Note: These interpretations are the current interpretations of the Koki Medicine Clan. Any other interpretations that may be published on other sites on the internet under the name "Ni Bon Te Ban" are no longer held to be valid in whole because they were written under a false assumption that the version of the Myths and Legends that they were interpreting was accurate. In time it came to light that the version of Myths and Legends that I had interpreted was largely a fantasy created by an individual and was not historically or culturally accurate in terms of the genuine Taino Myths and Legends. This current interpretation uses the various translations of ramon pane's transcription of the Taino Myths and Legends as told to him by the Ancestors.
Pane says: “In worshiping the idols they keep at home, which they call zemis, each one observes a particular manner and superstition. They believe he is in heaven (cielo) and is immortal, that no one can see him, and that he has a mother. But he has no beginning, and they call him Yucahu Bagua Maorocoti, and they call his mother, Atabey, Yermao, Guacar, Apito, and Zuimaco, which are 5 names.”
In his introduction, Arrom specifies that the term Pane originally used was “cielo” and later translators substituted the word ‘heaven’. To the christians the sky is associated with their “heaven” however here we see the Taino evidently said “SKY”. This is the first example here that we see the process by which Pane’s original limited description of the Cemi, Yocahu and his mother, becomes increasingly distorted by later ‘chroniclers’.
For example Las Casas further distorts the original mean to: “The People of Hispaniola had a certain faith in and knowledge of a one and true god, who as immortal, invisible, for none could see him, who had no beginning, whose dwelling place and residence is heaven”
Las Casas puts a specifically christian spin on Pane’s account to suit his agenda of converting more people to christianity. (see commentary concerning Las Casas’ agenda elsewhere). As Taino today, as Indigenous people today and as people who are concerned with the process of liberation from the mental slavery of colonialism and western reductionism and compartmentalization, we must see these manipulations and return once more to the original account and re-examine it as Indigenous People. As Indigenous People, we understand the fact that the Taino were speaking in Symbols, in a language that is very different from linear western thought. We also know that the natural phenomenon and cycles of life were the primary relationship the People had to the Universe within which they found themselves. Knowing the movement of the stars, planets, migratory animals, fertility cycles and so on were paramount to survival and paramount to thriving. The People came from Ancient Cultures of the mainland, and carried many of the Ancient Ancestral memories with them. Stories of migrations of people, stories of the shifts in the natural phenomenon such as sea level, stories of certain great Cacikes were all incorporated into myth as well as symbolic depictions of various ceremonies, such as the cohoba ceremony were all included. As Indigenous people we are the only ones who will truly be able to grasp what OUR ANCESTORS were referring to, and we must insist upon taking that responsibility away from the various academics involved in writing thesis and books and once again project our voices with the rightful power and authority that is our birth right.
To return here to what Pane was saying... First we can understand that the People had Cemis in their homes and they all had a particular way that they interacted with those Cemis. “In worshiping the idols they keep at home, which they call zemis, each one observes a particular manner and superstition.” This we can understand to mean either that each family had their own way of interrelating with their Cemis or that each Cemis was approached in a unique way, having its own unique requirements. I trust that both are true, and that Cemis were deeply personal to the Family and that Cemis were not all approached in the same way or for the same reasons. We know that there is a huge diversity of form among the Cemis, from the three-pointers connected to the growth of Yucca to the effigy vessels, to the Cemis involved in the Cohoba Ceremony and so on. This indicates an equally diverse function of the Cemis. This also indicates that all Taino had direct relationships to the Cemis and that the relationships of individuals, Families and Communities to the Cemis was not relegated to the realm of the cacikes and bohitus only but was a relationship that every individual sought to develop.
Pane then goes on: “They believe he is in heaven (cielo) and is immortal, that no one can see him, and that he has a mother. But he has no beginning, and they call him Yucahu Bagua Maorocoti,” Here the Cemis is referred to as being in the SKY. Literally this indicates that the Cemis is associated with any (or all) of the planets and stars. We must remember that the night sky of our Ancestors was not dimmed by the city lights, and they were not distracted by modern convenience of illuminated interior spaces. The night sky dominated many of the hours of the daily cycle. The stars and planets gave definition and direction to the planting cycles, navigational cycles, tidal cycles and animal migration and fishing cycles.
I remember back in ’67 when I was home in Boriken how amazed I was coming from the Bronx to look up into the night sky and feeling how the stars seemed to be almost on top of my head. The night is a very powerful Spirit in the Caribbean, even now with the distraction of electricity. Obviously the Cemi itself is visible but the Taino are saying he is invisible, eternal and undying, meaning that the Cemis is a PHYSICAL VESSEL for a GREATER POWER, for a greater phenomenon, and that through the Cemis it is possible to have a communication and influence on the greater power, whether it be the power of the Sun, Moon, planets, constellations and so on. The cycles of earthly life were correctly understood by our ancestors to be reflected in the greater drama taking place above. While plants and animals would go through mortal cycles of birth and death, the stars and planets were constant in their cycling, immortal in their life-cycles. So from this we understand that the Cemis themselves were receptors that embodied the cosmic cycles and phenomenon and were earthly representations of those cycles. Our Ancestral Bohitus had the spiritual power and sensitivity to be able to create these Cemis to encapsulate these powers. Never of course to equal these powers, for how can you hold a lightning bolt? But to represent and contain enough of the power to be functionally useful to the human experience.
The total integration and wholehearted relationship with ALL, that our Ancestors fully understood, is the essence of our Spirituality. The name that Pane records “Yucahu Bagua Maorocoti” is commonly translated as Yucahu (Spirit of the Yucca), Bagua (Ocean), Maorocoti (without Grandfather). Most people interpret this to mean that Yocahu was the Spirit who gives the Yucca (and is embodied in the Yucca), the master of the Oceans (or who lives across the oceans) and who is without male ancestry. They say he is without male ancestry because the prefix “MA” means “without”. However the prefix “MA” also means “Great”. Orocoti is Grandfather. So Maorocoti could also mean Great Grandfather indicating that Yocahu is seen as an Ancient Masculine Energy. All of these titles make sense in reference to a star or planet or constellation or the SUN! Stars (and planets) and especially the cycle of the Sun were obviously associated with the planting times for Yucca, stars are essential for navigation upon the waters, and clearly with Yocahu we are dealing with a male energy.
We cannot claim that Pane was saying that Yocahu did not have a father. We only know Pane said he did have a mother: “and they call his mother, Atabey, Yermao, Guacar, Apito, and Zuimaco, which are 5 names.” The fact that Yocahu’s mother has 5 names obviously indicates that she is the Cosmic (Universal) Mother, meaning that the whole universe is her embodiment. We all recognize the matrifocal foundation of our Ancestral Tradition so naturally the whole universe is seen as Female. Not as a human woman, but as totally female in energies, containing within her the male energies, as embodied by Yocahu and other masculine “deities”. Her 5 names describe various aspects or expressions of her essence. “Atabey” (mother of the waters), Yermao (sometimes translated as Mamona (my preference) “mothers”) meaning perhaps “universal mother” or “mother of mothers” or specifically the deity overlooking childbirth, Guacar (Wa-katti or Wa-kairi) meaning “our moon” (related also to tide, menstruation) clearly the Moon Deity influencing planting cycles connected to the moon, fertility cycles and tidal cycles), Apito my research has lead me discover translates as “that which is from the beginning to the end” (is eternal) clearly referencing that the Cosmic Mother is without beginning or end just as Yocahu is, Zuimaco (Guimaco) again my research has shown, translates as “Guima” woman who is very fertile and prolific and “Maco” meaning Frog (Prolific Frog Woman)! The last name “GUIMACO” (Frog Woman) is clearly represented inside of the beautiful petroglyphs of the “Frog Woman” to be found all over, especially in the Bateys.
So we see that the Cosmic Mother is Mother of the Waters, Mother of Mothers (childbirth), Our Moon, Eternal, and Prolific Frog Woman! 5 Names: Atabey, Mamona, Guakar, Apito, Guimaco!
Five powerful, primordial energies manifesting at all levels of creation, manifesting within all the waters (oceans, rivers, lakes, within plants, animals and people), manifesting within the process of childbirth, manifesting in the Moon, the tides, the cycles of fertility, manifesting from the very beginning to the very end, manifesting in an archetypal symbol of the prolific, fertile frog woman. Inferring that the Tainos were aware (through their use of the Cohoba ceremony) that life originated in the waters then moved onto the land through the process of amphibious development, reflected in the process of fetal development in the watery world of the womb and birthed into the world of air, light and earth! These myths were and are not children’s fairy stories, but profound symbolic descriptions of the phenomenon of the Universe and the processes within it which allow us life. Our Ancestors were scientists, biologists, geologists, genealogists, master story tellers, and creative, vibrant artists! To be continued..
PART 2 The next part of Pane’s text tells about how the people emerged from two caves. This was obviously not a literal fact but symbolic. Caves representing the cosmic womb, caves also representing ancestral origins, and also worlds of the dead/ spirits. Pane says: “There is a province in Hispaniola called Caonao, in which there is a mountain called Cauta, which has two caves. The name of one of these is Cacibajagua, and Amayauna the other. The majority of the people who populated the island come from Cacibajagua.”
We know for a fact that the Caribbean was (and continues to be) populated by people of diverse origins. Waves of various people migrated up through the Antilles, speaking different languages and with different cultural expressions. So we have to acknowledge that not all the people living in the Caribbean prior to the holocaust were all from the same ancestral origins. This could be a possible meaning of there being two different caves, signifying two different “families” of people. We also have to see that obviously the people were not saying that they had originated (evolved) right on those islands but that the caves symbolized a more ancient origin on the Mainland.
Looking at the province first, “CAONAO”, Arrom tells us that Caonao means Gold. Caonao may have referred to a province on the island of Haiti/ Kiskeya (misnumbered Hispaniola) where there was abundant gold and which was of special spiritual significance, or Caonao could have referred to a more Ancient Homeland in the depths of the Mountainous regions of the Mainland of what is misnumbered “South America”. Caonao also is a place name for places and bodies of water. This may be relevant to the fact that water was the medium through which our Ancestors traveled to reach the Caribbean Islands! The full meaning of the name and place was obviously totally beyond the capacity of Pane to grasp. We have to understand that he only recorded pieces of the whole story. We can certainly be sure that this province was a place of great abundance (as indicated by its association with Gold, the substance connected to cacikes and to the power of the Sun!), and so we can trust that the Ancestors are relating to us that their origins were in a place of greatness!
The mountain is called “CAUTA”. Arrom tells us Cauta is a large river in Cuba, and Kauta is an arawak word referring to a tree whose ashes mixed with clay are used in the making of pottery. At this point we can only speculate as to the meaning the Ancestors understood of the mountain “Cauta”. Since knowledge of the making of pottery comes from the Mainland, perhaps it refers to the People’s story of migration and the various techniques of making pottery that our Ancestors brought with them up through the Caribbean... We do know that Cauta is a sacred mountain and undoubtedly has a symbolic meaning indicating ancient beginnings, again very possibly referring to the mainland origins.
The two caves are “CACIBAJAGUA” and “AMAYAUNA”. Caciba deriving from Cacimba, meaning a hollow place in the terrain, possibly referring to a cave or referring to a lake (hollow place that fills with water). The word JAGUA is referring to both the Jagua Tree and the blue/ black paint used for tatoos that can be made from the juice of this tree. The Jagua tree is very medicinal and most likely originated in the Amazon Rain Forest definitely growing also in the Caribbean. It prefers lowlands by rivers which get flooded for several months of the year. Cacimba may be referring to the lowland which gets flooded that the tree prefers. The ink from the tree was and is used by indigenous people, and evidently by our Taino Ancestors for Ceremony. The black ink repels insects. Additionally the tree itself has edible fruits, fights free radicals, helps digestion, kills bacteria, expels worms, and increases urination. CacimbaJagua could be referring to a location in Haiti fitting the description of a low-lying plane near a river where Jaguas thrive, or (more likely in my understanding of the capacity of our Ancestors to transmit the ancient story of the people), it refers again to the Ancient Homeland within the Amazon where perhaps a greater number of the Taino (or Caribbean) people migrated from.
Arrom translates Amayauna as meaning “without value or merit” meaning that the cave was the origin of non-Tainos. He claims that this is because MA means “without”, but we can see the prefix is not MA (which can also mean great or big) but AMA. AMA means “a place related to water” YAUNA means “value, worth”. This translates to a place close by the water which has great value. Again pointing to the ancestral homeland of at least some of the Caribbean peoples. Pane does not say that one cave was of no value, he only says most people came from Cacibajagua. Here we see the typical behavior of academics (especially those not identifying as Indigenous) where they take translations most suited to their bias or agenda. We cannot agree that we can assume that the name AMAYAUNA referred to a place without value, to assume this is to degrade and attempt to minimize the intelligence of the Ancestors.
￼ Drawing of the Jagua Tree It is clear from both the nutritional and medicinal value of this tree and various other plants that are clearly spoken about within the myths and legends, that our Ancestors were very well aware of the qualities of the various plants with the Caribbean and that these medicinal and spiritual qualities were incorporated into the myths in profound ways that we cannot pretend to fathom. We can only reclaim the stories that they made sure reached our ears and eyes, and wrestle these stories away from the academics and missionaries (including also those missionaries identifying as Taino). ￼
Photo of the leaves and berries of the Jagua Tree Other attributes of caves that must be considered are that they are dry places where many bats gather. Bat guano (feces) is a potent fertilizer known to our Ancestors. The Dry Season stretching from December through March was the ideal time to clear conucos and fertilize conucos in preparation for the upcoming rainy season (planting and growing season) beginning late April with its most abundant rainfall in May then continuing through the hurricane season of the Fall. It may be a relevant note to see that in the Amazon the Jagua tree flowers from May to September and fruits from September to April (perhaps associating the fruiting of the Jagua with what becomes the dry season of the Year and the ending of the fruiting season with the end of the dry season).
Pane continues by recording a series of events which take place where the Sun captures various “people”. All these events precede the leaving of the cave that occurs later: “When living in those caves, these people stood watch at night, and they had entrusted this task to a man by the name of Macocael. Because one day he was late in returning to the door, they say, the Sun carried him off. Because the Sun had carried away this man for his lack of vigilance, they closed the door against him. Thus it was he turned into a stone near the door.”
The image of the Sun “capturing” the person is reminiscent of the movement of the Sun through the constellations where the Sun “catches up” to the stars in the constellation and they disappear for a certain period until the Sun moves beyond that area as he continues to move through the seasons. As several “people” get captured by the Sun this suggests a series of astronomical events which precede the departure from the Cave. I trust strongly that Macocael refers to a star within a constellation. The name MACOCAEL is translated by Arrom as “he of the lidless eyes” or in other words “he with big eyes” (MACU) or “he who does not close his eyes.” This is the best translation we have at this time, however there also may be a connection between the name MACOCAEL and MACUTO which is a basket used to carry bat guano (fertilizer).
Looking at the Caribbean Sky 500 years ago (which is about a month or so different from what we would see today due to the greater cycles of the Sun) the Winter Night Sky is dominated (just as our winter sky is dominated) by Various constellations, but specifically the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog) specifically by its star SIRIUS, a very bright star who is visible during the early winter all of the night (dusk to dawn), keeping vigilant and constant watch throughout the night! As January becomes February this star is visible at dusk in the Southwest but by dawn he is no longer in the sky (his vigilance is not as powerful), by March he is just visible in the west at Dusk (right behind the setting Sun, his vigilance is weak) and very soon after this he appears to disappear into the Sun at dusk (gets captured by the Sun). He remains invisible for the rest of the Spring and Summer. He is literally obscured by the light of the Sun! The capturing of Macocael by the Sun is the first indicator of the end of the season of fertilizing the crops and clearing the conucos and the beginning of preparation for the planting season.
Later in the text Pane says: “The reason why Macocael was keeping watch and standing guard was in order to see where he would send and distribute the people, and it seems that he tarried to his great misfortune.”
There are two points to be made here. The first point of importance is that the time period when Macocael was keeping watch (Dry Season) is a time for planing where and what the community was going to be doing in the Spring (what Conucos to Plant, what needed fertilization, how all this was going to be organized). The second point was the comment Pane made about how Macocael tarried to his great misfortune. This may have been an emotion that Pane introduced into the story and not an emotion that our Ancestors themselves transmitted to him. Remember the christian mind is full of strict behavior guidelines and taboos which undoubtedly strongly impeded Pane’s ability to take in what the Taino were telling him. Macocael becomes a stone that is outside the door of the Cave. Macocael evidently is not only the Star but is also a guardian Cemis, who is placed outside of the Door (of the bohio, ceremonial cave, or Yukayeke). We find that this is typical of our people’s spirituality for something to be simultaneously Earthly (in the form of a Cemi) and also Cosmic (a Star). To Be Continued.....
Pane continues with: “Afterwards, they say, others who had gone to fish were captured by the Sun, and they were changed into trees they call jobos [hog plum trees], and they are also called mirabalanos.”
Again we have “people” getting captured by the Sun, again to me a clear reference to constellations which get “captured” by the movement of the Sun through the sky over the course of the year. Very close to the time we see the bright star Sirius (Macocael) being captured by the Sun, we also see the expressive constellation commonly called Orion also being captured by the Sun. Orion is an extremely expressive constellation that our Ancestors would have known, recognized and had stories associated with. Orion also (unlike the Big Dog which is more spread out) is all grouped together, clearly looking like a group of entities rather than an individual. Macocael was clearly an individual but the second entity captured by the Sun is clearly multiple (“others”) Fishermen. Again this is occurring around March when the Dry Season is coming to a close and the Heavy Rains of May are around the corner.
We have to understand that our Ancestors had to have a full awareness of the cycle of the Seasons, because they did not have the luxury to be able to rely on irrigation and wells to water their Conucos, they had to plant the various crops at the perfect time to take advantage of the May Rains. Cosmic events were clearly indicators of the whole timing of the events, and references through names and so on were even, in my findings, pointing to an awareness of their more Ancient Story and Ancient Ancestral Lands. In the myths “others” are going out to fish, but they get captured by the Sun. In the Caribbean all seasons are good for fishing but the season of January to April (Dry Season) is ideal. Obviously seas can become hazardous during Hurricane Season, as again our Ancestors did not have the luxury of satellite photos tracking hurricanes coming in from the coast of Africa. It is likely too that fishing was a more important activity during the dry months due to there being less food available from plants, or more time available to fish due to not having any seedlings to cultivate during the dry period.
Our Ancestors had many, many techniques of fishing from catching by hand, bow and arrow, harpoons, with a torch light at night (I find this especially significant to the Myth), creating and using traps, and using fishing lines, hooks and sinkers, using bait fish, and using a plant toxin, nontoxic to humans, to kill and collect the fish. Our Ancestors even farmed fish! I can remember when young using many of these techniques that are continued today to fish with my relatives in Boriken!
The fishermen are turned into Jobos which can mean two things, one that a Cemi was made from the Jobo tree itself which was connected to successful fishing, and/ or that the end of the one season (marked by fishing) gave way to a season marked by something occurring with the Jobo tree. I trust that our Ancestors had specific Ceremonies which were done during each of these times! ￼
Jobo Tree (Spondias Mombin) The Jobo tree is a very interesting tree. First it blooms in the Caribbean in APRIL, MAY and JUNE (which is very significant in the timing of this Myth). In other words when the Fishermen are caught by the Sun (cosmic event) the Jobos will start to bloom (earthly event), the planting season is upon the people! Our Ancestors obviously connected the cosmic event with this specific earthly event! The Jobo tree has edible fruit which ripens in July and August. ￼
Its fruit can drift upon the ocean. It has multiple medicinal values, traditionally recognized and used by the People. It is an antibacterial, antiviral, anti-candida, expels worms, stimulates the uterus (can be used as a contraceptive, to induce labor and to stop bleeding after childbirth), heals wounds and rashes and burns, helps digestion, heals eye infections, soothes arthritis, joint and muscle pain and much more. What is very interesting is that this tree has been analyzed recently to show that this tree contains substances proven to inhibit the penicillin resistance in bacteria that have developed this resistance. (A much needed remedy for a medical crisis where bacteria become resistant to various antibiotics). This tree also contains a substance that inhibits the replication (spread) of certain viruses such as HIV and herpes! I am confident that any tree spoken about in our People’s mythology has significance on all levels, spiritual, cosmic, material, and medicinal. To me it is especially striking that the Jobo tree is utilized for contraception, abortion, inducing labor and reducing bleeding at childbirth, given where the Myth takes us in the next parts... I also find it very important to note the powerful medicinal substances that western science is just now “discovering” which Our Ancestors had actually discovered a long time ago. For our people today who struggle with health issues, we need to realize that our people had a medical system revolving around the use of potent plant medicines. These plant medicines are still available to us today and the study and use of them is increasingly being documented and pursued outside of the established pharmaceutical system.
Pane continues... "It happened that a man whose name was Guahayona told another who was called Yahubaba to go and gather a plant called DIGO, with which they clean their bodies when they go to bathe. He went out before dawn, and the Sun caught him along the road, and he was turned into a bird that sings in the morning, like the nightingale, and is called yahubabayael. Seeing that the man whom he had sent to gather the DIGO did not return, Guahayona resolved to leave the said Cacibajagua Cave."
The name Guahayona needs the input from some good linguists to understand fully or even partially, but the term Gua- seems to be connected to the darkness, or nighttime (depths of cave perhaps) and -hiona (-hayona) possibly to caona (gold, wealth)? Guahayona is representative of either Cacike or Bohitu, which we will look at in later parts when we come to his journey! He tells a man called Yahubaba to go gather a plant used to wash called Digo. Yahubaba (again all good linguists step forward to make suggestions as to this name (Tahey- Guanin? Tahubaba? Cahubaba, Yadrubaba...?) This is an important name re-occuring with the myths! Yahubaba does not get the DIGO and is turned into a bird which like the nightingale sings in the morning. Nightingales (are not found in the Caribbean) and sing during the night, Yahubabayael is undoubtedly a caribbean bird (possibly migratory) who comes especially at this time of year as another sign of the impending planting season. Again we have the concept of the Sun Capturing him, so we have to again look at constellations. There are a number of different constellations that this could refer to, among them “Canis minor” (little dog) (my preference), Gemini, and so on. We would need to be standing on our Ancestral Lands on a dark mountain or hill during all these months looking into the night sky (all night long) to truly understand what our Ancestors were seeing and through this be able to truly determine the correlations of Stars with Mythic people and Cemis. Lacking that we can certainly spend time wherever we are once again becoming oriented to the night sky! If anyone who lives in our Caribbean homelands knows of a bird who sings a melodious song at dawn or even before dawn please enlighten us, through this we may be able to determine who Yahubabayael really is!!!
The DIGO plant is obviously a plant that is used for washing, it is a plant that contains saponins (plant chemicals that make “suds”). There is a tropical shrub commonly called the SOAPBERRY, its latin name is SAPINDUS meaning Soap + Indians which referred to the Indigenous people of the West Indies use of the berries for soap! I trust we can safely say that DIGO is the SOAPBERRY! A handful of the ripe or dried berries will produce a lather which is a gentle soap for bathing! In the Caribbean the WINGLEAF SOAPBERRY is the variety available. ￼
SOAPBERRY SHRUB (DIGO) The season of the DIGO is very significant. Its fruits mature in September and hang on the tree (available for harvesting) throughout the winter (Dry Season) during which they shrivel and become black and leathery, and then they are pushed off as the new growth arrives in the Spring (time period we are looking at here). So by the time Guahayona sends Yahubaba out to collect the Digo and the Sun captures him, the DIGO is not collected because its berry is unavailable due to new spring growth! ￼
DIGO BERRIES DURING DRY SEASON Again a cosmic event (Star becoming obscured by Sun’s Light) is correlated to earthly events (Migratory Bird or at least Birdsong) and (End of fruit availability on Digo plant). This marks the ceremonial departure from the Cave. The depths of the meaning of the Symbolism of leaving the cave is not totally clear, but we can be sure this was indicating a very important Ceremony which occurred right within the transition from Dry Season to Wet Season!
Our Ancestral Ceremonies were connected to actual events from the Cosmic Level, to the level of Plant and Bird seasonal changes, and on the level of human activities, (fishing, organizing and planing, fertilizing, harvesting Dry Season Crops, etc). Ceremony acted as a catalyst within the natural cycles ensuring that the natural powers and energies of the Cosmic, Earth, Plant, Animal and Human realms could be in harmony in order to ensure thriving and abundance for the community. You cannot have a ceremony be a catalyst of natural powers and cycles if the ceremony is totally divorced from these powers and cycles, if the ceremony is taking place in a cement building, if it involves the use of synthetic cemi look a likes, if it has been reduced to empty gestures and confused renditions of our traditions. All it will catalyze in these cases will be more confusion.