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Point of Interest
Cacique Estevez shows young Layla Shirley how to play the mayowaca, a drum made of elongated hollow wood.
The Taino medicine wheel helps people to heal themselves. 
The Taino instrument at left is a gourde. It is called a guiro. The other is called a pua, which is used to scratch the guiro. 
Nicola Shirley-Phillips
Cacique Estevez blowing the guamo (conch shell) to the south during a medicine wheel ritual on Tuesday, January 6. 
A traditional Taino necklace. 
Cacique Estevez displaying a bag of cassave (bammy). Yuca is the Taino name for cassava, while cassave is the Taino word for bammy. 
Cacique Estevez listens to a youngster during a traditional feather headdress workshop at the Source Farm on Tuesday, January 6. 

Taino chief hosts educational camp in St Thomas

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

In 1494 when Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of what is now called St Ann, he and the other explorers met fair-skinned, long-haired people who had been living on the island for decades.

These people once called Arawaks, are actually Tainos, who spoke the Arawak language.

Columbus landed near their settlement of Maima. He was to return to Jamaica a second time in 1503. He was stranded, and lived at Maima for one year while he waited for help. Columbus left Jamaica in 1504 a broken and broke man, never to return.

However, his son, Diego, and Spanish colonisers returned in 1510. They established the first Spanish settlement in Jamaica near Maima, and called it Sevilla la Nueva (New Seville). Over time, hard work, mass murder, European diseases and suicide almost wiped out the Taino population, to the point where they were believed to be extinct.

Some had actually run away from the Spaniards and were the first Jamaican Maroons. Others were released by the Spaniards to assist them in their fight against the British, who arrived here in 1655. The Spaniards officially ceded the island to the British in 1670. By then, runaway Tainos had firmly established themselves away from the Spanish-British conflict.

Africans were brought over by the Spaniards and the British to replace the dwindling Taino population. Some of these Africans also ran away from the plantations and joined the Tainos in the interiors. It is believed that interbreeding took place between the Tainos and the Africans, thus the survival of the Tainos in Jamaica.

And last year, The Gleaner told the story of two women who said they are Tainos, who were born in St Elizabeth. They said they have also always known that they are Tainos. South Manchester and St Elizabeth are known to have had many Taino settlements. While many people believed the women, others ridiculed their claims.

But what they cannot ridicule is the existence of Tainos in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. They have been visiting Jamaica for quite a while now, and some participated in activities at the Charles Town International Maroon Conference in June. That was where Cacique Jorge Baracutey Estevez, a Taino chief from Connecticut, met Nicola Shirley-Phillips of the Source Farm Foundation and Ecovillage in John's Town, St Thomas.

In that encounter Cacique Estevez was invited to the Source Farm to host a Taino educational camp. He arrived on January 5 and departed on the 10th. Hospitality Jamaica caught up with him on Tuesday the 6th, when he conducted a workshop on the making of traditional feather headdresses. Participants were also shown some of the tools, equipment, instruments, utensils, and ornaments that Tainos make from natural material.

Born in Dominican Republic

Speaking with Hospitality Jamaica, Estevez said he was born in a Taino family in a mountainous village in The Dominican Republic, migrated to the United States at an early age, and now lives in Connecticut. He works with The Museum of the American Indian in New York and Washington. Being Taino to him means freedom - freedom to explore himself.

The essence of his visit to the camp was to create Taino ambassadors who can pass on their knowledge of the Tainos to others, Shirley-Phillips said. The week of activities also involved a mask-making session.

In assessing the week-long camp Shirley-Phillips said "it was awesome". She said she felt so blessed to have had Cacique Estevez hosting the camp because of his wealth of knowledge. She was particularly impressed with the medicine wheel rituals, which she said she was comfortable with, as she didn't come out of it feeling "heavy".

The medicine wheel consists of a circle of river rocks laid out on the ground. It is used to help people heal themselves, Estevez said. Within it, there are two lines of stones, one running east to west, the other north to south.

In the medicine wheel, people establish a relationship with the creator by giving thanks. This is done by blowing the guamo (conch shell) while facing east, west, north and south. After each blow, participants say what they are thankful for.

In his own assessment of the camp, Estevez said he wanted people to be curious about themselves and to discover themselves. The next Taino camp at The Source Farm will be in August, which will be on a grander scale. 

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