Sweet Water Clans 1

Milton Sanchez Velasquez
Ivel Cenac
Isabel Amarante
Adjunct City College of New York
Jorge Baracutei Estevez
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Dr. Jose Barreiro
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Fatima Liriano Portoreall and Chio
Guabancex Viento y Agua

Carribean Indigenous Legacies Project (CILP) Research Trip to the Dominican Republic 2016

In Search of the Sweet Water Clans

Mission Purpose: To investigate Spiritual beliefs and practices  known as AGUA DULCE (Sweet Water) in the Dominican Republic’s Maguana and Dajabon regions. CILP staff Dr. Jose Hatuey Barreiro and Jorge Estevez were accompanied by scholars Fatima Liriano Portoreall and Isabel Amarante, and Investigative camera crew, Milton Sanchez Velasquez and Ivel Cenac along with field guides Nancy Betances and Ruben Dario Villalona (Chio).

For this first preliminary report we will focus on just 3 of the 8  interviews we conducted over 7 days in the Maguana, Dajabon  and Santiago regions of the Dominican Republic

Monday, May 152016

Jorge Estevez arrives in the Dominican Republic along with Isabel Amarante and heads out to San Juan de La Maguana where we expect to interview subjects. Jose Barreiro is scheduled to arrive the following day. It is a long drive from Santo Domingo airport to Maguana.  Arriving ahead of us were Milton Sanchez Velasquez and Ivel Cenac who will be leading us to subjects and also film/record all sessions.

Tuesday, May 16, 2016

Milton and Jorge Estevez return to Santo Domingo airport to pick up Jose. We are caught in a Baguada (severe rain storm) on the way. Milton and I stop near Bani to consult with a local Curandera (healer) who goes by the name of Juana Yoya.  I have severe back pain. Milton assures me that she can help. “ She has a peculiar way of healing. She uses Sobo (rub),” he says.

We arrive at 12:00 noon. Juana is sitting in front of her house. She greets us with hugs and kisses. We explain to her about my condition and she agrees to help me.

She pulls out a bottle of Vics Vapor Rub, and starts rubbing it on my back.  With her thumbnails, she begins pinching my back.  I realize that she is actually making designs on my back with her nails. I cannot tell what she is drawing, though. When she is done, she explains her mother taught her how to heal this way. She also mentions that many of her healings techniques come to her in dreams.

We head out and arrive at the Airport half an hour before Jose arrives.  Jose clears customs and exits. The three of us take off towards Maguana which is almost 4 hours away!

On the way, our conversation turns towards the old Caciques. We speak about how closely connected our ancestors were. For example Caonabo, paramount Cacique of the Dominican Republic was rumored to have been born in the Bahamas.  Hatuey, a cacique from the Dominican Republic/Haiti, fled the Spanish occupation and re-settled in Cuba amongst his relatives there. This Cacique is a symbol of strength and hope for both the Cuban and Dominican people.  We are traveling near Azua, Milton mentions Cacique Enriquillo. This Cacique not only fought and defeated the Spaniards but also signed the first treaty between a Native nation and a European power. The location of his gravesite is nearby. We decide to visit.

There are many rumors as to where his remains are located,  what is certain however is that he was buried at the old church in Pueblo Viejo, Azua. The church is now in ruins, unprotected with debris, garbage etc thrown all over the place.  Yet, it has a strong spiritual presence. Directly behind it is a modern day church, where parishioners are praying and singing. I find it interesting that both churches are separated not only by a street but also by a river of time.

Finally, we arrive at San Juan de la Maguana. After a quick meal, we all agree to head out first thing in the morning and begin our work. I am a bit nervous. There is a lot to see and learn here, but these things can be elusive. I am trying to make a good impression for Jose Barreiro as well as for the museum I work for.

Photo By Milton Sanchez Velasquez

Wednesday, May 17, 2016

 Jose Barreiro, along with, Milton Sanchez Velasquez, Ivel Cenac, Isabel Amarante, Elsaand Juana Guerrero, all members of the Taino Cultural Group, Union Higuayagua, and myself head out. The day is scorching hot. Where is the rain storm when you need it! As we travel through the countryside, Jose remarks how the scenery is reminiscent of Cuba.  For years, I dreamed of being here with Jose as his descriptions of Cuban Indigeneity are eerily similar to those in the Dominican Republic. I consider Jose my final teacher and I owe him gratitude for always guiding me and teaching me the correct way to document my own work.

We spent the day traveling from one source to the other. I was getting worried we would not contact anyone. My concern was that  most of these healers are also farmers and no doubt would be working during the times we came. By 5 pm, we called it a day.  My frustration showed in my face. I was not upset as I knew something good would happen. But I was worried.  We did visit one home who had an altar where they had Catholicism on one side and “agua dulce” on the other. Note AGUA DULCE ALTARS are always placed on a dirt floor, away from any Catholic or African influence and usually out of site.

The group decided to visit “El Corral de los Indios” where there is a woman there by the name of Amantina who is a Agua Dulce practitioner.  She is also the caretaker of the huge Anacaona Stone, said to be the seat of the ancient Cacike Anacaona during the colonial period. We speak briefly with Amantina. Visit her altar and the stone. Afterward, we return to our hotel rooms at 6:00 pm

 Our plans are now to travel to Dajabon, where we will meet Fatima Liriano Portoreall. Milton and Isabel decided to go for a night swim in the river. Later that evening, Milton's Car breaks down. They text me, asking to pick them up at Amantina’s place.   Upon my arrival, Isabel reveals that Milton was able to contact a man by the name of Robert, whose mother is an Agua Dulce source. They have already made plans to visit her the following morning. Finally a good lead. Further, Isabel plays an audio recording of Robert’s mother. What I hear convinces me she is indeed the real deal. Relief at last!

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 10  am

Heading out early the next morning we make plans. We will interview the woman, head to Santo Domingo, rent another car (Milton’s Car will not make the long trek, and reach Dajabon that evening where we will meet Fatima.

Robert’s mother’s home is modest and very clean.  We are offered coffee right away as is the custom. Robert’s mother has strong Indigenous features. Her husband is in his underwear and  announces “I am Turkish”!

We explain what our project is about, and after Milton sets up his camera and sound equipment, and we begin the interview:

 NMAI: What is your name?


“My name is Gloria Maria Herrera Vicioso. I am 63 years old, I was born on June 15, 1953. I am the legitimate daughter of my father and mother. My father was a healer. He had a stone which he used to cure children with.  He found the stone by a shore and brought it home. We lived in the countryside. Once he put the stone in a bag atop a burro. The burro died. Shortly after that, he passed away. I was 11. He then passed away and I became the guardian of the stone. Later we moved to Bani.

When we reached Bani, I began curing with the stone too. The stone eventually disappeared. I searched for it in rivers, everywhere but I never saw it again. It was heavy and had a design. When I touched it, you could feel it touching you back.

NOTE: The stone as in all Dominican stone lore, speaks, feels, heals and is considered an ancestor, and has designs on ( many stones are Taino artifacts). CEMISM?

NMAI: How did you learn to heal with the stone?

 Gloria:    “I watched my father him heal others and learned this way.  Also, when he was healing he would call me over and say do this or do that. This is how I learned.” Sometimes the stone would sweat on its own, even though the house was dry. A few times I looked at it while it sat in the dark. Its eyes would glow red like a Cocuyo. (smiles)

 NMAI: What are Cocuyo?

Gloria: Those are little bugs that glow in the dark! Some people call them fireflies. But they glow green.  As children we were told they (Cocuyo) were eyes of the dead children): NOTE: There are similar stories of this among the classic Taino

 NMAI: Why do people use water in their ceremonies?

 Gloria: Well, because they have Indian descent.  They do things with Indians. Others burn candles to Indian (spirits). That’s how it is.  NOTE: Indians are associated with water. This is at the heart of Agua Dulce.

 NMAI: Can you tell us a little about the Ciguapa, we have heard many such stories here in Maguana. (Creatures said to inhabit the mountains and forests. They have long straight hair to their ankles but their feet are inverted. Thus when you follow its footprints you invariably follow in the wrong direction. This same story is found in many of the Circum-Caribbean Indian peoples).

 Gloria: Well, my father had a plot of land where he planted beans. (smiles) I am going to tell you the whole story! While harvesting, he would make us a little house. He used to make a little bed with the bean pods, that’s where I slept. As we were on a hill and the house was low, and did not have a door. We would see the image, the shadow of the Ciguapa walking by at night. We could see its long hair! She had a long nose and walked funny. They would steal corn and salt from the house.

 NMAI: yes my mother said the Ciguapa would also steal corn and salt.

 Gloria: My father used to tell my brothers “don’t look at her if you do she will capture you and force you to get her pregnant.  She would keep them and force them to give her children, That’s the Ciguapa. Male Ciguapa does the same with human women.

 NMAI: There are both male and female Ciguapa?

 Gloria: Yes, both male and female

 Suddenly her son interjects:  There is one boy Ciguapa who comes by the “cacho” , every Friday . He is always staring at me, has long long hair and backward feet.

 NOTE: CIGUAPA stories are not unique to the Dominican Republic. In fact, most Indians of the Circum-Caribbean region have the same story in their lore. The creature is known as CAIPORA in Venezuela, Currupia in Brazil, DUEN in Trinidad and CIGUANAMA in EL Salvador. In all stories  The creatures have long straight hair to their ankles and their feet are inverted. Thus when you follow its footprints you invariably follow in the wrong direction.

 Gloria: We only saw them from afar. They whistle too. They have a strange whistle.

 NMAI: We have heard that the male Ciguapa and the female Ciguapa have different whistles (calls)

 Gloria: the females  cry out WOOOO WOOOOOO is how they go. I don’t know how the males whistle.  They were so noisy we hardly slept. We would stay up at night looking at the stars. The sky was full of stars.She then begins to speak about falling stars. She continues…

 When my father planted his fields I would pray to the stars so that his fields would grow. But I said my prayers in my head because wishes are not to be spoken aloud.

 NMAI: Did your father know a lot about medicinal plants?

Gloria: Oh yes! This finger, was…do you remember Robert when my foot was bad? People told me my foot was going to have to be cut off. I would get fevers and was sick all the time. My father took TUA TUA (endemic medicinal plant).  When I awoke I went out right away and got all the ingredients.Ground it up and added lemon to it. Of course, my father told me this in a dream (her father passed away when she was young). I put it on and it stung. It melted on my skin. My flesh rose Look, my foot healed perfectly.

 Note: Many Curanderos insist that their knowledge is passed down to them in Dreams.

 At times when the witches would “suck” on the children, my father would get a Hicotea (Indigenous name for Turtle) and gives us their blood to drink. All my children drank Turtle blood to protect from the witches. There was one witch who would turn into animals. One day she turned into a Chicken, but my father knew it was her. He hit her with a broom and broke its wing. The next day the witch walked by our house with her broken arm. My father said “you see, that was the witch sucking on the children’s flesh. You will see that the kids will not get sucked on again (as in mosquito sting)

 NMAI: Jorge-What do you call people that transform, that shapeshift?

 NMAI: Jose-Pardon me, please tell us again, you received these from your father in a dream? Was he dead or alive?

 Gloria: No he was dead, he comes to me in dreams.

 NMAI: Was he a dreamer also?

 Gloria:  Yes he was a dreamer too.

 NMAI: So your source is your father is that correct?

 Gloria: Yes. All my brothers and sisters, my mom all died, but he comes to me and says “Daughter I am with you”! Thank the lord all my children are alive and healthy. I am the youngest of all the siblings, I have struggled hard and look at me!

 NMAI: Was your father from Maguana also?

 Gloria:  No he was from a village “hasto del padre” near Herrera. NOTE: Herrera is the name of this town where Gloria lives in Maguana.

 My father’s last name was Herrera.  This family had many children and mixed with themselves until they founded this town we live in now called Juan de Herrera. My father was named Jesus Maria Herrera Villega.

  NMAI: Was your father's people Indian ?

  Gloria:  I was young when my father died, and never got to ask him about our family history. I learned very little of this

  NMAI: Did your father ever mention RASTRO, that is curing with animals ? Or curing children with asthma?

  Gloria:  No I don’t know Rastro, but curing asthma yes. I know a remedy for asthma. We use bitter coffee to cure this. There is also Carbon de Oscalito which is  good for Asthma, also for diabetes too.

  NMAI: Did your father use Tobacco when healing or did he sell it?

  Gloria: No, but he did grow it and smoke it himself or his family and friends. He rolled the leaves….you know he made TUBANO NOTE: Tubano is an Indigenous word:

 NMAI: How about Anduyo ? (compressed, fermented native tobacco common in South America)

 Gloria:  Yes , you mean the long thing that you cut with a knife? Yes he smoked Anduyo as well.  He would roll is Pachuche! My mother also smoked her Pachuche. Note: Pachuche is an indigenous word for rolled Anduyo.

  NMAI: Did you ever hear him use the word Macuyo? Note: Macuyo is an indigenous name for a type of Tobacco in Cuba.

  Gloria: No, I do not recall that word.

  NMAI: I am Cuban and that is a word we use in Cuba. Many of the words and customs I see here are the same as in my country.

 Gloria: ahh.

  NMAI:   We want to ask you about medicinal plants. Did your family grow………

  Gloria: No, those you find in the mountains. Look, we  plant“sorosi” here, as well as Yerba Buena and Sabila. Also the  Cubanita with its purple water, and Mata de Brujo (witch weed).

  NMAI: Do you know the Anamu?

  Gloria: Yes! Anamu is good for stuffy noses , you can drink it.

  NMAI: What about for pregnancies, midwives, herbs related to care for pregnant women?

  Gloria:  Yes of course. My mother was a midwife. She would tie a rope to the ceiling so the woman would grab onto.  She would then place a pot of hot water below the woman. With a warm rag, she would cleanse the woman as she gave birth naturally. Once the baby was born she would take the baby to the table and cut off the umbilical cord, remove the placenta and so.  The woman would the rest for 33 days. Today they don’t do that, but that’s how it was done.

 NMAI:  Could she wash her hair? Were special meals prepared for her?

 Gloria:  No the woman cannot wash her hair. Yes special meals are prepared, for example they would slaughter a pollo criollo (free range chicken), or goat, soups with noodles like in the old days. But not any more?

 NMAI Can the woman eat pineapples?

 Gloria: Yes. But no salt, especially menstruating women cannot eat salt, or Herring. They cannot eat Guanabana either.  But as I said, people eat anything these days. Science.. NOTE: In most of our Interviews, there is a strong belief that Indians do not eat salty foods

Life before was simple, but now it’s not like that any longer. We grew crops without fertilizers. My uncle grew Pineapples really big. Try one today. They do not taste that good and are small. That’s what science has done. Eat a fruit today and your mouth stings.

Indians used tobacco for mosquitos. Even Marijuana, was used to ward off bugs, by rubbing its leaves on the skin. This way the mosquitos would not bite. They would ground it up.

They also made stone knives. Molino (round stone mortars) to ground corn, to make chen chen (corn dish native to Maguana). She goes on to describe how corn was prepared.

From the corn, we make Chen Chen and Chaca (local native dishes).

NMAI: So did they ever clean the corn with ash?

Gloria: No, not that I know of

NMAI- Jorge, you wanted to ask about Kaweiro?

 NMAI- Yes thank you Jose- Gloria, you mentioned something about shapeshifters. Can you tell us about these?

 Gloria: A person who you see here, then there, then over there is a Galipote…. A witch. Note: Kaweiro as they are known in Cuba or Galipote or Gualipote are shapeshifters.

 A family member interrupts and adds: Galipote can change into an animal, into a fruit or in a log, anything.

 NMAI: Have you heard them called Kaweiro here? This is the Cuban name for what you describe……………?

 Gloria: No I have not heard that word here


There is more to this interview, but let us move on to the other two for now


Photo by Milton Sanchez Velasquez
Gloria explaining how mid-wives held women up with ropes when they gave birth.
Photo by Milton Sanchez Velasquez
Explaing how Anduyo (compressed tobacco) is rolled.
Photo by Milton Sanchez Velasquez
Deep in thought , remembering the old days

Thursday August 18, 2016- 1:00 pm


We leave Gloria’s home and head out to Santo Domingo City. There we rent another vehicle and continue on towards Dajabon. The island of Kiskeya is vast, with many mountainous areas. It takes a full day of driving, heading east, then make our way North in order to travel to the Northwest. It is an 9 hour trip.


We finally make it to Dajabon in the late evening and meet up with our Guides there, Fatima Liriano Portoreall, Chio and Nancy Betances. Dajabon is an old town which borders Haiti. Here, Haitians and Dominicans live side by side. Native faces appear here and there.  We plan to work at 7 am the next day.