Next morning we take the 3 hour drive and finally reach Santiago, our destination however is Santiago Rodriguez still 3 hours further away. Boynayel and I meet Dionisio in a park. He is my last chance of finding this Yuca Dance or at least one
of the 3 versions said to be still in practice. This is especially important to me as I come from a casabe making family. Even after we immigrated to the states, for a short while we continued making casabe at home. Only after they began importing readymade
casabe to the USA did we forego the processing of this traditional sustenance.
I have asked my family members about the Yuca dance but none remember it. Yet I have this need to find it as it feels so familiar somehow.
We met Dioniso Perlata ,
an artist, in a park in Santiago. He is the founder and director of the Guanal Eco Village. Dionisio asks
“ Jorge, I see your last name is Estevez, I am Peralta Estevez, which means we are related”!
I had failed to realize
when I first heard his name that I am also Peralta. The Estevez, Peralta, Chavez and Cabrera families have been intermarrying for a long time. All of these families make Casabe bread, it is no coincidence!
Can you tell me abuot the Yuca
dance I ask? He replies that they do one form of the Yuca dance/game still. He also boasted that his family makes the best casabe in the Cibao. Casabe makers take great pride in the processing of this traditional native staple.
Dionisio is astounded
to hear of mtDNA and autosomal DNA sequencing studies in the country and that they confirm that 33% of Dominicans have Native ancestry. Dionisio says “ This is fantastic, I often wondered if those stories I heard as a child from our grandparents
of us having Indian blood were true”.
As a child my family, particularly my grandmother often said that we were Indians because her grandparents originally came from very Indian places, in our case (as most Estevez and Peralta) San
Jose de las Matas and Guayacan Adentro. Everything I had heard as a child from my grandmother was now being confirmed by this distant relative who shares my family surnames,
He agrees to come with us to Guanal and show us his place . He
also calls some of his his friends to come and perform the yuca dance. This verison is actually for children and more like a game. There are three versions of the Yuca dance. In the Version I am looking for, dancers movements resemble the processing of Casabe.
*NOTE- Good friend and Colleague Keisha Josephs a Kalinago Indian, Linguist and Phd canditate, sent me a message from Guayana where she is doing field research saying "jorge I heard they have a Yuca dance here, the steps are mimicking the process of
We head out on the 3 hour drive to the town of Santiago Rodriguez stopping along the way to take pictures of the people in the area. Native faces everywhere. We arrive just passed noon and Dionisio asks if we can stop in town
to show us one of his works of art. It is a huge Guayacan tree in the middle of the sidewalk. He was commissioned by the town people to create something out of the dying tree. He chose many elements, but to my surprises the image most important
to him is one of Cacique Guacanagarix, a chief who sided with Columbus and the Spaniards during the very first skirmishes on the island. He explained “Guacanagarix was our Cacique here at Marien (name given to the chief’s kingdom). Caciqiue
Caonabo of Maguana was jealouos of him and was planning to overthrow him, so he chose to side with the Spanish, a mistake that costs us all dearly” While his statement was interesting, I found it fascinating that just a few hours before
he was “unsure” of our families native ancestry, and yet everytime he spoke, he spoke with Indigenous pride. He then took off his baseball cap and I was astounded at how long his hair was, it reached down to the middle of his back. Supprssed
We then travel about half mile to el Guanal. Dionisio begins with an explanation of the establishment, its history, his goals etc. Explaining that campesino (peasant farmers) come from all over the island to
their “Velada” (Communal get-togethers). In fact country folk from Cuba and Venezuela also participate. These people are extremely proud of their Guajiro/Jibaro/Maniguero roots. Dionisio says, “Bucaro (campesino who leave
and never return) don’t know what they are missing, clean air, clean food, community, all these things are here”.
In the center of the place there is a Bohio (Taino home) and within it all the utensils
for making Casabe bread. Surprisingly most of the utensils are traditional!
“We make the best casabe here Jorge” he says. At Cacique Moncion they sometimes use sweet Yuca, but ours is always from the bitter and the consistency is the
He proudly shows off his buren (Taino oven), and the turtle shell (cuisa) to flatten the bread and a wooden chamarica (spatula) to turn the bread over. I ask about the “Cibucan” which is hung and used to squeeze
the poison out of the Yuca. He says “oh we don’t use that one any longer as it does not hold as much catibia (yuca flower). We use instead a capacho, which holds a lot of yuca. It is also hung”. NEW WORD CAPACHO,
possibly of Spanish origin although the utensil is indeed indigenous.
He then calls the group to show us a short version of the Yuca Dance/game.
“We used to play this game, while our parents made casabe”. Dionisio
“Who taught you this game”? I ask.
“We learned from our parents and they learned from theirs”. He says
“Is this the only Yuca dance you know” I ask
is another dance, but not many people do it any longer. We do it here during the Velada, mostly people from Jarabacoa still do it”.
I explain how hard it was to find it at Jarabacoa. He promised to connect me with the proper people.
Vargas is the mainj yuca dancer. He asks his son and another young man to demnnstrate: The young boy goes atop two poles that the other two participants sway back and forth and side to side. They sing “ We are grating the Yuca, we are blowing casabe”
over and over.
The objective is to see who can last the longest without falling from the poles. This was the entertainment children had while parents engaged in the arduous task of making Casabe bread!
Boynayel askss Ruperto "do you know
what candelon de teta is"? (candelon de teta is the modern name for the hallucinogenic seeds Taino people called cohoba. Used as a medicine and to connect to the spirt world).
" Yes I know what the seeds are, we use them to cure animals who
have lost their horns, such as sheep, cows, etc. We bake the seeds........."
This is amazing. we truly did not expect anyone to know of this, and yet these campesino know how to use cohoba seeds for medicinal use, at least for their sick livestock.
We say our goodbyes to Dionisio, his father and the rest of the crew. This part of my trip was the best for me. Family connections! Is it possible that many Native traditions are preserved by closely related families on the island? In this case
we see the Estevez Peralta clan engaging in not only the making of casabe, but preserving dance and song as well.