Editorial: Taíno Culture in the 21st Century...

By Domingo Turey Hernandez ,
UCTP Taino News

I was remembering recently some of the cultural expressions that I grew up with. I of course assumed it was just a Puerto Rican thing. With time I found them to be more correctly a "Jibaro Thing" with roots in the ways of our ancient (Taíno) ancestors. So with the best of intentions I share them with the community in the hopes that it may spark other people's memories.

1. We would perform two baptisms for every child. the first would be at home without a priest. This one was the one considered most important because it would bring the child to heaven if it died. The baptism at the church would come later at the parent's ease and based on the economy, since it entailed a party afterwards. The ritual as we performed it in our home has been said to be similar to what many Northern Natives call " Making Relatives ceremony". That of course is because of our particular way of seeing "compadrazco" that is the relationship between the couples. In western culture the relationship stressed during baptism is between the Godparents and the child. They in fact become co-parents. In terms of the parents and the co-parents, they tend to view their relationship as one of friendship and mutual support.

However our Jibaro ancestors took this relationship one step further. The compadres would become relatives not just close friends. This relationship was considered to be even closer then between siblings. You could argue and fight with your siblings and as long as there was no violence no one would bat an eye. However it is taboo to fight or use curse words with your compadres as this is considered a grave offense to the Creator. So we were encouraged to be very careful of who we chose to be compadres for this reason. Any sexual interaction between the couples were also taboo even if one were widowed . It would be considered incest. The couple chosen to be your compadres could be married to each other or not. They could be single or even related to each other. The important thing was that there be deep love and deep respect for each other. It was this kind of love that was expressed with the Guaitiao Ceremony and I believe that this feeling has been retained to the present via the home baptisms.

2. Another custom was that if anyone publicly admired some article of jewelry or clothing you had on and they made a big production of how great it was, it was considered good manners to hand it to them with the words " A la vista y a la orden" At your sight and at your command. The person who gave away would be held in high esteem as someone who valued friendship and people more that things. The one who received the present would be seen by the community as being in debt to the other's generosity. This custom I have seen often among Northern tribal members.

3. Pregnant woman were very powerful. Anything they touched would grow. They were often asked to cut peoples hair as their hands would bless the hair by the mere touch, making the hair strong and healthy. There was a taboo regarding pregnant women and it had to do with their husbands or mates. If the bed was placed against the wall, the man was advised to sleep to the wall and the woman to sleep on the side of the bed that was free. This was to avoid any chance of the woman having to climb over the man in an effort to get on or off the bed. For to do so would be to pass on to the man all the symptoms of morning sickness, including the pains of labor when the woman went into child birth. My mother said she learned this from her mother, but she did not think it worked because she would climb over my father when pregnant in the hopes he would get morning sickness and he never did.

I later read accounts of how Taino men would need tending to after the woman gave birth according to the early reports.

4. We show respect to our Elders and people in authority by not giving direct eye contact especially if we are being corrected. Also we never correct them in public. I have asked many Native persons both from North and South America and they all know this one. When I asked my friends from Spain and from Nigeria they were surprised since to them not to look one directly in the eyes is to show disrespect.

5. We always called any cat we saw by rubbing our thumb and pointer finger together while saying " Misu or Mishu or Misuri" No one was able to tell me why. Guess what the word for Cat is in Carib? That's right. Misu.

So these are just a few of the customs I grew up with that go back to our ancient ancestors. I took it for granted that whenever we said words like Butaca, Guacara, Baira, Guame and so on we were speaking Spanish. The same with these customs. I have had to research to find out the origins, which often turns out to be from our own back yard and not from Europe or Africa as so many people declare.

UCTPTN 06.27.2006

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