part 2 of 2

Traditional Dug out Canoe
Photo by Olivia Peguero
Dominque David-Chavez and Boynayel Mota with Candido Rojas Martinez (canoe maker)
Saline interviewed by Boynayel Mota. Photo By Dominique David Chavez

As we leave this town we meet a man with Indigenous features and long pony tail.  We stop to say hello and inquire if he is from Miches.

No, sir , My name is Wazinger, I am from Colon Panama. Yes I am Indio. Thank you for asking. I see so many Indios here in Miches but they do always acknowledge their ancestry.” He looks at me and continues “you look like you must be Taino”.

Yes I am I reply.

“Good! Good to know you are still here”!

Wazinger has lived in this town for 7 years he earns his living as a horse trainer.

July 21, 2015- San Juan de la Maguana

Just north of San Juan de La Maguana is the town of Juan Herrera. The homes in this town are on the edge of a batey (Circular Taino ceremonial ball park) in the center of this circle there is a stone believed to be the resting place of Cacique Anacaona. This female chief was at one time the most powerful woman on the island.  She succeeded in framing a truce with the Spaniards only to be betrayed by them and later hung at the town sqaure in Santo Domingo.  Anacaona however would not be forgotten. Her descendants to this day pay homage to her. Pray to her and hold elaborate ceremonies in her honor. She is associated with the Virgin de la Altagracia, the Dominican patron saint.  In fact when people pray Christian style the say "In the name of the father, the son, ghost and our Quenn Anacaona--Amen.  Maguana in particular is proud of its Indian ancestry.

Anacaona's stone is cared for by Amantina, a Taino woman with stereotypical Indian features who is a religious leader in Agua Dulce, 21 Division and Liborista, syncretic religious traditions of Maguana that incorporate Taino/African/ Catholic practices.  Amantina is a devout follower of Anacaona, the Taino Chief of Jaragua and Maguana.  She shows us her “power stones” and blesses us with water as is the custom of the people of Maguana.

Sadly her husband had been in a bad motorcycle accident and she is beside herself, yet finds time to greet us and bless us. We follow her to the Stone, we feed and water it per her instruction and she offers prayers. Her dream is to hold an all Native Areito (dance) at the stone one day.

We say our goodbyes and continue on to Cuevas de Pomier in San Cristobal.





Behike Amantina at Anacaona's stone. Photo by DominiqueDavid-Chavez


In the 1970s a mining company found gypsum deposits at the Cuevas de Pomier, at San Cristobal an old Sugar Mill. These were 56 connected caves. The caverns can be from the size of a room to huge stadium sized caves with stalactites and stalagmites, and most important 300 Taino petroglyphs and pictographs. Sadly one cave was destroyed by the miners. The Corporan family and some 70 other community people barricaded themselves in the caves and stopped the miners from destroying their beloved caves and its cultural patrimony.

These caves also served as refuge during hurricanes, for both catholic and Agua Dulce ceremonies as well as cave explorers.

Today the Corporan family protects them with even more vigilance and proudly show that their conservation efforts in the long run paid off. The mining company destroyed the 1st cave with little to show for it.  In contrast the caves that survived and under care of the Corporan Clan is clean, thriving with flora and fauna in the surrouding areas. In addition the biggest Indigenous festival on the island is held at Pomier, culminating at the cave entrance. I was invited there a few years ago to offer cultural advice.

Our team met the family and was given a tour of the caves. We were also treated to a meal, where the family sat  in a circle and the food is placed in the center in an apparent  indigenous and unique way.

After our departure, Boynayel Mota , who serves as our guide and cameraman returned to Pomier to teach them how to make traditional Taino slit drum known as “mayowakan”  Jose Guacarabo Corporan, leader of the Corporan clan was the first to make this log drum in his community.

The Indian festival held at Pomier is also organized by the Corporan Clan, their dedication is inspiring.  Creating the biggest Indigenous festival in the Caribbean is quite an ambitious goal.  It is fascinating to think that these caves which once served as ceremonial centers for the Taino people of Kiskeya are now welcoming Indians from all corners of the western hemisphere.





Cave entrance at Pomier
Jose Guacarabo Corporan making a mayowakan (Taino slit drum)
Marching towards Areito (gathering)

Santo Domingo

Dominique David Chavez Amazing Young Scholar

This trip has been amazing, and yet, no Yuca dance. We set off for Santo Domingo, capital city, where we say goodbye to Dominique –David Chavez and her mother Nancy David.   They are off to Puerto Rico to continue this important work at NAGUAKE a Taino community on that  island headed by Dr. Carlalynne Melendez. Dominique and Nancy have been amazing. I am grateful to have been accompanied by people of such high intelligence and integrity.   This trip was even more special due to the fact that Dominique and her mother Nancy, Boynayel and I are all Taino Identified. This is just the first of many trips for us across the Caribbean.

Tomorrow  we head back to Santiago to meet with DIonisio Peralta who is the director of the Guanal  Eco Reserve.  Hopefully we will not miss him again. As we await the next day, I decide to take a stroll around the Hotel area and meet some of its people.

Young boy from Jorge Esyevez home town- Jaibon
Woman selling food, originally from Azua

July 22- Santiago

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 casabe making"!

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 Indian Identity?

 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 best”!

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 says.

 “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

“There 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.

Ruperto 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.


Dionisio Peralta Estevez
with carving of Guacvanagarix
Dionisio during interview
Estevez with traditional Buren (Oven)
Bottom of Turtle shells used to flatten Casabe bread(CUISA)
Capacho (sieve)
Ruperto Vargas and the Yuca dancers



Indigeneity is found in every corner of the Dominican Republic.  Customs and traditions have been preserved at a very high level. In mountain regions such as the Cibao , Maguana, Azua and Higuey Indigenous elements are stronger and very pronounced.  The inhabitants of these regions barely notice them. For those who are seeking them out however, it is like a treasure trove. Past observers often times made contradictory remarks regarding the Taino such as Alastair Reid in 1992 who wrote of the Dominican Republic:

  “Although the Taino population of Hispaniola was “wiped” out within thirty years of the discovery, it is as though the Tainos had left their mode of life embedded in the land, to be reenacted in a surprisingly similar form by the campesinos now”. Rich soil, a benign climate, and plants of predictable yield guarantee basic survival, although today on a threadbare level..... Pucho asks me a lot about the Tainos-- I once read him from Las Casas the descriptions of their common crops and agricultural practices, and he was as startled as I was that everything was all still growing within shouting distance, that we were more or less enacting the Tainos' agricultural patterns, using their words, living more or less as they did except for our clothes and our discontents. In “Reflections: Waiting for Columbus" by Alastair Reid in "The New Yorker" (February 24, 1992, pp. 57-75)

On the one hand he was observing clear Taino Indigeneity, but inexplicably could not connect Taino survival and cultural continuity to the scenes unfolding in front of his eyes. The extinction model, when viewed through DNA  sequencing analysis and close inspection of indigenous elements  that  can be readily observed everywhere in the Dominican Republic and other islands of the Caribbean becomes increasingly unclear.  Dr. Peter Ferbel Azcarate wrote in his dissertation,  The Politics of Taino Indian Identity in the Post Quin-centennial  Dominican Republic “The admission of Taino Survival by the state would be an admission of the States control of history and national Identity “

The Classic Taino did not go extinct. They were assimilated yes, but left their genes, traditions, customs, religiosity and language to marked degrees. This is an area that has not yet been thoroughly studied and merits the full attention of ethnographers, historians, geneticists and other sciences.


Observations made in all locations visited thus far:


Markers of Indigeneity

Material culture

Includes Native traditions, customs-dances, canoes, casabe bread, bohios , basketry etc

These are found in every site we visited on both trips 2013-2015





Surviving Indigenous words, especially those not documented by the Spanish.


75 new words have been identified by author- crossed checked with related languages such as Wayu-Garifuna and Lokono

The amount of Native words still in use is staggering. Each time we visit we learn new words.




Agricultural practices

Planting ways and knowledge- moon phases and peculiar planting traditions surrounding Native crops.


People still

Nearly everyone we spoke to had some knowledge or very knowledgeable of planting ways and cycles





Spiritual beliefs, especially those clearly connected to classic Taino spiritual traditions.


Stones-Water- Tabacco- Casabe are central to all religious practices

Taimani the source for the Agua Dulce “arm” of several religions in the Dominican Republic is composed of mostly Indian lore. Often confused with vudu, the actual practices are in fact pre-columbian.




Physical features

Phenotypical appearance of individuals- 

Does looking African make one black? 

If so does looking Indian make one Indian?

How high or low do people of apparent Native ancestry register in DNA sequencing analysis? (AUTOSOMAL DNA)

Although phenotype is not always a reliable marker of race, it is pretty apparent that in places visited with high percentages of Native Phenotypes a high percentage of Native customs, language and religiosity was also present- further in many places we visited, prior DNA sequencing studies resulted in medium to very high percentages of genetic Native ancestry.


Indigenous or Nativist Identity, knowledge of

IN some places people identify wih “Indio” as a color. While in others people identify with Indio as a race.  In some regions people speak of the “bravery’ of its inhabitants due to having Indian blood. In some areas people use the term NATIVO and clearly say, "we were here first".  In many places there is a general shyness about identifying with anything that is not Spanish. Implying to the observer that identity is and has always been controlled by  outside forces. But there are many rising voices that openly identify with Indio or Taino.



Campesinos in general look out for one another. For example, visiting a poor farmer who gladly gives of everything he has. These acts of kindness invoke a feeling of giving back. This is not random, but rather the culture. The Spaniards observed this very thing with the Classic Taino.

Comapartive analysis of Agua Dulce (Taimani) a Spiritual Tradition in the Dominican Republic with Spanish Chronicles principly those of Fray Pane and Bartolome de las Casas and South American Indian spiritual traditions as they appear in the Handbook of the South American Indian by Julian H. Steward 1948 and  Philosophy , Initiation and Myths of the Indians of Guina and Adjacent countries by C.H. Goeje 1943


Agua Dulce or Taimani

Taino: Early Spanish Accounts 

South America tribes of Arawakan and Carib lineages

Creators name-

Guamao- Leader of the Indian Division



Yocahuguama- (Pane)Iocauna Guamaonocon (Angleria)

Iocahuague Maorocon (Ulloa)

Yocahu Bagua Maorocoti (de las Casas)

All these names are attributed to the creator (Yaya) Possibly titles



Indio del Charco- Indian of the water falls said to walk on all four legs and hides from people



Similar to Opiyelguabiran, mischievous Cemi from the valley of Maguana said to walk on all four legs “like” a dog”



Practitioners believe that stones have spirits that can cure you. It is believed that stones may even speak to an individual, often with instruction on spiritual tasks

According to accounts by Pane & de las Casas Classic Taino stories often involved Stones such as the Cohibici which are green stones found in certain areas of the island.  Many Cemi Idols were also made of Stones

The Lache Indians of Northern Venezuela believe that the dead become stones and will be reborn and a future time –Handbook of the South American Indian


Stones are fed and watered as if they are alive such as the Anacaona stone in Maguana as well as the stones in the Aguita de Liborio.


 Cemi (Taino deities) often made of stone were also fed and watered

Stones play an important role in South America as well

Stones are said to produce dreams or visions in people.  For example Green stone produces two visions where’as quartz can produce 5 visions.




Stones are said to be medicinal and used in conjunction with Medicinal plants





 Casabe-Water-tobacco & Stones are part of all ceremony

 Casabe-Water-tobacco & Stones were also employed part of all ceremony

Water-Tobacco -and stones are a part of most cermonies- Un-clear of casabe

Stones are alive and grow

Stones are ancestors




Guangua is the name of a spell. Usually when someone is annoyed they will utter” I spit the Guangua on you”


Guanguayo was a spell that the Deity Bayomanaco spat on Deminan Caracaracol’s back, causing a lump to appear which later begat a turtle. This turtle begat the first beings of flesh and blood.


Fresh water turtles are believed to cause bad luck if they are harmed



Ciguapa- Creatures said to roam the countryside . They have long hair  to their ankles and have inverted feet 


Currupia- Creatures said to roam the jungle. They have long hair  to their ankles and have inverted feet  as well- Also called Caipora, Mataca, Ciguanama and Duen

Jacana dance (summer solstice)


Most tribes celebrate the the equinoxes

Water is ceremoniously  consulted for divination- All ceremonies begin by invoking Taiguabo “Indian of the waters

Taiguabo ‘s attributes are similar to the deity Boynayel as recorded by Fray Pane

Water is the most important element in most tribes, followed by Fire, stones and earth

Agua Dulce is divided in “tribes such as the river, Mountain, forest


Many tribes in South America have a clan system

A person must be born into a spiritual Brotherhood.


Shaman must go through an apprenticeship

Many people make a small cave in the “Conuco” (planting field) offer a short prayer then bury a Taino object usually made of stone or clay believing that it will help their crops grow.


The Spaniards recorded the Classic Taino burying their Cemi in their Conuco to help their crops grow     


Anacaona is considered a water spirit who is often accompanied by Anaisa or Anaina


Believe that the mother of the universe is a female water being who is often accompanied by lesser beings





It is believed that the dead, called Opias, have no navels. Also when a person walks through the forest he/she must cover up their navel

Chroniclers documented that for the Classic Taino that opias (souls of the dead)had no navels.  These were also known as Opertio

Water spirits do not have Navels

Nimita and cocuyo (fireflies) are the eyes of dead children

The Spanish recorded that fireflies are the eyes of the opias to the classic Taino



Sobar- Is a healing practice where the healer blows tobacco smoke and rubs the evil spirts affecting the ill

Tobacco used in healing ceremonies

All healing ceremonies include the use of tobacco and Sobar is widely employed as well

Tobacco used in all ceremonies

Spanish recorded same use among classic Taino

South American tribes extensively use tobacco for ceremony

Mal viento- Evil wind- can affect the body and even crops



Baguada- Bad storms, different from hurricane, perceived as evil



Pine apples may not be eaten by pregnant women



Taboos surrounding hammocks include: a babies hammock should never be rocked if baby not in it.



 Owls are considered bad omens-They announce death


Owls are considered harbingers of death







The following Taino words  were gathered by Dominique David-Chavez:






Campesino who leaves the campo for the city and never returns


Taíno oven


cave where Taíno people emerged (Northern Kiskeia)






sea turtle


“the essence of life”; spirit captured in stone/wood


spider* &/or centipede




man of the caves (Jose Corporan’s Taíno name)


reed used to make baskets


bohio-like lean-to structure


plant used for making chola bread (roots are even more toxic than the yuca)




place of many sticks (also name of Cacike)

area remote from Spanish until mid-1500s

also called “la ciudad de la primavera” many flowers & abundant plantlife


jay =crabs, bon=edge “crabs at the river’s edge”


when a woman gives birth, people would say “what a beautiful kakona”; a gift or a blessing


waters, rivers




burns like incense




a dish made with corn. practice of making yaroa now spread out throughout the island.




a brown fruit (pink on inside) we had in our smoothie