This snuff inhaler was found at the archaeological site Kelbey’s Ridge 2 in Saba (AD 1300-1350). A snuff-inhaler consists of tubes, usually made of the hollow bones of birds, that are placed in a Y-shape. In this case the tubes were probably meant to embedded in a central piece that has the shape of a fish, as illustrated in the drawing on the right. The fish is made of manatee bone and the eyes were probably inlaid with a different material, perhaps shell.
This snuff inhaler was likely used of the hallucinogenic snuff called cohoba. The cohoba tree (Anadenanthera peregrina (L.) Speg.) originates in South America but was brought to the Antilles by the Indigenous inhabitants. The seeds of this tree were ground into a cinnamon-coloured powder, which was inhaled to induce a hypnotic state.
Hallucinogenic substances like cohoba had an important ritual meaning for the Indigenous peoples. They were used as a way to connect with supranatural beings, and the visions they caused were considered as prophesies or revelations by the Europeans.
Drawing and text by Laura van de Pol, based on original published research (see further reading).
Hofman, C.L. & M.L.P. Hoogland, 2016. Saba’s first inhabitants; A story of 3300 years of Amerindian occupation prior to European contact (1800 BC- AD 1492). Sidestone Press, Leiden.
Mol, A.A., M.L.P. Hoogland & C.L. Hofman, 2015. Remotely Local: Ego-networks of Late Pre-colonial (AD 1000-1450) Saba, North-eastern Caribbean. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 22(1), 275-305.
Pagán-Jiménez, J.R., & L.A. Carlson, 2014. Recent Archaeobotanical Findings of the Hallucinogenic Snuff Cojoba (Anadenanthera Peregrina (L.) Speg.) in Precolonial Puerto Rico. Latin American Antiquity, 25(1), 101-116.
Safford, W. E., 1916. Identity of cohoba, the narcotic snuff of ancient Haiti. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 6(15), 547–562.