Copal in History

Nowadays Copal is being used for jewelry and has a religious meaning to just a few. But Copal was known as “Tabonuko” to the Taino and was also particularly sacred to the Mayan and Aztec peoples. Matter of fact, “copal” is and Aztec word (Nahuatl: copalli) and refers to all tree resins -old or young- that have been employed as amber incense over the centuries. (Consequently, from this etymological point of view,  Baltic or the almost equal old Dominican amber, are nothing else but Copal, because they are used for incense even today. LOL.

But for lack of a better word, in modern times “Copal” is used to refer to semi-fossilized amber resins or sub-fossil amber. Basically, “copal” is “young amber” and “amber” is “old copal”.

The Native Indigenous people of the Tropical Caribbean Rainforest, the Tainos celebrated the longest day of the year, since they worshipped the sun as a their main deity, curiously similar to the Scandinavian tribes (Midsummer night).

With ritual songs, tobacco, Tabonuko (copal), drums and purification in the sweat lodge (Taino sauna) they honored the sacred solar energies of Father Sky Spirit and his ability to live within them in harmony with the cycles of Mother Earth.

Taino cave paintings
The Taino Indians of the Caribbean had a long tradition of smoking tobacco, in 1492 unknown in Europe, Asia or Africa. Then the powerful and dangerous spirit of this sacred herb entered the Western culture but it still carries the name given it by the Taino thousands of years ago: “TABAKO”.

The tobacco ceremony was performed by Tainos during the celebration of the monthly Full Moon rituals, during the quarterly celebrations of Solstices and Equinoxes and during ceremonies honoring their ancestors in the late Autumn, celebrated generally between Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, and coincides with the Catholic holy days of All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2) and Halloween.


These celebrations had the purpose to communicate with the spirits through the sacred smoke of tobacco and burning of tabonuko (copal). Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl. The Aztec, in particular, would celebrate their dead for the entire month of August.

Isn’t it interesting that most of the rituals of the old tribes, may it be in America or Europe are used by the world religions of today?