Concilio Guatu-Ma-Cu

Concilio Taino Guatu-Ma-cu – Cacique Caciba Opil

Boriken Journal 2:  Parallel Currents in Taino Consciousness

                          -- Jose Barreiro                                

Caribbean Indigenous Legacies (C.I.L.P) Team Jose Barreiro, Ranald Woodaman, Christina Gonzalez, RoseMaria Estevez, Jorge Estevez

Just a couple of valleys over from the schools of the Naguake area, in the Cayey Sierras of southeastern Puerto Rico, is a parallel reflection of the Taino movement that has been developing for over two decades. This is the yucayeque of a group of indio-consciousness families that are dedicated to deepening their understanding and practice of what constitutes a Taíno-oriented community.

          High on a mountain, we drove to the end of a narrow dirt road surrounded by deep monte. A longish walk farther into the forest took us to the settlement, where we were received by the Cacique Caciba Opil (Martin Veguilla), and a group of three elder women and several young people representing the Concilio Taino, or the Guatu-Ma-cu-a Boriken.

          The driving force here, according to the cacique, is to revitalize the old Taino religion and way of life. “We are Taino. We are what they called indio. We are not only learning about our past, here on this mountain, we are settling and building our yucayeque, a home base for the Taino people.”

          The Guatu-Ma-cu-a-Boriken consists acitivelyof some two hundred people, several dozen families. On the mountain community, among other structures they have built a kitchen, a tall women’s bohio and a large ceremonial court. They have also started conuco gardens of ñame and yuca in the forests surrounding their mountain. This group is most notable for its adherence to the knowledge of Taino language and customary ways, much of which comes through the documentary record, while relying as well on the practice of Taino crops still found among campesino families. 

          Walking their hilltop, we discussed the broad outlines of the Taino movement with Cacique Caciba Opil. He has been a known figure in the Taino currents for over twenty years and his group or yucayeque is noted for its cohesion and consistency.  They hold many ceremonies annually, including dance-song cycles, or areito. These are held in strict adherence to dress and behavior, and can gather several hundred people. These ceremonies are visually impressive, featuring hours of music and dancing.  The group’s public activities are increasingly noted in media and they are requested at varieties of official venues on the island. Their expressed purpose of directly rebuilding the Taino religious tradition and a well-defined community based partly on the record of the early Spanish testimonies has been criticized by some who see the effort as a too historically distant a cultural reinvention.

          Martin Veguilla, Cacique Caciba Opil, made a round gesture with his arm, indicating their mountain settlement and their sense of a community. “If we are going to do this, and see who we are in the mountain, we must rebuild our Taino religion.”  He told of his personal history that as a younger man he had been a, “predicador adventista,” or pastor in a Christian church. “But that religion was not enough for me, or for a Taino. Our religion was in nature.”

          The cacique would not use the term, “reinvention,” but mentioned that as indio people and inheritors, they had the right to learn from every source that became available. “Our core as a people was really hurt,” he said, “everything was broken, lost. So, we learn from old jíbaro sayings; and we can learn from books.”

          We were at that moment in the “Women’s Bohio,” a circular, tall, thatch-roofed structure with a long center pole. The cacique pointed to the ceiling. At the top of the pole hung a large, decorated turtle shell. “We recognize our special relationship to the turtle of Taino creation,” an elder woman said. “The turtle is still here. We are still here.” 

““We don’t reconnect to these things blindly,” the cacique explained. “But in the chronicles and in the writings of  (Friar Ramón] Pané  nd Father [Bartolomé de] las Casas, we have found many things that refresh our memory, or that were important to our ancestors, like how we come from the turtle, what is the earth.”

          Several elder women and some younger men escorted us along with the cacique. As a group, they appeared respectful and relaxed with each other.  One young man, metal ring in his nose, hair short in front, long in back, had just finished a bachelor’s degree in archeology and accepted in a master’s program. He was dressed in blue jeans and dark t-shirt, same as most everyone else in the group. As we walked, the new graduate student expressed delight in the archeology of caves, which he felt deeply about for their patrimonial value. He expressed special concern about the lack of spiritual care for the island’s many sacred sites, and was bothered (“me molesta mucho”) by the disrespect shown in archeology to Native peoples’ human remains.

          The cacique is strong in his convictions, although in his condition as a Taino leader, he is no stranger to disputation and public critique. One disputation is with academic circles that challenge the notion of a twenty first century Taino survivance. But public conflicts are just as vigorous from among Taino movement leaders who have different, perhaps too easily conflictive, visions of the cultural survival process. The public contentions can be blistering.

           ”Sometimes leaders respond too strongly. Especially when others have attacked what we do,” the cacique offered, when questioned about continuing public conflicts among Taino leaders. He added, “But we learn from each other too.”

          He pointed out how their community thinking had grown on the mtDNA of their members. When genetic testing first became available, some looked to such testing as “proof” of Indianness. “We talked about what that might mean with a lot of people. But we are confident that we are Taino, in blood and also in culture. We don’t judge people by skin color or by DNA.” In the hosting group that day, one noticed mostly American Indian phenotype, and also individuals with more marked African and European features.

          The Concilio group walked us through their ceremonial plaza. We said our farewells there. They invited us to come back for a community ceremony later in the year. The plaza is a large rectangle of packed earth surrounded by standing slab representations of the full pantheon of Taino sacred beings, or Cemí. The group invited our delegation to dance briefly with them, which we reciprocated with a short purification.


          These brief visits to Naguake and to the Concilio yucayeque constituted only passing surveys of two substantial currents of the Taino movement in Puerto Rico. On the island, and in its northern diaspora, there are additional such organizations, processes and currents of significant and relevant interest to our research project as we gather the story of continuing indigenous revitalization in the Caribbean. Brief conversations (and interviews to be transcribed), plus direct observation confirmed the evolution of resurgence efforts, one focused on educational and social formation in school systems; the other focused on manifestation of spiritual ceremony and a religious community founded on notions of Taino culture found in the literature and in the island ecology. Both groups work with the remaining agricultural bases on their region of the island and endeavor to build their movements in a social change context.

          However one perceives the indigeneity revitalization and consciousness movements in the Caribean, the fact of their persistence, intensity and expansion is unavoidable. This report touches on two such projects among numerous other groups and communities – in place, like the two projects visited here visited, and virtual.  Most if not all appear to conduct constant and much-discussed research on Taino and Caribbean indigenousness – culture, history, craft, eco-agriculture, language – discussions intended not only to write, lecture and archive, but to generate lessons and experience toward the manifestation of living culture.


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• • • Artisans of the land and sea

Throughout the island of Puerto Rico, families and individuals sustain traditional craft and arts of high eco-systemic and indigeneity quotient.  In our five day visit, we met and interviewed three among these fascinating and talented group.

Silva – emerging Taino artist of Vieques Island. Taino identified; the traditional hammock maker; the Boricua carver from the deep forest …; Rollie, the traditional fisherman (out of Old Man and the Sea)

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          Captions:  680

1. Naguake is a movement of parents and educators reorienting Puerto Rican schools to a culturally-focused educational curriculum, including strong emphasis on Taino language appreciation and use.  SI-CILP team greeted by parents, who spoke about their vision for their children.

2. The Naguake educational movement guides and administers some twenty schools in a broad area of southeastern Puerto Rico known also as Naguake, Taino word-phrase meaning,  “Our Abundant Land.”

3. Naguake methodology directly overlaps community elders’ groups with committees of parents in communities. Some thirty-five mountain communities