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Jaguar God and symbols of discovery

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

João Luna, astronomer (by Diego Sanchez) - character card (by Vincent Verhoeven)

Although João Luna is Brazilian, his roots go back to Mayan Tikal in Central America. His bloodline wandered off to Colombian territory during the Inca period, where his ancestors were feared and expelled to the Amazonian rainforest of nowadays Brazil.

The story of Luna includes Latin American heritage. In this blog I tend to touch upon Mayan and Inca beliefs and practices and Portuguese symbols of European discovery since Pedro Álvares Cabral, who is known for discovering Brazil at the start of the 16th century. Especially the evolution of the Portuguese and Brazilian flag will be discussed and the armillary sphere's use and its symbolism will be touched upon.

Mayan culture

Mayan territory (Wikipedia)

As a reflection of Central and South America, I would like to add some culture to the way our kind has come to encompass the knowledge of the sky. This way, we can look at the geography of our planet and reflect on population migration and melting pot cultures. The latter is very beneficial for enhancing knowledge and thus evolving as a specie.

However, it is important to make the right distinction between civilizations and their beliefs. In order to scale down countries to continents in the game, while preserving an interesting story with some educational background information, I had to merge different cultures into João's story. A name and a heritage was needed that suited present and past Latin American culture. I decided to take an animal that has had a magnificent natural and cosmological presence in the area.

Diksmuide: 'De Schat van Janneke Maan' (Mysterieus België)

The name is Portuguese, combining a common first name and family name. With Luna being the official name of Earth's moon. In doing so, a funny name emerges for my Flemish culture when literary translated: 'Janneke Maan'. It is the equivalent of 'Little Moon' for kids. This is what we tell our children when we refer to the Moon. The origin of the name however, dates back to regional accounts of a vanishing joker (with the name Jan or in English, 'John') who committed several notorious thefts on the viscount and later on the mayor during the 17th century in Diksmuide, Flanders. His loot was known as the treasure of Janneke Maan, because he vanished like the Moon does after setting or during daytime due to sunlight. Our story, on the other hand, starts with a more divine heritage, one of the Maya Jaguar God of the Underworld. Maya culture is situated in Central America, at the notorious impact crater edges of the Yucatán peninsula, between the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Jaguar God of the Underworld (or of Xibalba), is also called the Jaguar Night Sun. He is the one who brings darkness and war. The Milky Way was regarded in some areas as the route to Xibalba.

João Luna, astronaut (by Diego Sanchez)

The Maya made meticulous observations of the Sun, Moon, Venus, and the stars. They used this knowledge for divination and their astronomy did not serve to study the universe or the seasons for scientific reasons. It was used to understand cycles of time and to predict the future to produce prophecies linked to their beliefs. Eclipses of the Sun and the Moon, movements of Venus and positions of the stars were subject to prophetic calendars.

Solar and lunar eclipses were considered to be especially dangerous events, bringing disasters upon the world due to the anger of the gods. Such events were equally malicious for the Inca cultures in e.g. Colombia and Peru.

Solar eclipses were a sign that demons would rise from Xibalba to devour people, while a lunar eclipse was believed to look like a bloody moon, devoured by the Jaguar God.

Those cultural aspects are used on João's hidden agenda cards in the game.


Jaguar habitat map (Panthera, Leaders in Wild Cat Conservation)

The story continues with Luna's ancestors' migration to what is known today as Colombia. This is where Inca culture starts when migrating southward from Maya territory through present day Panama. Inca's tradition during eclipses was to make noise and beat their dogs for barking in order to chase away the demons and jaguars, and thwart the dangers they would cast upon their people.

The habitat of jaguars is pushed from the cities toward the northern regions of South America, where we can find the Amazon rainforest. About 60% of this forest is situated in Brazil, hence today's nationality of our Jaguar astronavigator. Since his young age, João can feel his bloodline's dark connection with these sinister astronomical beliefs. As a result he became obsessed with the night sky and the Moon, especially during lunar eclipses, some kind of madness rises like a traumatic heritage.

Next, we take you to the background of the instrument João is using. The armillary sphere has been a symbol of Portuguese and therefore Brazilian discovery and nationality. To elaborate on the reasons why I implemented both the Portuguese and Brazilian flags as a retrieval and analysis quest in the game, I wrote the following piece on the subject.

Portuguese navigation

C. Lincoln/ LONDON 1775 Ptolemaic Armillary Sphere on tripod with compass (Diego Sanchez)

The name armillary is a collection of armillae (sing. of armilla), the Latin for "bracelets". Armilla also appears in the military context as a sign of rank in antiquity, just think of the Roman army. An armillary sphere is therefore an instrument with such bands or rings that represent orbits in the sky forming a.o. latitude circles on Earth. Before the telescope was invented and used to watch the night sky, astronomers have used armillary spheres as a tool to navigate and observe the celestial bodies.

If we look at the armillary sphere in detail, we see rings that represent the latitude circles of the Earth, especially their parallel variant in the sky. We actually talk about the celestial equator, the ecliptic between the tropics, etc. This reflection of rings is specific to the Earth's rotation and the movement of the Sun in the sky. For the latter one has come to realize throughout history that our star describes an apparent orbit in the sky throughout the year as our planet orbits around the Sun. This device was important to make a star map and to determine the seasons and positions on Earth with the naked eye.

Armillary Sphere parts (AstroNavigators)

The armillary sphere as a symbol of knowledge about the world is reflected in many flags related to discoveries of 'new worlds'. We are going to focus primarily on the Portuguese and Brazilian flag. Portuguese seafaring is regarded as the earliest one that still produced a simplified astrolabe at sea (the maritime astrolabe), because this naval force specialized in extensive astronavigation and cartography earlier than most other naval empires. Those other empires emerged later, while better instruments than the astrolabe were already invented, overcoming the difficulties of rocking movements of waves. Those instruments were the octant and the sextant, revolutionizing observations at sea, while making the Portuguese maritime astrolabe usage extinct. Portugal followed suit with the switch, but their usage of maritime astrolabes shows their early sea navigator traditions. Both Portugal itself and Brazil (as a former colony) have had flags depicting armillary spheres. Therefore, it is primarily a symbol of the discovery and conquest of the world through astronavigation. The coat of arms of Prince Henry the Navigator from the 15th century even adorned all the flags of Portuguese conquests. The armillary sphere was first depicted on the flag of Brazil within the whole of the Portuguese colonies. In the 19th century, there was even a flag with an armillary sphere for the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve for a short amount of time, but Brazil left the Union already in 1822. This was the first time that the shield of Henry's family line appeared on the Brazilian armillary sphere.

Overview of some of the transitions on the Portuguese and Brazilian flags (Wikipedia)

In 1911, the Portuguese flag took up this composition, but got rid of the crown. Brazil had taken on a new shape with a yellow diamond on a green background and finally changed the armillary sphere into a star globe. The star globe is a mirror depiction of the southern night sky.

Flag of Brazil since 1889 (Wikipedia)
Comparing stars on Brazilian flag with real positions in the sky (Wikipedia + Stellarium)

Here you can find an overview of the most important stars depicted on the Brazilian flag. The reason why it is mirrored, is not clear to me. Probably it was a printing issue while filing a document in the early 20th century. Letters needed to be mirrored to be printed, but pictures were often left unchanged, causing a mirror image on paper.

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