Prospect Park Nailed Cow Tongue Mystery: Maybe a Warning to Shut Up?

Prospect Park staff were handed the gross job of removing 15 cow tongues from trees one morning last week.

The flesh had been driven into park trees with nails which had to be pried out. According to the Parks Department, the severed, dangling organs were spotted by a dog walker who then gave them a call. The Daily News reports:

"The bizarre sighting was made in Peninsula Meadow, just north of Prospect Lake. The tongues, which appeared to come from a butcher shop, were hanging about six feet off the ground from 15 different trunks, park officials said. Parks Department officials said it's a mystery why the animal parts were hung, but animal tongues are sometimes used in cult or fringe religious rituals."

We talked to a Santeria expert who suggests the tongues may have been offered, not as obeisance to a deity, but as a message to the living:

Though not a "fringe religion" or a "cult," Dr. Miguel De La Torre -- an associate professor for social ethics at Iliff School of Theology and the author of Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America -- says nailed cow tongues are sometimes used by practitioners of Santeria. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots. It blends Christianity with West African belief systems, and is often stigmatized. Some devotees participate in animal sacrifice.

"It's always difficult to make a direct connection to Santeria, it could be Palo... It could be a hybrid group," De la Torre says of the tongue-spiking. The expert adds the tongues could have been left by someone who read about a Santeria practice on the internet and wanted to copy it.

"However, if it is related to one of the Caribbean religions like Santeria the obvious connection is that someone is trying to silence someone's tongue." De La Torre says in that case, the nailed tongue is sort of like one of those voodoo dolls in old movies -- where what happens to the object happens to the person.

"In their mind they believe that by doing this act they're going to prevail over the person who is speaking against them."

De La Torre, who helped the Brooklyn Paper decipher the meaning behind a severed pig's head found outside the Green-Wood Cemetery, says that if the tongues in Prospect Park were put up by Santeros trying to silence someone, there might be clues left behind -- like candles and a piece of paper with a name attached.

The Parks Department says they did not find either.

De La Torre's mother and father were a priest and priestess who raised him in the religion of Santeria in Jackson heights Queens. The professor converted to Christianity in his twenties. Photo (cc) foxypar4.


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