Mayan, Taino traditions celebrated in Verona

Pittsburgh, PA - People driving on Verona Road Sunday night could little know, though if they did they would likely wonder, about the Mayan and Taino ceremonies that were taking place in Miguel Sague's yard.

There was fire, incense, a sweat lodge, and afterward, a feast, as Mr. Sague introduced or re-introduced a small group of people to a Mayan fire ceremony, followed by a Taino sweat lodge experience.

It's a tradition he tries to observe on a monthly basis, said Mr. Sague, 59, a retired Roosevelt Elementary School art teacher.

"It's what keeps us going," said his wife, Lenia Sague. Both she and her husband moved to the United States from Cuba when they were young, but have continued to observe their Taino culture.

"It's what keeps us grounded to our Taino beliefs," she said.

The Tainos are an indigenous people of the Caribbean. Mr. Sague is a member of the Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle, which celebrates Taino and other indigenous cultures, and since his retirement, he has spent much of his time traveling around the United States taking part in similar native ceremonies to the one he hosted at his house.

He sent out e-mails through the Caney group and other groups he is a member of here to invite people to participate in the traditional ceremonies, and about 10 people with varying degrees of experience with indigenous ceremonies took him up on the offer.

At around 5 p.m., people began gathering in the Sagues' Verona home. In the front yard, a fire pit burned, filled with wood and large stones that had been heating up since 2 p.m., Mr. Sague said. Next to the fire pit was a small wooden hut, slightly more than waist-high and with room for 10 to 15 people.

Before he began the sweat lodge ceremony, Mr. Sague's friend, Antonio Ah Ik, led a small group of people through a Mayan ceremony on the patio behind the house.

Mr. Ah Ik lives in Verona now but is originally from Guatemala, where his father taught him the traditions of their Mayan ancestors.

The sound of passing cars occasionally entered the background while Mr. Ah Ik performed a ceremony that far predates engines or tires. He poured sugar into a circle formation, then divided the circle with more lines of sugar, to symbolize the four cardinal directions. Facing each direction in turn, he spoke Mayan words, praying for wisdom and knowledge for the people standing around the circle.

Mr. Sague placed small pieces of wood into the circle, and they lit a small fire, feeding it with cut flowers, more sugar and incense. Then each participant said a silent or spoken prayer, and tossed incense into the fire.

The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes, and then Mr. Sague led the group back into his house, where they changed into lighter clothing for the sweat lodge ceremony.

The fire ceremony, Mr. Sague said, symbolizes life, while the sweat lodge ceremony -- with people crowding into a small, dark, warm space, to emerge 45 minutes to an hour later -- represents birth.

"It's a very powerful way for us humans, whether indigenous or not, to relate to our Earth mother," he said.

Seven people crawled into the sweat lodge, then Mr. Sague took a shovel and began to pull the stones, glowing with heat and covered with embers, out of the fire pit. He brushed off the embers with a tree branch, then transferred them into a pit in the middle of the dark sweat lodge.

Over the course of the purification ceremony, he said they would use 24 stones as he led the small group in traditional Taino chants.

Outside the temperature was in the 40s. Inside, the participants, who had been instructed to fast for at least four hours, would get the sensation of being in a sauna.

"I've never put a thermometer in there," Mr. Sague said. "It just gets hot enough for people to sweat."

Author: Kaitlynn Riely
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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