The Taino are indigenous people of the Caribbean and the first Native group to encounter Columbus. For the Taino, the term zemi can refer to a deity or ancestral spirit as well as the object or sculpture containing the spirit. The sculptures appear in a range of sizes and can be made of a variety of materials including wood, stone, bone, shell, or ceramic, as seen here. Zemis provided a powerful connection to the spiritual realm that could have both positive and negative effects on their owners.
The zemi shown here is from the Dominican Republic and is only 2 inches tall. It depicts the face of a bat, a common motif in Taino art. Because bats live in caves, regarded by the Taino as portals to the underworld, and fly at night when spirits are active, they are seen as the messengers of the dead.