Astonishing Names From History: South America

Astonishing Names From History: South America
The smallest feline is a masterpiece. - Leonardo Da Vinci

South America is a continent that's been devoid of house-cats for most of its history. As for wild cats, well that's another story. The jungles of South America are home to many different species. Some are well known like the powerful Jaguar, worshipped as a god by the Incas, or the Puma, native to both North and South America. These are large cats, close in size to the Leopard or Cheetah. Then there are the medium sized cats of South America-the Ocelot, the Margay, et al. Last but not least are the small cats. Some are about as big as domestic cats, like the Pampas cat, the Mountain cat, Geoffrey's cat. Others are smaller than the domestic cat, for instance, the Kodkod, the Oncilla, and the Jaguarundi. With such a variety of small cats indigenous to South America why none of the various cultures ever domesticated their cats as the Africans had? Perhaps the environment was too demanding to allow the time that domestication required. Perhaps African domestication of the cat was prompted by an ecological need of some sort that brought the cat into human contact, whereas no such need existed in South America. Who can tell? One attribute that the peoples of both continents shared was the deification of their local cats. For instance, there were the Quechua Indians of South America and their cat spirit, Ccoa. He was something of a foul-tempered entity, holder of the powers over lightning and hail which he wouldn't hesitate to use on both people and crops. As you might expect, he was continually presented with offerings in the hope that he might be placated. Of course there is the Jaguar, worshipped as a powerful god by many New World civilizations including that skillfully organized conglomeration of tribes known as the mighty empire of the Incas. Of all the South American cultures, the Incas were undoubtedly the greatest. In the short span of 90 years (1440 - 1530) the Incas had forged a vast empire that unified various tribes into a single political and economic entity that spread across the west coast of the South American continent for 2500 miles of diverse geography ranging from desert to jungle to the imposing snow covered peaks of the Andes. Known for their remarkable achievements in social planning and administration, architecture and engineering, agriculture and art, the Incas maintained civil stability through tolerant acceptance of the many different cultural practices embraced by the tribes they had conquered. Though this empire was ruled by an absolute monarch thought to be a living god (the incarnate son of the glorious solar deity) social conditions were surprisingly liberal; often strict but for the most part fair. This brief section presents, for your cat-naming consideration, a mere sampling of gods recognized by the Incas as well as a few deities that were worshipped by some of the lesser known tribes of South America.

ARICONTE (ah-rih-CON-tay; Male): The name of this old Brazilian god isn't so hard to pronounce, but his twin brother's name, Tamendonare, presents a bit more of a challenge. As far as twins go, these two were unusual because each had a different father. They were both born of the same mother and at the same time, but one twin was fathered by the hero-god Maira Ata, while the other was sired by a regular mortal guy named Sarigoys. The clincher was that no one knew which father begat which twin. This situation was the cause of severe tension between the brothers, and they became deadly foes of one another. Even so, together they managed to engage in some pretty wild enterprises. For example, their mother was eaten by cannibals when they were just babies. Once they reached maturity they ventured forth on a quest for the homicidal gastronomes that had so rudely feasted upon "Mom." They eventually found the cannibals they were looking for and enacted their vengeance forthwith by, of all things, transforming the butchers into wild cats!

BOCHICHA (boh-CHEE-chah; Male): To the Chibcha people of what we now call Columbia, Bochicha was the almighty sun god, as well as the founder of civilization and culture. Being a sun god, Bochicha was offered human sacrifices. Not much of a surprise on that count, really. But if there can be such a thing as a restrained practice of human sacrifice, then the ritual as performed by the Chibcha people must be right up there. First of all they realized that, as far as human bloodletting was concerned, a little bit goes a long way. The victim was usually a young boy, around ten years in age, chosen from the legendary home village of the god Bochicha. He would be taken to the temple, and for five years the priests tended to his every whim. At the end of this period, these same priests would don their ceremonial vestments, bind the fifteen year old boy to a ritual pillar symbolizing the sun, then kill him by shooting his body full of arrows. Then the boy's heart was removed (a custom reminiscent of certain Aztec tendencies), and his blood gathered in ceremonial containers. So, what kind of cat deserves a name like Bochicha? How about one that often bringsyou little sacrifices like pigeons, mice, and so forth?

CATEQUIL (KAT-eh-kwill; Male): The Incas ran a complex empire consisting of many different tribes and cultures, each with their own set of gods. In an effort to appease the naturally occurring anxieties arising from this diversity, the Incas incorporated many of these provincial deities into the official pantheon. Catequil was one such god. He was an ancient god of thunder and lightning, and he also was the responsible force behind the birth of twins. There's only one reason to give your cat this name-the word "cat" is built right in. If you're one of these people that just goes around calling your cat, "cat," then why not add the other two syllables necessary to transform "cat" into Catequil? In a flash your friend will go from common, no-name "cat", to transcendental thunder god of the Incas.

CHASCA (CH'AHZ-kah; Female): This goddess was, to the Incas, nothing less than the personification of the planet Venus (not unlike Aphrodite of the Greeks.) Her name meant something like, "star of long hair." Girls and flowers were among her primary concerns, and by extension, she was also the patron goddess of princesses. A name to give your very own spoiled feline princess.

COLO-COLO (KOH-loh KOH-loh; Male): Do you know what a Basilisk is? According to European bestiaries, the Basilisk was a fierce lizard-like/bird-like creature capable of killing by merely looking upon its intended victim. The breath of a Basilisk was also deadly, said to be able to destroy all within its proximity. Well, to the ancient tribe that flourished in the area that is today known as Chile, Colo-Colo was pretty much the New World equivalent. Born of a cock's egg, Colo-Colo was said to live upon the saliva of his prey. That aside, he nevertheless possessed a quite useful, typically cat-sounding name.

INTI (IHN-tee; Male): To the Incas, their ruler ("the Inca" as he was called) was a direct descendant of Inti, the potent sun god. Inti was often thought of as a brilliantly shinning disk of gold with facial features, but he was also represented as human in form. He was the consort of Mama Quilla, the Moon goddess. Their sons Viracocha, Pachacamac and Manco Capac, all figure large in the myths of the Incas. Since Inti was a solar god, he was of primary importance to agriculture. In his honor, the great festival known as Inti Raymi was celebrated as an eight day feast of thanks for the maize harvest. Each day from sunrise to sunset a constant stream of chanting poured from the lips of the Inca himself, leading his people in a blur of ritual and sacrifice. Offerings of llamas, as well as bales coca leaves, were presented during this time. The festivities came to a close on the eighth day when the Inca himself ceremonially broke the ground of the planting fields with a hand plow. As for the name itself, it's easy to pronounce and remember, making it perfect for any dominant male cat. What more do you need?

KURUPIRA (koo-roo-PEE-rah; Male): Here's the ultimate name for an antisocial kitty. To the tribes of ancient Brazilians, this guy was just an odd little imp that haunted the Amazonian rain forests. Kurupira didn't like people that much, but he was the chief protector of animals. Why didn't he like people? Because people eat animals, that's why. No wonder this name suits the nature of suspiciously contemplative cats, preferentially shy of humans.

MAMA QUILLA (MAH-mah KEE-lah; Female): The Incas had a myth concerning lunar eclipses that is fairly common among ancient peoples. In these stories the Moon is always attacked by some force or creature that manages to swallow the darn thing, only to be defeated in the end by some big-shot hero. For the Incas, this creature was the snake or puma, and the Moon itself was a goddess known as Mama Quilla. Analogous to her solar husband Inti, Mama Quilla was portrayed as a silver disk with a human face. She ruled over calendars and the measurement of time, and kept protective watch over married women. Reserve this name for a nocturnal cat, marvelously in tune with the cycles of nature.

MANCO CAPAC (MAHN-koh KAH-pahk; Male): One of four siblings (the youngest) born to the sun god, Inti. Being the youngest, naturally he demanded that his voice be heard over his more experienced and louder brothers. When his oldest brother foolishly claimed absolute rule over the earth, Manco Capac had a fit. He settled the matter by sealing the would-be lord of the earth in a cave high atop a distant mountain. Manco Capac then grabbed another one of his brothers and tossed him over the edge of another mountain. A third brother, witnessing these events as they happened, decided that nothing was going to stop his resolute baby brother, so he split for the hills and was never heard from again. So it was that Manco Capac himself assumed leadership of the world. A name to keep in mind for adamant cats, bent on getting their own way.

MASAYA (mah-SIGH-yah; Female): Yet another name for your ebony mouser. Masaya was the ancient Nicaraguan goddess of volcanoes. She was depicted as a nasty old harridan with black wrinkled skin. The only way you could calm her ire was by tossing a human sacrifice into the cauldron of a seething volcano-a ritual you've no doubt seen in movies a countless times. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't.

PACHACAMAC (pah-chah-KAH-mack; Male) PACHAMAMA (pah-chah-MAH-mah; Female): This set of names might fit a husband and wife team of cats since they refer to a husband and wife team of earth deities. You may recall that Pachacamac was one of the sons of Inti, sun god of the Incas. Actually, to the ancient people of the Peruvian coast, Pachacamac and his wife Pachamama were earth gods predating the influence of the Incas. They were brought into the fold of Inca deities strictly as a political gesture of conciliation toward a group of tribes absorbed by the growing empire of the Incas. Still, they were important. One myth describes Pachacamac as a miracle working white-man, tall and evenly tempered. It was said that he preached of spreading love to all people, urging a life of brotherly accord. There was even a city named for him where a great temple was built in his honor. To this day one may still visit the ruins of that temple-a pyramid 70 feet high, covering 12« acres.

SUPAI (SOO-pie; Male): The only reason this name was included was for its simplicity. Names don't get much easier than Supai. This should be reason enough to consider this name for your cat. Never mind that this is another one of those many names that just screams out: "Black-cat name!" This is to be expected from the name of the Inca god of death and the underworld. So ravenous was Supai's lust for new souls that each year 100 children were sacrificed to his person. Use this simple name and keep quiet about its sinister origins.

THOMAGATA (toh-mah-GAH-tah; Male): Apparently one viscious looking character, Thomagata the thunder god was also something of a trickster god to the Chibcha people of ancient Columbia. Stories tell of the pleasure he took in transforming people into animals. Another tale describes an epic battle between Thomagata and Bochicha (sun god.) Of course, the sun god wins the day, but only by fighting dirty; apparently Bochicha kicked Thomagata right in the nuts, making him forever impotent. This name fits cats of an "altered" persuasion.

VIRACOCHA (vihr-ah-KOH-cha; Male): Another one of the sons of Inti, the sun god of the Incas. Like his brother Pachacamac, Viracocha was a pre-Inca holdover, added to the official pantheon for political stability. He was considered the god of water, originating in the union of sun god powers and storm god powers. As an embodiment of the life giving properties of water, Viracocha made his home in the considerable depths of Lake Titicaca. Since he possessed this power of life's origin, as well as his father's solar might, the Incas worshipped him as their supreme god-creator of all. In human form Viracocha is often portrayed as crying tears onto the earth's surface from which all life springs. Obviously a name for a cat well aquatinted with his own powers of fecundity.