The Areito – Since the Taino did not possess a written language, history and beliefs were passed from generation to generation through songs and dances called Areitos. They were celebrated often in occasions such as the election or death of a cacique, during weddings or in harvest seasons. There were various types: war, religious, or cosmic events, as Dr. Veloz Maggiolo points out, "the areito was a party and song, dance and rhythm all at the same time".8
The areitos usually took place in the village batey or under a tree. The description by historian Gonzalez de Oviedo helps us visualize them: "the songs were accompanied by precise and complex choreography and lead by a 'dance-master' who could be either male or female. He observed that they were performed by large groups of people, and that there was often a call and response of sound and movement between the leader and the group. Additionally, he distinguished between two types of areito, one which commemorated historical events and the other which served as entertainment for festivals......".9
It is known that women prepared a fermented corn drink, this might be the drink that Oviedo refers to when he adds "the Indian men and women give the drink to the dancers, drinking without stopping, and always moving and swallowing what is given to them. And they drink these beverages that they use and end up inebriated and unconscious, laid out on the ground for many hours after the end of the party."
The music had to have been very special, given to the exotic nature of the instruments: the most used was the drum the Fray Ramon Pane refers to as "the Mayohavau, made of hollow wood, strong and very slim, of about one arms length and a half wide"..."Looks like a gourd with a long neck; and this instrument that they play is so loud that it is heard from very far."10
According to folklorist Fradike Lizardo, "it had a slot on the bottom through which the wood was hollowed, and an H shape on the top, striking it in the ends of the H with a resonator made with resin. It had to sit on the ground or it would not work."11
We assume that the rhythm was marked by the Mayohuacan and the maracas, instruments made of wood or gourds and probably used by the guide or person leading the areito.
Their music included other sounds such as the Fotuto or rustic trumpet made out of a shell or the Ocarinas or small whistles made out of clay. They also made little flutes out of bone, and maybe a trumpet made from reeds, that may have resounded inside a clay pot, known as Gayumba.
The participants of the areito would wear bands with shells on their arms and ankles, so that every dance step produced a pleasant sound that we suppose would have been done to the rhythm of the Mayohuacan and the Maraccas, incorporating the dancers into the music creation.
D.7. Cohoba Ceremony.
La Cohoba – The Cohoba ritual was the most important ceremony within the Taino religion. Practicing it would invoke the gods or cemies with the purpose of consulting them on matters of war, harvest or health. *
The Cohoba are hallucinogenic powders extracted from a plant scientifically named Piptadenia peregrina and that mixed with other elements, was placed on the plate worn by some idols or cemies. At the start of the ceremony, some of the participants would induce vomit with ceremonial spatulas. This would make them more receptive to the cohoba. The powders were usually inhaled through small tubes or straws made out of would in the shape of a Y.
Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, who witnessed some of these ceremonies, describes them: “El primero que la comenzaba era el Señor, i en tanto que llo hacia, todos callaban; tomada su cohoba (que es sorber por las narices aquellos polvos, como esta dicho, i todos hallabanse asentados en unos banquetes bajos, pero mui bien labrados que llamaban duhos, la primera sílaba luenga), estaba un rato la cabeza a un lado vuelta, i los brazos puestos encima de las rodillas, i después alzaba la cara hacia el cielo hablando con grande apellido de voces y sonido, i luego dábanle gracias, i debían desille algunas lisonjas, captándole la benevolencia y rogándole que dijese lo que había visto. El les daba cuenta de su visión, diciendo que el Cemí le había hablado de buenos tiempos o adversos, o que habían de haber hijos, o que se les habían de morir, o que habían de tener alguna contención o guerra con sus vecinos,”12. (The first one to indulge was the chief, and as soon as he did, the rest would quiet down; having taken the cohoba (which consists of inhaling the powders through the nose as has been stated, all would be found sitting in beautifully decorated low stools called duhos, long first syllable), the head would be to the side for a while, and the arms over the knees, and after would he would raise his head towards the heavens, speaking with a very loud voices and sounds, later they would thank him and present him with offerings, capturing benevolence and begging him to tell what he had seen. He would tell them about his visions, saying the Cemi (Zemi) had spoken of good or bad times, or that there would be children, or that they would die, or that there was need for restrain or war with the neighbors.)
D6 & D7: Design: J. Arvelo. Drawing: F. Castro