Part 1

Report on 2nd Research Trip to the Dominican Republic-July 2015

Edubencia Capellan and Jorge Estevez

Mission Purpose- In search of Native Dances said to still be in practice as well as traditional  canoe building and a revisit to past research locations. On this trip I am also accompanied by Dominique M. Chavez, a doctoral student in Colorado University’s Human Dimensions of Natural Resources program and her mother Nancy Puamari David. Both are members of the Taino community with family in Salinas, Puerto Rico and Union Higuayagua. Dominique will be assisting by photo documenting ethnographic field sites as well as geo-referencing field sites with a GPS unit provided by doctoral student and colleague, Angel Garcia, also of the Taino community. The purpose of this is to generate a geospatial data map of the research area. 

 Report: Friday July 17, 2015

The time is 9:46 am, at JFK international airport in New York.  After driving two hours from my home in Connecticut to New York and rushing through airport security, I finally board the plane. Judging by my past trip to the island everything should go as planned. I spent a week before my departure, going over routes and points of interest on the island. I have all my contacts phone numbers and addresses. 

The plane lands at 1:43 pm, right on schedule, quick check out at the car rental and I am on my way to Santo Domingo. This is my first stop where I pick up my friend and colleague, Boynayel Mota. He knows the entire island, thus I have affectionately named him GPS!  He not only serves as guide but also videographer/photographer. Boynayel identifies with both his Taino and Afro roots, wears dreadlocks and has a handsome face, one that speaks of the Cimarron history of the island.  I value his friendship highly.

Roads in the Dominican Republic can be bad and the maps even worse. I originally planned to visit the northern country first, then head south, however to travel from the Northwest to the Northeast one must travel south first and then head back north. This is a 12 hour trip. Thus, this oversight during may cost me dearly.

We decide to spend the night in Santiago, the islands second largest city. Here we team up with Dominique David-Chavez and her mom, Nancy.  After spending some time we map out our trip and agree to set out first thing in the morning. 

 July 18, 2015-Jarabacoa revisit:

I first visited Jarabacoa back in May of 2013.  This region has strong traces of the islands indigenous past. Native American physiognomy are visible everywhere, given the regions history comes as no surprise .   On my previous trip I was astounded with the people’s dedication to casabe bread production (a Taino staple). On that particular trip the towns people of Cienega and Manabao all complained of not having Yuca (manioc) to make their casabe. When asked “how do you get your casabe, if no yuca cann be found here”? they all replied “we travel to the village of Higo at Atiyo and buy our casabe. The people at Higo all make casabe”.

We arrive at the  town of Jarabacoa in the morning.  We are specifically looking for “Centro Cultural Anacaona” a cultural center for elders dedicated to the old dances of the region. Try as we might, we could not locate the center.  On the road we meet Jarabacoa residents  Josue Antonio, a man of obvious European extraction and Jose Ortiz “el Indio”. We ask Josue,  do you know where we can find the Anacaona Center and specifically the Yuca Dance?

“Those dances are not performed much any longer. Only during campesino festivals can you find them and only among the older people. Young people today are not interested in such things. Also, the yuca dance was performed during planting and harvest of yuca. We no longer get yuca in these parts, so many things related to yuca are being lost” he says.

In recent years,and this year in particular, there have been severe droughts in the area. In addition the big hotel chains buy most of the available crop. So little, if any yuca gets to the markets, hence the loss of casabe culture and yuca dances. Question: Is there a correlation between the loss of agriculture and the loss of culture?

This question concerns me. Customs and traditions related to agriculture are intrinsically connected. Thus this culture which has continued in these mountains for hundreds of years are slowly dying out.  Question: is anyone trying to record them? Save them?

Josue says further “ there is one cultural center that may be able to help you. It is called MUVI, just up the street. I hope your project goes well. I will tell you that if you look at the people of Jarabacoa, this region is a mix of Taino Indian and European”.  And they certainly appear to be thus, at least phenotypically. 

 

Jose Ortiz who guided us to the MUVI Center
Josue Antonio Jarabacoa resident.

Centro MUVI:

Dominican Artist Valentin Acosta

We arrive at the center just before noon. The center is a large structure which serves as teaching center, art school, gallery, gift shop and the home of founder/director Valentin Acosta. Valentin is  a re-known Dominican artist originally from the town of Cotui. He greets us with a big welcoming smile. I notice that the people in these mountains always greet you with a smile. We explain our mission, and he, in turn describes his his center, its objectives, past, present and future and the need for children to have access to places like this.“Children these days are not connected to their culture, this makes me sad indeed, but we are trying our best” He says.  

The topic shifts to mtDNA and native cultural continuitry. I mention past DNA sequencing studies done in the area and how they confirm the presence of Native American ancestry among the inhabitants. Valentin is quite surprised by our conversation as he knew little of DNA sequencing studies.  He does say that he always suspected his wife to be of indigenous descent as she is native to Jarabacoa. He himself is from a town named Cotui. He explains proudly that his home town’s name is Taino and would love to see a DNA study there. He asks that I keep in touch and tell him more.

In his gift shop he sells art, jewelry, books of poetry works, but it’s his pottery that catches my eye. Finely made and fired, it is made in Taino Indian style along with Taino iconographies. He explains they are made by “mujeres Campesinas Inaru” a local group of women dedicated to Taino pottery style. I offer to acquire some from him , but he informs me that his wife, who is still sleeping, has the prices and that we should come back much later.

The “mujeres Campesinas Inaru” are familiar to me, I first heard of them from my good friend Sarah Candido, an American who lived in Jarabacoa and who helped organize these women into the cooperative they have today.  Sarah remarked when we first met “ Jorge, I cannot fathom why the people of Jarabacoa  are not more strongly connected to their Taino ancestry. Their very faces are Taino and I know what an Indian looks like”!

 

 

Up To Manabao and Cienega:

Traveling further up the mountain we reach Manabao. A young boy is selling quenepa (native fruit) and we purchase some from him. His friend Alberto, a bright 13 year old boy had helped us park our car and promised to look after it asks me “Are you an Indian”?

Yes I am I reply and you?, what are you? He looks perplexed! I add, okay, in this country there is a mixture of Indian, African and Spanish, which one are you? 

Alberto responds “I am Indian. My grandmother says that in the old days people lived better and were kind to one another. I wish I lived back then”. 

His remark is surprising. On my first trip to this town, people spoke about Indians in hush tones and always in past tense. Yet Alberto is aware of the areas indigeneity.

Do you know of the Yuca dance? I ask.  I am looking for yuca dancers.  He answers no,  but knows of a great dancer named Lalo who lives down the road.  I ask that he takes us there.

We reach Lalo’s  home, a modest camepsino dwelling. One of his granddaughters , Dulce, is resting outside. She says “ Lalo is not here, he is my grandfather, but he will be here shortly. Please sit and wait”.  All four of us enter their front yard. They are very poor people. As is the custom, they offer us food and water. We silently marvel at their generosity. Early Spanish accounts of Taino customs mention the generosity of the Classic Taino. How they shared all they had. It seems that even this custom is preserved in these beautiful mounmtains.

Lalo’s entire family comes out to greet us, his wife, Rosario,  a woman in her late 70’s is warm and jovial.  She gives us hugs and kisses and reports that Lalo is in the Conuco (planting fields) and will return shortly. We pose the quesion of the dance to her, again no clear answers. A few minutes later, a small cow herd makes its way down the path, behind it is a thin, muscled man with the biggest smile. This is Lalo.

“Welcome to my home! Have you been offered anything to eat or drink”? ..

“Of course grandfather shouts Dulce”!

Thank you Lalo, yes your family has been very nice to us.

 

Lalo, we are here looking  the yuca dance, we hear that you may know? 

“I used to dance at lot at parties, but, I spend most of my time in my conuco now. I do not know this dance, but my parents did. Please excuse me for not having a shirt on, but I just came from that Conuco up on the high hill (he points to the side of the mountain)”.

I am a bit frustrated as I have not been able to locate any promising leads. However the warmth,  hospitality and generosity of these people is contagious. I would have rather have just thanked them and left, but….. “ You must try some of my coffee!” Lalo says. It is the best in the area, I grow it myself"!

My travel companions are coffee drinkers and agree to the coffee. They enter Lalo’s home and inform me that he owns a huge Pilon (wooden Mortar).

Shortly after Lalo exits his home and tells us that the conuco has been very bad this year due to the drought. He grows many crops such as Yuca , batata, mapuey etc. He tells us he travels on horseback through the mountain passage for two days to sell his crops at the village of Higo, the casabe making village. We visited this village two years ago and plan to return after we leave Lalo's home. Lalo is a humble man but extremely proud of his family, “all of these little ones are my great grandchildren, grandchildren, I take care of them all, I am 70 years old” he says proudly!

We thank him for the coffee, and great conversation. His wife says

“ I will keep you all in my prayers, we are your family, thank you for visiting us, please come back and visit with us again”!

I am humbled by their generosity, how can people with so little be so giving?  We all hug and say our goodbyes. RECIPROCITY is an act of giving and getting something in return, is this an example?

I turn back and give Lalo some money. "this is not neccesary"! he says.

I know, I reply, I know.

Cienega is a village just off Manabao.  We interviewed several people there on our previous trip. The Cappellan family in particular shared amazing stories with us dealing with “indios del Charco” or Indians in the water fall. These stories are of Indian spirit beings. They can can be male or female and dwell near the waterfalls. They also walk on all fours like a dog and entice people to join them in the waters. More importantly they are extremely mischievious.

According to ex Dominican President and historian, Juan Bosch, the Indian of the water fall story is actually the story of Opiyelguabiran, a Taino deity said to walk on all fours, somewhat like a dog as well. This being was said to always escape into the forest, or into a cave. He would exit the cave, walk on all four legs and then run into the waterfalls. Upon exiting the water he would comb his hair and also entice humans to follow him under the waters. Legends of Opiyelguabiran survived Spanish colonization on the isle of Kiskeya/Haiti.

We make it to Edubencia Cappellan’s home. She looks remarkably well, better than last we saw her. She is in her late 90’s. Her children and grandchildren are visiting and she is extemely happy.

Hello Edubencia remeber us? 

“Yes I remember you” she says. “come in, come in, our home is your home”! she says

We ask her right off if perhaps she knows of the Yuca dance?  “I have heard of it, but I don’t know it myself”. She says

Her children had not heard of it either. Apparently it was her late husband who was the farmer.

NOTE: The yuca dance is mostly known only by those who are intimately connected with plantng, harvesting and casabe production.

 Edubencia had told us of her experience with the Indian in the water fall two years before. This family has striking indigenous features.  After a short conversation, we say our goodbyes and decide to return to Jarabacoa.

On the road we see a man exiting a conuco (crop field). He is wearing boots,  tools in his hand and a Makuto (woven native style basket). We drive past him, but then decide turn back and speak with him about his makuto. As part of this research trip I am to purchase “handling objects” or rather cultural items to be possibly used for the exhibit project or educational purposes.

Buenos dias paisano, that is a very nice makuto you have there. May I ask where you got it? Did you make it?

“Oh no, I bought this at the little market down the road, they sell many of them”  

I am interested in buying one, how much to they go for? I ask.

they go for $600.00 pesos (30.00 US), these are well made as you can see, would you like to buy this one”?

We could not resist but buy a bonafide makuto from a real maniguero (farmer). Maniguero is the equivalent to the Cuban Guajiro or Puerto Rican Jibaro. Both Guajiro and Jibaro terms were used here as well, but have fallen out of use in recent years. We pay him, Dominque and Nancy take pictures of the man. I ask, may I have your name please? We are recording our trip.

”My name is Placido Duran Rodriguez at your service”.  He goes happily about his way.   

As we leave Manabao, we see smoke coming from a nearby field. Since there has been a drought we worry that this fire may be hazardous to the people in the area. Upon our approach to the smoky area we realize there are people sitting on the porch of a home. It is a conuco (crop field), and the fire is intentional. This is slash and burn agriculture.

Dominican Historian Bernardo Vega wrote in his short essay “Indigenous culture in the Dominican Republic today” that the slash and burn agricultural method employed in the Dominican Republic is identical to the methods used by South American Indians and distinct from African or Spanish methods.  Great find, must revisit Slash and burn Agriculture.

Alberto with lalo's great grandson
Rosario Lalo's wife
Jorge Estevez with Lalo
Nancy David, Domique, Riosario and Boynayel
Lalo and his great grandkids
Edubencia Capellan

Back in Jarabacoa

Don Feliz Zapata playing a yuca dance theme along with dance steps.

We return to Centro Muvi and are greeted again by Valentin and his wife Anny, who has woken up and eager to speak with us. We purchase several items from their gift shop, items made by local artists. Anny wraps the items up for us. She is a strikingly beautiful woman with obvious Indigenous features. 

We depart and  and head to the town sqaure center for a  pit stop at a shop that makes  batidas  (fruit shakes). TMost are made from local native fruits such as zapote, mamey, guanabana and papaya. These were all consumed by classic Taino people. Dominque, Nancy, Boynayel and I drink up, and strike up a conversation with two men enjoying a drink themselves. We ask them about the Yuca dance, again nothing.

Just as we are get ready to leave a man enters the shop and overhears our conversation.

“I can help you with that “ he says. “ You must speak to Don Feliz Zapata, he is famous in these parts and knows several of the Yuca dances”

We are literally stunned at this chance meeting which now finally seems promising! After getting directions from him , we ask the two gentlemen whom we were speaking with if they would escort us to Don Feliz home. They agree.

We arrive 10 minutes later to the home of Don Feliz Zapata, a Dominican folklorist who traveled the country and the world as part of a Folklorist music and dance troupe.

“My name is Feliz Zapata. Welcome to my home.  I belonged to a group called Villa Caona (golden villa), we traveled throughout the country. The dance you are speaking of, well there are several. One was revised and extra steps added to it, while the others are mostly campo dances.  The dances were performed for the planting & harvest, but rarely these days. We used to play a merengue version. I can play a tune with my harmonica to show you how it goes if you like”.  Yes of course, I  said excitedly!

 Don Zapata pulls out a harmonica he has in his pocket and begins playing and singing a tune.

“ Guaya la yuca… para el casabe……. pa el que lo quema es el que sabe”

(Grate the yuca…….. for the casabe, he who bakes it ……….is the one with knowledge).

that’s how they went, but I am old now, many of our members have died, few people play the music like that anymore”.

He then gets up and sings the song again, this time with dance steps. This is wonderful, although not the particular dance I was looking for, but wonderful nonetheless.  Don Zapata is charismatic and a great showman.  We are happy with his interview.

Placido Duran Rodriguez- Maniguero of Jarabacoa
Slash and Burn agriculture
Don Feliz Zapata - Singer and Dancer- Yuca Dancer

Back to Atiyo

Nancy David performing Sobo/Reiki on injured man.

Hard to believe its only been one day and we have covered a so much ground. Dominique and her mother Nancy are amazing travel companions. I am grateful to have them with me.

Last time I was in this area we visited the village of Higo which is on the adjacent mountain in Jarabacoa, a place named Atiyo. This community specializes in Casabe production. It is here that the people of Manabao and Cienega come to buy their Casabe when they cannot get Yuca.

When we reach Higo we see a group of familiar women. One of them is Daria Dominguez, a dark skinned woman with strong native features. She looks sad, but recognizes me instantly. “Hello, Hello how are you”? She says excitedly. We have a brief conversation and I explain our objectives. She too knows nothing of the dance. It is becoming clear that the dance is no longer a part of the landscape, at least not actively.

Daria explains to us that her son, whom I met before, had a bad motorcycle accident.  She asks that we come by and say hello to him before we leave. I am having a hard time remembering the name of her cousin, whom we interviewed on our last trip. A pretty young girl who is in the group informs us that I am inquiring about her mother Carmen Dominguez.

We follow her down a familiar path to her home. We find her mother, Carmen Dominguez and her husband cooking, not casabe bread this time but panesico, a bread made from the Naiboa (poison) starch of the yuca

Carmen had explained the entire casabe production technique last time. We marveled at theTaino words we learned at the time.

She had explained “ Casabe can only be made from the poison yuca (bitter), You sit in your Ture (seat)  and peel the yuca with a  concha (shell) then grate it on a guayo.The grated yuca is called catibia.  The Catibia is then squeezed of its Naiboa (poison)  in a sack (the native name cibucan was absent in this village, but they had heard of it calling itv instead SEBUCAN), once the Naiboa is squeezed out, it is stored to make panesico. Then the grated catibia is put through a jibe (sifter) the cusubei (big chunks) left over are given to the farm animals. The catibia is put out to dry. Once dried, it is placed on the buren (native oven) you pat the bread down with a Cuisa (turtle shell) and turn it over using a chamarica (spatula). The casabe is ready in 15 minutes. This bread will never spoil and last a life time”.

The paniseco process is a bit different. The Naiboa (poison juice) is left to sit.  The almidon (starch will settle on the bottom, whereas the clear liquid (Yare) rises. The yare is actually the cyanide toxin, this is separated from the starch. Yare is used to kill fish in the streams.  The starchy almidon is let dry into a dough and mixed with meat or coconut and rolled into a  Boyo (log).  This is also placed on the buren. The end result looks a lot like a burrito and the taste divine. They offer each of us some Panesico. We certainly gained a few pounds right here! 

I ask them how the Casabe business is going. Their reply, saddened me.

Carmen says “ The droughts have been bad this year, Yuca is scarce, we are the only ones making casabe in the village. Most yuca we get comes from other places, it’s getting harder to make a living”.  Sadly, just as in the year before, where people at Manabao and Cienega complained of no yuca, this was repeating itself here in Higo.  Traditions are threatened inadvertently by the the loss of Agriculture.

After catching up and buying some Panesico and Casabe, we head out.  Carmen’s  cousin Daria is waiting for us. She requests again that we visit with her son. We enter her home and he is lying in bed in obvious pain.  “Seeing you will do him some good his mother says sadly”.

Nancy our traveling companion is a Taino woman from the island of Boriken (Puerto Rico) a  gregarious, empathetic and deeply spiritual woman and healer.

"Dona Daria may I work on your son"? 

Daria smiles politely and answers yes.  Nancy sits on the bed with the young man and begins performing a sobo (rub) all over the young mans body.

We could see that Nancy’s healing touch is soothing the young man. . Athough it is sad that the boy is in great pain, we all felt this was a special moment to have a Taino healer from Boriken (Puerto Rico) performing healing work on casabe maker from the mountains of Jarabacoa. Truly in the spirit of our ancestors. Again an example of extremely poor people, sharing all they have with us. It was a  noble gesture on Nancy’s part to assist him, but also one of true reciprocity.

Its time to leave. They all wish us a safe journey.

Yuca dance still unattainable. We decide to head to Santiago Rodriguez , some 6 hours away. Kiskeya is a very large island, feels even bigger when driving cross island.

Maria Dominguez, Carmen;s daughter
Panesicom
Carmen Dominquez and her husband.

July 19, 2015 EL GUANAL CULTURAL RESERVE

Early next morning we head out to the Guanal Cultural Reserve.  It is indeed a long ride.

The reserve is like an oasis with many native fruits and vegetables growing. There are several Bohio (Traditional Taino homes) and a structure resembling an amphitheater.  We call out as no one is at the entrance.  Suddenly a small man in his 80’s appears. He has the most beautiful smile.

 “ Hello I am Alberto Peralta. You just missed my son, Dionisio, he is the one who runs this place and its founder. He will not be back for some time. I can show you around if you like."

He takes us on a small tour, even showing us his bed which is out in the open.

“Here, we have “velada” (campesino get togethers) country people come from all over the island, also from Cuba and even Venezuela.  We share music and dance and speak of the old days, the old ways. Our hope is that the youth will be inspired and continue our traditions.

I saw this place on you tube. In one velada I saw the yuca dance being performed. Do you know this dance? I ask

I thnk my son could explain that better than I can." He says

 Struck out again and we have traveled so far. I am running out of time as this is a short trip. I decide that it’s best to travel to the seaside town of Miches. This is a community where people still make Canoa and Cayuco (large and small canoes respectively). At the moment we are near the Haitian border on the north west side of the island. We must travel to the North East. However, to do this, we must travel 6 hours back south and another six hours back north! There are no roads running along the northern shore! No time to complain, we head out. We do however decide to treat ourselves to the Casabe and people of the Town of CACIQUE, in Moncion.  I have old friends there…..

Guanal Cultural Reserve
Photo by Dominique David-Chavez
Alberto Peralta -Patriarch of Guanal.

The town of Mao

Augusto Bueno Taino from Mao.

That evening we reach the town of Mao and decide to stay overnight.  The hotel clerk, Augusto Bueno, is friendly, but haggling over hotel prices. On most trips to the DR I usually pay with American currency whenever possible, but no one is accepting American dollars. We travel down the road to a restaurant that exchanged our money for Dominican Pesos. Upon our return to the hotel, I strike up a conversation with Augusto.  Tell me, do people mistake you for Central American o other ethnicities? I ask.

 “Yes especially when my hair is longer (takes off his cap, he has very straight hair). Sometimes they think I am Peruvian or Nicaraguan”  he says.

Are  you aware that you have strong indigenous features ? I ask.  “Yes, and so do you”.  Are you Indian?

Yes I am. Taino Indian at your service I reply smiling. Suddenly he recognizes me.

“Wait, you are Jorge Estevez? DIANTRE! (oh my)  I have used your arguments on some detractors who believe that all the Indians of this island died out.  I always knew that this was not the case. I always felt different from most, and my family stories confirm  that we are Ijndio”  .

I explain  our mission during this visit to the island, of the group I founded, Union Higuayagua,  to protect, preserve and disseminate cultural knowledge and identity to the people of the campo.  His eyes swell with tears.  

“Thank you for what you are doing, I too have dedicated my life to our people and culture. I am at YOUR service”!  I made a friend for life that evening. Although the Indian subject can be steeped in romanticism, these are cases are rare. In most cases it is  about observations, self discovery and connections to a politically denied identity. To find others who are on this path, who follow traditions or are Taino identified, is quite an emotional trip.

 

THE TOWN OF CACIQUE:

Mechi and her Casabe

In the region known as Moncion, there is a small town called Cacique which means Chief in the Taino language. This town is known as being the captial of CASABE production. Rich fertile lands ensure that lots of yuca grows and nearly everyone is involved in the making of this traditional Taino bread. I first heard of this town after reading a thesis “The Politics of Taino Indian Identity in the post Quin-centennial Dominican Republic” by Dr. Peter Ferbel-Azcarate a great friend and colleague. I visited the area in 2003 where I had the good fortune of meeting Dona Carmen Mechi Peralta Castillo.  She was in the process of organizing all the casabe producers into a cooperative and eventually went on to be its spokeswoman. When the Spanish arrived this region was under the control of Cacike Guaraguano.  He was a sub chief of Cacique Guacanagarix. The people there would speak of its indigenous history as if it happened yesterday. ORAL TRADITIONS IN MONCION ARE PARTICULARLY STRONG

At that time, they still processed the Casabe in the old way. However today they use modern tools and equipment as the demand for casabe is  high. The Dominican Republic hands down has maintained the Casabe tradition stronger than any other island.

Dona Mechi is at her door when we arrive.  Hey there I shouted from the car, do you remember me (it’s been 12 years)?

“Jorge!! She cries out, I cannot believe it’s you! Please, all of you come into our home. Are you hungry? Thirsty”?  

Her son Luis comes out and says hello. I cannot believe how much the place has changed. On my last trip here , there were several Bohio out back where their paternal mother lived.  Also their uncle Nanan. This man had answered a question I asked in the most amazing way.

NANAN what does Casabe bread mean to you? I asked. He looked at me with his high cheekbones, aquiline nose and squinted his eyes and said

Casabe is life! The day I have no casabe on my table, I would rather not eat”!  

To me, that was amazing. The dedication to this ancient staple could only be upheld so intimately by a true descendant.

 The casabe at Moncion is still going strong despite the drought.

Luis and Mechi showed us around their factory. Modern indeed, gone are the traditional poison juice squeezing techniques, however the commitment has endured.

Mechi reminds me that she is originally from the village of Pananao in San Jose de las Matas, about 50 miles away.  During a mtDNA sequencing study conducted in her particular village back in 2003, it was found that 90 % of the inhabitants are of Native American descent!

I showed them some feather headdress’s that I made and they ask for a picture wearing them.

The family is actually preparing for a party so we decide to leave. Mechi and her family are indeed more like relatives than friends. In fact, Mechi’s surname is Peralta, my family is also Peralta. Across the Northern Cibao, families such as Estevez, Peralta, Cabrera and Chavez have intermarried extensively. Thus we are all related. TRADITIONAL CASABE SEEMS TO BE CLUSTERED AROUND CERTAIN FAMILIES IN SPECIFIC REGIONS.

Dona Mechis brand of Casabe ready for Market
Luis and Jorge Estevez looking at the modern equipment
Mechi and Luis adorned in Headdress's

ON THE ROAD TOWARDS BONAO:

Just as on my first trip, we decide to visit with Gregorio aka El TAHO. Taho is a humble man, always with a huge smile. Very poor yet so giving of anything he has, especially his valuable time. He sells his craft by the road side as do many other artists.  He is a master Batea maker. Batea are round or oval shaped wooden trays first described by Friar Bartolome de las Casas back in 1520’s in use by Taino Indians.

 Taho is Indio identified, he is a wood carver and a farmer. On the back side of this stand he has his “conuco’ (crop field) where he grows yuca, mapuey, yautia and other crops. These are all Native to the island and staples among the Classic Taino.  He asks me to please come visit when I have time to sit with him for a spell.  I promise to return. We purchase items from him, he also gifts us some items and we continue down the road.

 

 

 

Dominique and Taho
Taho's roadside shop
Taho with Batea
Man selling Jaiba (river crab)
Young boy on hammock
Man Selling Coconuut

July 20, 2015:

Indian woman smoking her Anduyo (compressed tobacco) - Photo By Dominique David-Chavez

After traveling to Santo Domingo, all the way in the south, we head back north to the town of Miches. This town is known for being a hub of many artists. It is aklso the home of traditional cayuco and canoe builders. In fact, many of the canoes that illegally leave the island towards Puerto Rico originate here.  Our contact in this town are well known artists and poets Genaro Cayuco Reyes,  his wife beautiful wife April and their son Mayowakan. I found it interesting that they named their son after a Taino log drum.  They live in a two sectioned house, one section acts as a home the other as a museum/office/cultural center a which is named The Cayuco Cultural Center. Behind their house is the Yeguada river. Cayuco is quite the character. He has deep penetrating eyes and seems to be aware of everything in his surroundings.  April has a beautiful smile and is very welcoming. She is a poet, a very good one at that, and demonstrated a sincere interest in the Taino Legacy as well as DNA test results.

 After a brief chat, he proudly showed us his cultural center. He shows us a boat, and some fish traps and April shows us a Batea (traditional Taino tray). We then drive to the outskirts of town, where the canoes are still made. Sadly there were none under construction that day. However we did get some good interviews.

 Along the road we visit  Rosa Diaz, she is a Batea maker and also makes jewelry made of coconut.  She explains to us that many people who today live in Miches originally came from Gaspar Hernandez a  a village in the Cibao region. During the 1950’s then President  Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina,  transported people from the Cibao region, known for their agricultural expertise to live and farm in this fishing town.  Cayuco  expressed that these people from the central valley did not understand the Miches life ways or seafaring culture.  Interesting contrast between  coastal people and people of the valley.

 We continued on to La Gina a small hamlet by the ocean.  This village is known for it’s Canoa (canoe) and Cacyuco (small canoe) We meet the Fajardo family. Raphael Fajardo is away, but we are able to speak to his daughter and a neighbor------“Hi my name is Saline Fajardo, my father makes batea, pilon, cayuco and other things. It takes him a few weeks to make them. I have not learned to make them but my mother did”.

And you sir, what is your name and do you know how to make Cayuco as well?

 “My name is Candido Rojas Martinez, I also make Cayuco. These boats must be made in a special way and the wood needs to cut at the right time” he says.  He describes the process.  He explains he learned from Saline's father some 20 years before.

Boynayel asks him if he has ever heard of Ciguapa, mythical creatures said to exist on the island.

“Yes of course I have seen them and heard them! The male Ciguapa makes a different sound from the female OOOOOUEEEEE OOOOEUUUUU, while the female sounds like this OOOOUP OOOUP. There used to be many ciguapa, now there aren’t that many”.

 This creature is also observed in many tribes of the Circum Caribbean. For example it is known as Currupia and Caipora in South America, Duen in Trinidad and Siguanama in El Salvador. These stories have survived until present day in the Dominican countryside.  

 

Nasa-m Traditional Taino fish trap.
April Troncoso with Batea.
Rosa Diaz- jewlery maker