On 2011, a group of scientists headed by Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Department of Anthropologist Archeologist Virgilio Becerra, traveled to San José del Guaviare and then to the mountainous area of La Lindosa, to see cave art murals painted by Indians which inhabited the region since 7,250 years ago.
Cave art expert and former UNal professor Fernando Urbina, was one of the researchers who also saw these pictured murals. He says that what is admirable is not only the size but the profusion of topics, decanted styles, and expressions joined in an effort to depict from complex rituals to the daily happenings of hunting and fishing, real and fantastic fauna as well as human copulating and pregnancy and utensils for basket weaving and knitting and abstract strokes which show their rational complexity.
Furthermore, these murals are palimpsests where successive generations and cultures overwrote their art. There are figures hardly perceivable under others which seem to be drawn more recently, due to the vivid colors.
What was surprising for this expert was observing what seems like four bulls, four horses and no less than 40 quadruped animals with strange objects on their necks and what seemed like booties on their feet.
After returning to Bogotá he researched the almost 2,000 pictures he took during his journey to try to identify which animals were in painted on the murals, as they were clearly not native to the area of the time. Later he confirmed that the bulls were effectively bulls and the depictions of horses were also horses, it was logical as the Spaniards had brought horses to America.
But, what were the strange four-legged animals linked with violent scenes of dismembered bodies? His doubts persisted until he encountered a painting of German trip journalist Hieronymus Köler der Ältere, painted in 1560, depicting a scene occurred in 1534, where German settlers Philipp von Hutten and Georg Hohermuth von Speyer travel from Europe to America guarded by two drummers and a halberdier which had two enormous dogs with large spike collars, which were the images depicted in the images of La Lindosa.
To corroborate this the researcher spoke to German historian Jörg Denzer, a specialist on the life of Philipp von Hutten, the first European to reach Chiribiquete, and whom badly wounded by the Karijona Indians thought he had discovered the city of El Dorado when he saw huge rock formations, but then relinquished on his effort and returned through Coro (Venezuela), where he was assassinated by his friend Juan de Carvajal.
Amid a conversation held with Professor Urbina in 2013, he told Denzer of his hypothesis, but that he had not found any evidence in pictorials or reading travel chronicles of “Indias” hound dogs. Denzer promised to send him evidence by email which he later complied.
It was a letter from Von Hutten written to his father in 1535, saying that some Indian prisoners had been brought to him and where he discovered belongings of a Christian, to a Spaniard who had been killed and the dogs which attacked in fury in front of everybody.
Therefore Urbina confirmed that –as in other American territories– the Spaniards used a terror device which consisted in using dogs to attack prisoners and maul them to death in front of indigenous communities in a display of ultimate cruelty.
Before this practice was used in America, it was also common in Egypt where dogs mauled Nubians, according to engravings which also displayed scenes of this type. They also participated in the conquest of Granada between 1482 and 1492, which involved the integration of the Kingdom of Castilla from the Muslim Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. Dogs with knives on their collars to slit the abdomen of Arabian horses had also been used.
Urbina says that the Indians linked dogs with tigers, and more strictly with jaguars, an animal associated to power and considered the ultimate jungle predator; moreover, dogs were then considered as the ‘white man’s tiger’.
War dogs were also used by Hernán Cortés, in México; by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, in Panamá; and by Diego de Ordaz, in Venezuela. The paintings of La Lindosa show probable evidence of the dates between 1535 and 1572. According to Urbina, since then this phenomenon continued to be a torture method. For instance in the series of tortures of Abu Ghraib, Colombian renown painter Fernando Botero shows how American agents used dogs to torture people accused of terrorism.
The investigation on the use of war dogs in Colombia has not stopped. Last February, Urbina traveled to La Lindosa, accompanied by Denzer, and for the 17th time to Araracuara (Province of Caquetá). It is not just about gathering more evidence of its use but to question of continuing with a call, researching cave art, which also helps to understand the complexities of the Colombian culture and from there open a better-based on intercultural future.
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