a symbol of Socialist doctrine; 1978. (Original, author's collection)

Figure 1.11 Image from the Codex Telleriano Remensis of the Aztec deity, Itzpapálotl, in nature represented by wild silk moths of the genus Rothschildia. (Hand copy by Carlos Beutel-spacher in Mariposas entre los Antiguos Mexicanos, 1989; reproduced with author's permission)

Figure 1.12 In a variation of the "toucandira ritual" in which giant hunting ants of the genera Dinoponera and Paraponera are used, a mat tied with paper wasps is applied to the chest of this Roucouyenne Indian (French Guiana) to test his courage. (From H. Davis, The Jungle and the Damned 1952, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York; reproduced with permission)

caterpillar + pampa = plain), the sacred valley of the Incas near Cuzco in Peru.

In modern times, insects symbolize numerous ideas (fig. 1.10), especially in literature and folklore (Lenko and Papavero 1979). Science fiction and fantasy novels often use the dangerous qualities of many types to instill horror or malevolence. Superstitions and fanciful stories attributing good or bad fortune to many insects, spiders, or the like, are believed by sectors of the population, especially those in remote or primitive areas (Hogue 1985).

The cultural use of insects is perhaps best developed among Indian tribes still surviving in many parts of Latin America (Berlin and Prance 1978; Hitchcock 1962; Kevan 1983; Posey 1978, 1983). The study of this aspect of cultural entomology is referred to as "ethnoentomology" (and includes some of the odd practical uses of

Figure 1.11 Image from the Codex Telleriano Remensis of the Aztec deity, Itzpapálotl, in nature represented by wild silk moths of the genus Rothschildia. (Hand copy by Carlos Beutel-spacher in Mariposas entre los Antiguos Mexicanos, 1989; reproduced with author's permission)

Figure 1.12 In a variation of the "toucandira ritual" in which giant hunting ants of the genera Dinoponera and Paraponera are used, a mat tied with paper wasps is applied to the chest of this Roucouyenne Indian (French Guiana) to test his courage. (From H. Davis, The Jungle and the Damned 1952, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York; reproduced with permission)

insects, such as for food or medicine; see valuable insects, chap. 3).

In many Amazonian Indian groups, insects were in the past and are still today venerated religiously, and they play central roles as deities or mythic figures (fig. 1.11). The four guardians of the cardinal points in Warao cosmology are social insects—two wasps, a bee, and a termite (Wilbert 1985). Ritual also incorporates insects, for example, the giant hunting ants (Dinoponera) in puberty ceremonies practiced by various Amazonian tribes (Liebrecht 1886; fig. 1.12). Similarly, pain is endured from the stings of wasps whose nests are purposely molested as a part of rites of passage among the Gorotire-Kayapo in Brazil (Posey 1981).

Figure 1.13 Modern Peruvian Indian (Yagua) necklace using beetle parts as main decorative element (Original, author's collection)

Metallic beetle parts and even galls (Berlin and Prance 1978) are used in body ornamentation by Indians in all parts of the region (fig. 1.13). Insects, especially musical species (crickets and katydids), luminescent forms (headlight beetles), and large beetles, and orthopterans are kept as pets or curiosities. Many species are eaten, both for sustenance and as delicacies (fig. 1.14).

References

Berlin, B., and G. T. Prance. 1978. Insect galls and human ornamentation: The ethnobotan-ical significance of a new species of Licania from Amazonas, Peru. Biotropica 10: 81-86. Cowan, F. 1865. Curious facts in the history of insects. Lippincott, Philadelphia. Hitchcock, S. W. 1962. Insects and Indians of the Americas. Entomol. Soc. Amer. Bull. 8(4): 181-187.

Hogue, C. L. 1985. Amazonian insect myths.

Terra 23(6): 10-15. Hogue, C. L. 1987. Cultural entomology. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 32: 181-199.

Figure 1.14 A bottle of mezcal containing a maguey worm (Comadia redtenbacheri, Cossi-dae) as an extra treat for the drinker. The beverage was important in ancient and modern Mexican culture. The insect retains today its natural association with the plant and its product. (Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History collection)

Ethnopharm. 1: 103-110. Kevan, D. K. McE. 1983. The place of grasshoppers and crickets in Amerindian cultures. 2d Trien. Meet. Pan American Acrid. Soc. (Boze-man, Mont., 1979) Proc. P. 8-74c. Lenko, K., and N. Papavero. 1979. lnsetos no folclore. Conselho Estad. Artes Cien. Human., Sâo Paulo. Liebrecht, F. 1886. Tocandyrafestes. Zeit.

Ethnol. 18: 350-352. MacGregor, R. 1969. La représentation des insectes dans l'ancien Mexique. L'Entomologiste 25: 1-8. Posey, D. A. 1978. Ethnoentomological survey of Amerind groups in lowland Latin America. Fla. Entomol. 61: 225-228. Posey, D. A. 1981. Wasps, warriors and fearless men: Ethnoentomology of the Kayapo Indians of central Brazil. J. Ethnobiol. 1: 165-174. )sfy. D. A. 1983. Ethnomethodology as an emic guide to cultural systems: The case of the insects and the Kayapo Indians of Amazonia. Rev. Brasil. Zool. 1: 135-144. >zzer, A. M., and G. M. Allen. 1910. Animal figures in the Maya Codices. Harvard Univ., Peabody Mus., Pap., Amer. Archaeol. Ethnol. 4: 273-372, pis. 1-39.

Wilbert J. 1985. The house of the swallow-tailed kite: Warao myth and the art of thinking in images. In G. Urton, ed., Animal myths and metaphors. Univ. Utah, Salt Lake City.

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