The Neotropical rodent agouti (Dasyprocta sp.), arguably one of the most prominent pre-Contact introduced commensals of the Lesser Antilles, has long been proposed as having been managed and maintained in captivity by Indigenous Caribbean groups. These claims, however, remain so far unsubstantiated. Ethnohistoric texts may serve as valuable resources for establishing the commensal relationships agouti shared with Indigenous Caribbean groups. Here, I synthesize the evidence from seventeenth century French ethnohistoric texts to address the question of pre-Contact agouti management and captivity and concretize some of the many other commensal relationships linking agouti to Indigenous groups. Ethnohistoric texts reveal that, in addition to having been managed through garden hunting, agoutis occurred as tame, in close proximity to settlements, although they do not appear to have been maintained in captivity. Agoutis also occurred as detached from human settlements, maintaining minimal interaction with human groups. Ethnohistoric texts repeatedly associate agoutis and agouti skeletal elements with ritual practices, suggesting ceremonial/cosmological value. This study shows that ethnohistoric texts hold critical potential for substantiating pre-Contact commensal relationships and, by extension, may offer insight into Indigenous identities and lifeways, and island ecology.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4