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    Posted: 06-Sep-2007 at 16:12
The myth says the original people of the Caribbean were exterminated during the Colonization of the region. Genetists have shown that idea is false, because all people of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Dominican Republic carry a significant proportion of Taino blood.
 
However, there is another similar myth that say all Taino culture was wiped out, and nothing survives today. That's also false. The number of Taino words in Spanish and English languages, from Hammock to Canoe, are amazingly numerous, more than any other language of the Americas. In foods, toponimics and agricultural traditions, Taino culture still exist today.
 
Moreover, even in Music, Taino heritage in the musical traditions of the Hispanic Caribbean are very real. The maraca, for instance, is a native american Taino instrument.
 
I invite you to read the following article, listen to the tune, and convince yourself that Taino culture is not completely dead at all.
 
Pinguin
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
From:
 
 
Music of Puerto Rico

History - to 1600

Taíno petroglyph, Caguana, PR
Foto courtesy of Robin Parker Garcia

Very little is known about the music of the indigenous people of Puerto Rico outside of a very few first hand and some hearsay accounts from the Spaniards who came in conquest during the early years of the 16th century.

The people that populated Puerto Rico through this period were the Taíno indians that migrated to the island from northern coast of South America and settled in Puerto Rico around 900 AD. The Taínos referred to Puerto Rico as the island of "Borikén", often spelled as "Borinquén" in Spanish.

Although Colombus landed on Puerto Rico during his second voyage to the western hemisphere, it was not until 1508 and the arrival of Juan Ponce de León that the Spaniards began colonizing the island. Disease, brought to the island by the Spaniards, such as the small pox epidemic of 1527, and abusive treatment at the hands of the conquistadors, quickly decimated the Taíno population. The remnants of the Taínos intermarried with the Spanish and later, with the slaves that were imported from Africa. Despite this and a lack of written language, the heritage of Taíno people is quite noticeable in the general culture of Puerto Rico and to a limited extent in its music.

Taíno%20mayohuacan%20drum%20

Taíno mayahuacán drum
Foto courtesy of Melanio González

One of the earliest accounts of Taíno music came from Fray Ramón Pané, who described a percussion instrument called "mayohavau" that was played during songs that were performed during religeous rituals. This instrument, according to Pané, was made of a thin wood a was shaped like an elongated gourd that measured up to one meter long and half a meter wide. The sound produced by the mayohavau could be heard as far as a "league and a half away" (a league being a distance between 2.4 to 4.6 miles, or 3862 to 7403 meters). Pané reported that these were played by leaders of the tribe as accompaniment to songs which were used to pass on customs and laws to younger generations.

Fray Bartolomé de las Casas was another early reporter. A Spanish monk, he described the use of drums as dance accompaniment, sometimes involving hundreds of dancers at a time. He wrote:

"And on this island what I could understand was that their songs which they call 'areytos,' were their history passed from person to person, fathers to sons from the present to the future, as here uniting many Indians... passing three or four hours or more until the teacher or guide of the dance finished the history, and sometimes they went from one day to the next."

These songs appeared to early reporters as chants, known as "areítos". Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés described these areítos as songs performed while dancing. He reported that these songs were often a part of a communal celebration, usually religeous and the term areíto, or "areyto", is often used today to describe these events, which sometimes lasted several days.

Taíno maraca
Foto courtesy of Nelsonrafael Collazo

In addition to the drums, the Taínos also played güiros, made from higüeros (gourds) which vary in size from quite small to about a meter in length. The Taínos used higüeros for many of the artifacts used in their daily life. Another musical instrument they commonly used was the flute that they made either from conch shells or reeds. It is known that the Taínos used maracas, although the design was different from the modern version; using a single large ball instead of many small ones.

According to Nanaturey, which means "Sky Woman" in the Taíno language, a Taíno song could have sounded like this modern interpretation performed by Yucayeke Maguey performing group:  Taíno song. A member of the Taíno tribes Canóbanas and Bayamón, Nanaturey explains that that this performance, led by Guacokio Gua Teketa Maguey, or "Man of Many Drums", used traditional Taíno instruments, including flute, maracas and drums.

Because the traditional celebrations of the Taínos were fobidden by the Spanish, few artifacts survived. Many of the artifacts were hidden away in caves or other "safe" places and managed to survive the colobial period.

--------------------
 
Listen the Taino song at
 
 
 
 


Edited by pinguin - 06-Sep-2007 at 16:16
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2007 at 20:09
clicking on the link doesn't seem to work for me, since my browser appears to be have caught the computer equivalent of pneumonia, but concratulations on a very unique thread. I've always liked ancient music, and this is a wonderful example of the complexities of traditional songs.

Gracias, Thank you, Avidazen (I think that's how you spell it).
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." - Nietzsche

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2007 at 22:16

Oh, you are welcome.

I am fascinated with Amerindian music, among other cultural elements of that culture. It amazes me in all Native cultures flute is very important, and also that theirs music sounds not only similar to East Asian but also to Irish or Celtic! I like it.
 
I don't know what do you mean by "Avidazen". In Spanish is just "Gracias" Big%20smile
 
I will search more about the topic and I tell you.
 
Omar Vega (allias pinguin)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2007 at 23:50
"Avidazen" is a word (I forget the language), that was used repeatedly by a friend of mine and meant, variously, "thank you" or could mean "goodbye".


That flute is also the main reason I love amerindian music. It's just so distinctive, yet has a lot of similarities to celtic or irish, as you said.

Ever heard music by Wayanay Inka? They're a traditional andean music group. Since you live in chile, If anyone on the forum knows of them, I'd imagine it would be you.


Edited by TheARRGH - 06-Sep-2007 at 23:52
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." - Nietzsche

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2007 at 15:52
Originally posted by TheARRGH

"Avidazen" is a word (I forget the language), that was used repeatedly by a friend of mine and meant, variously, "thank you" or could mean "goodbye".
 
It sounds german with Spanish spelling LOL. "auf wiedersehen" (bye) sound pretty much like it Big%20smile

Originally posted by TheARRGH


That flute is also the main reason I love amerindian music. It's just so distinctive, yet has a lot of similarities to celtic or irish, as you said.
 
You bet. And I guess you like New Age and Classical rock music as well. It is all related, you know.

Originally posted by TheARRGH


Ever heard music by Wayanay Inka? They're a traditional andean music group. Since you live in chile, If anyone on the forum knows of them, I'd imagine it would be you.
 
I don't know that particular group. However, now that you mentioned I am going to search for it. I love the traditional music of the Andes, and Bolivia is the center of that folkloric style, so I guess is a Bolivian group.
 
I dream one day to go to the Oruro carnival in the Andes. Recently I was in a mine at 3.800 meters of altitude and I survived LOL. Altitude is a factor one must take into account So, I guess I could make the trip without comming back in a coffin. LOL One day I will go.
 
Pinguin
 
 
 

[/QUOTE]


Edited by pinguin - 07-Sep-2007 at 15:53
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2007 at 16:45
When you do, post some pictures...
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." - Nietzsche

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Sep-2007 at 21:32
Well, just in case I don't go soon enough, here there are some pictures of the Oruro carnival. It is the largest carnival of indigenous roots in South America, as far as I know...
 
 
 
 
 
 
Even Evo Morales dance :)
 
 
 
 


Edited by pinguin - 07-Sep-2007 at 21:35
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 17:41
..How many short skirts can one festival HAVE?
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." - Nietzsche

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 20:30

Big%20smile

That's the traditional women skirt in the carnival of Oruro. I forget, it is a religious Catholic festivityLOL, but syncretic with the ancient culture. All Bolivians participate on that no matter they are "ethnic" or not
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 20:48
I see...

Of all the guesses I could have made as to what type of festival that looked like, "catholic" wouldn't be one of them. But we're all wrong sometimes...
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." - Nietzsche

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 21:08

Rio Carnival is also "catholic" in formality....

However, just a small study allow to show theirs syncretic roots and the profane aspect of the party as well.

 
The Oruro Carnival is the maximun expression of Andes Native Music, for instance. You will not find there ancient music but the syncretic that exist today, according to the times.
 
Pinguin
 


Edited by pinguin - 08-Sep-2007 at 21:14
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 22:19

Besides maracas, this is also a Taino instrument very widespread in Latin America, in bands of the so called "tropical" music.

Güiro

At least some of the instruments used in traditional Puerto Rican music are believed to have originated with the Taíno people. Most noteworthy is the güiro, a notched hollowed-out gourd, which was adapted from a pre-Colombian instrument. Others maintain that similar instruments were also used in other parts of Central and South America and brought to Puerto Rico by the Arawak indians.

The güiro is made by carving the shell of the gourd and carving parallel fluting on its surface. It is played by holding the güiro in the left hand with the thumb inserted into the back sound hole to keep the instrument in place. The right hand usually holds the scraper and plays the instrument. The scraper is more properly called a "pua". A rhythmic, rasping sound like this sample audio clip, is produced. Playing the güiro usually requires both long and short sounds, which are made by scraping both up and down in long or short strokes. The güiro, like the maracas, is usually played by a singer. The instrument's rasping sound adds counterpoint to folk music but is less often used in salsa bands.

Modern güiros are also made of metal, plasic or even fiberglass. The scaper is typically made with metal tynes attached to s small block of wood but may be made entirely of wood, metal, bamboo, shell, bone, ceramic or plastic. The size of the güiro can vary widely although it typically ranges from 25 - 35 cm long.

The earliest known reference to the güiro is in the writings of Fray Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra in 1788. He described the güiro as one of several instruments that were used to accompany dancers. The other instruments would typically include maracas, tambourine and one or more guitars.

The güiro is known as Calabazo, Guayo, Ralladera, Rascador, and is considered a percussion instrument.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote TheARRGH Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Sep-2007 at 23:56
I've heard the guiro somewhere before...it really is a very unique sound. I don't know of many other cultures that used an instrument similar to that.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Yaomitl Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Sep-2007 at 07:56
There's a few Mexica-Nahua artists worth checking out - Tribu, Antonio Zepeda, Delfino Guevera and Jorge Reyes. Of these, Guevera is probably the most ruthlessly traditional, using only purely indigenous (well, pre-conquest) instruments, very few (if any) studio effects and basing his compositions heavily on themes surviving within contemporary indigenous music. Reyes and Zepeda are similar, although they make a greater use of studio effects. My favourite are Tribu who, through ocassional use of synths and samplers (etc) sound to me how a Mexican group would now sound had the conquest never happened. One thing which draws me to these people in particular is that their subjects seem to remain true to the pre-Hispanic tradition, that is, anybody looking for relaxing new-age ethnic music probably won't find it on a Tribu CD, at least not if they're listening to it properly. Annoyingly, none of these people seem to have much of an internet presence and the best you get from a google search is usually a few reviews, though most are on sale in branches of librerias gandhi in Mexico - so their site might have something. Zepeda notably did the soundtrack to an independant film called In Necuapaliztli In Aztlan (Retorno a Aztlan) - one of very few films made entirely in the Nahuatl language - which I'd really love to see one day.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Sep-2007 at 10:05
Originally posted by TheARRGH

I've heard the guiro somewhere before...it really is a very unique sound. I don't know of many other cultures that used an instrument similar to that.
 
The guiro are maracas are main instruments in Salsa and other rythmic musical styles or Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. In those styles, the Amerindian instruments perpetuated to our days.
 
A salsa singer playing it:
 
 
The same is true for maracas. Here playing guiro and maracas:
 
 
 
In here you can see a musician playing maracas:
 
 
So, when Carlos Santana said not long ago in Spain that all its music came only from Africa (something that produced a strong reaction on Hispanics) he was wrong. Two basic instruments of Salsa and "afrocaribbean" bands
are Amerindian in origin. Poor Santana, he didn't know what he was talking about LOLLOL
 
Pinguin
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Sep-2007 at 10:14

Originally posted by Yaomitl

There's a few Mexica-Nahua artists worth checking out - Tribu, Antonio Zepeda, Delfino Guevera and Jorge Reyes. Of these, Guevera is probably the most ruthlessly traditional, using only purely indigenous (well, pre-conquest) instruments, very few (if any) studio effects and basing his compositions heavily on themes surviving within contemporary indigenous music. Reyes and Zepeda are similar, although they make a greater use of studio effects. My favourite are Tribu who, through ocassional use of synths and samplers (etc) sound to me how a Mexican group would now sound had the conquest never happened. One thing which draws me to these people in particular is that their subjects seem to remain true to the pre-Hispanic tradition, that is, anybody looking for relaxing new-age ethnic music probably won't find it on a Tribu CD, at least not if they're listening to it properly. Annoyingly, none of these people seem to have much of an internet presence and the best you get from a google search is usually a few reviews, though most are on sale in branches of librerias gandhi in Mexico - so their site might have something. Zepeda notably did the soundtrack to an independant film called In Necuapaliztli In Aztlan (Retorno a Aztlan) - one of very few films made entirely in the Nahuatl language - which I'd really love to see one day.

Great!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have all those singers and artists of Amerindian music accross the hemisphere in a single album? I will wait for it. In here the greatest Mapuche singler that I know is the Argentinean Beatriz Pichi Malen. You can see some youtubes of her from her play "Plata" (silver)

 
 


Edited by pinguin - 09-Sep-2007 at 10:28
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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09-Sep-2007 at 10:32
And this is about the origin of Cuban Music from the UCTP Taino site: 
 

7/03/2007

Areito, the Cuban music of the aboriginal people



The Cuban musical tradition has its origins in the most authentic elements of the culture and history of the island. Even the Cuban aboriginal population had certain musical tradition known as Areito.

The Areitos were a kind of rhymes or romances they danced and sang at the same time. They found inspiration in their every-day lives and they were sung in chorus or individually by a person whose task was to lead the dance and / or the story. This person was named Tequina who was generally an elder person.

Sometimes they used to dance taking their hands while in others they interlaced their arms. Thus, they moved to the rhythm with their bodies performing some front and back steps. An areito could last up to the following day with all the community gathered, in the center of the small village and situated around the bonfire.

The Anacaona areito is an example of this cultural expression, which is dedicated to an outstanding aboriginal woman and says:

“Aya bomba ya Bombay

La massana Anacaona

Van van tavana dogal

Aya bomba ya Bombay

La massana Anacaona”

Those compositions were changing from their most primitive forms with the Spanish colonization and they influenced the cultural traditions of the Cuban countryside.

Posted by UCTP TAINO NEWS at 12:15

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Post Options Post Options   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Sep-2007 at 15:28
More information on the influence of Taino Music, this time in Dominican Republic:
 

New Notes about Taíno Music and its Influence on Contemporary Dominican Life

By Lynne Guitar

“… The Dominican nation is one of those in which this passion [to enjoy music and dance] has been the strongest, most alive and dominant since the Colonial Era, when you could dance in the churches and in the streets and public plazas, through the present in which dance is a part of everyday life.”
--Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi.
1

Music played a highly significant role in both the daily and ritual lives of the Taíno, as we call the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola and the other islands of the Greater Antilles, although there were actually several different groups of indigenous peoples living here when Christopher Columbus arrived and dramatically changed not only their names, but the course of their history. The Taíno used music to help make mundane work more bearable, to help them remember and recount their history, to celebrate special occasions, and to communicate with their spiritual guides, their cemíes, to gain their help in healing, for protection against destructive natural forces such as hurricanes and earthquakes, to ensure rain when needed, good harvests, hunts, and fishing expeditions, and other necessities of life. In fact, music and song were so important, that one of the most valuable gifts one Taíno could give another was a song.2

This study examines Taíno music and its influences on contemporary Dominican life. While Taíno musical form itself does not appear to have influenced contemporary Dominican music too much because of the vast differences between it and European-based music, there has, indeed, been a strong and continuing cultural influence, which includes musical instruments, an inborn appreciation for music, song, and dance, and the way that music and appreciation of music forms part of the daily routines and every single ritual event in the lives of Dominicans at all social levels. All of these live on as a joyful part of the Taíno legacy.


Taíno musical form

We can only make educated guesses about Taíno musical form because nobody had cassette recorders in the Conquest Era, and the Spanish chroniclers did not leave us many details.3 We know that Amerindian music in general, across the continents, is typically simple and monophonic, meaning it is composed of a single melodic line, which descends in tone. Taíno songs were also most likely strophic, which means that the lyrics changed from verse to verse, while the melody stayed the same.4 The Spanish chroniclers did note, however, that the Taíno melodies and rhythms varied depending upon the type of song.

There is, generally, no harmony or polyphony in Amerindian music (polyphonic music presents more than one tone at a time), although there often is antiphonal singing between a leader or soloist and a choir, which means that the choir sings the same melodic line as the leader, but alternates with him or her, or the melodic line may be repeated by the choir in different octaves.5 This appears to have been the case among the Taíno, for all of the chroniclers recorded that they had song leaders and choral responses.

Vocables are very important to most Amerindian songs, as they may have been to Taíno songs. A vocable is a word composed of various sounds that do not necessarily have any particular recognizable meaning. Often they have been passed down from earlier versions of the language, or from other languages entirely, and it is the ritualistic power that they convey which is important, not their meaning, per se.6 Amerindian peoples like the Blackfoot and other Plains Indians most often used the consonants h, y, and w, and various vowels to form the vocables in their songs, avoiding n, c, ts and other consonants; the vowels i and e are sung at a slightly higher pitch, while a, o, and u are sung at a lower pitch.7 The Taíno may have had similar preferences. Many of the Europeans who wrote about Amerindian music described it as “gutteral” and “harsh,” in part because of the prevalence of vocables.8 Interestingly, the Spanish chroniclers reported that the Taíno songs were pleasing, not harsh.

Like the music of most Asian cultures, Amerindian music is also typically pentatonic, meaning based on five notes, instead of the typical 8-note base of most European music.9 “What [really] makes the Native American scales sound so alien [to European ears] is that the pitches of the five notes are seemingly chosen at random.”10 The pitch patterns appear to have varied from tribe to tribe, village to village, family to family, even from person to person, so they were no doubt understood by the Amerindians as a means of kinship or geographic identification, just as indigenous peoples used specific designs for ceramics, textiles, and other decorated objects as identifiers of artists, families, and nations from particular regions.


Taíno songs

Across the Americas in the Pre-Columbian Era, music was the ideal way “to communicate between the inhabitants of the earthly world and those of the celestial spheres.”11 Music to the Taíno, like to most other Native American peoples, primarily meant song. Taíno singers were almost always accompanied by musicians playing mayohuacanes (wooden drums) and frequently maracas (rattles), güíras (scrapers), and flutes or whistles of various kinds; however, even though it would have been rare for a singer to sing without percussion accompaniment, the song was paramount, not the instrumental music.12

In Taíno songs, there was a lead singer, who danced while singing, accompanied by other singers and dancers, who would join the leader in a call-and-response pattern, following both his or her dance steps as well as the song. Note that the call-and-response song style was and still is quite common in the Greater Antilles, Central, and South America.

The central plaza, most often rectangular, where the Taíno sang and danced, was called the batey. The Taínos’ big communal song-and-dance celebrations, which took place in the batey, were called areítos, which also appears to have been their word for “song,” supporting the idea of song as paramount over instrumental music and dance. The Taíno word for “dance” is aráguaca, which stems from aráguacu, roughly translated as “The Sacred People,” and is the base for our modern word “Arawak.”13 This demonstrates that dance, too, was not only sacred, but a term of self identification for the people as a whole.


Possible Taíno depiction of a dancer, found drawn on
a cave wall in the Dominican Republic


Possible Taíno depiction of an areito, found drawn on
a cave wall in the Dominican Republic

Each yucayeque (town) had a batey, and there were places, like El Corral de los Indios in San Juan de la Maguana, La Aleta in the eastern Dominican Republic, as well as Caguana in central Puerto Rico, among others, that appear to have been gathering sites for huge regional or inter-island celebrations. They had extremely large bateyes, and in the case of Caguana, multiple bateys of various sizes and shapes.

As previously mentioned, song was the way the Taíno communicated with and celebrated with their cemíes, their spiritual guides or spiritual counterparts. Musical rhythm “introduces a sense of order in things and elevates the forces of human beings against the unforeseen that… defines the behavior of nature.”14 Songs were sung by Taíno men, women, and children while working—for singing eased the work load then, as now—and while hunting or fishing, as well as during all kinds of religious ceremonies and rituals, such as:

• the annual celebration to welcome the new harvest of yucca, from which they prepared their main staple food, a crisp round flatbread called casabe

• to aid in the healing of the ill, which was a religious ritual overseen by a behique (closest equivalent is “shaman”)

• by the behique when he was painting symbols on the walls of a sacred cave and calling upon the cemíes for help

• before, during, and after games, especially their sacred ballgame, the batey (note that the ballgame and the central plaza bear the same name, suggesting that the ballgame preceded the areíto, in terms of chronological cultural development)• for funerals of important members of the community

• to welcome new babies to the world, especially if the babies were males born to the cacique’s (chief’s) eldest sister, for they were the cacique’s successors and were considered to be closer relatives than his own children

• to entertain visitors and bind them together with their hosts in a kind of fictive kinship called guatiao, wherein the caciques and their people exchanged names and swore to deal with each other reciprocally as if they were blood relatives

• and before, during, and after various coming-of-age or transition ceremonies, such as marriage.

For the Taíno, as for other Native peoples across the Americas, music was seldom performed for its own sake alone, but more often as an exchange, for example, to ensure good trade and/or smooth inter-tribal relations, to bring rain, to stop a hurricane from coming, to ensure a happy and fertile marriage, to help an infant grow healthily to adulthood, to gain success in a game of batey or battle, to cure the sick, to ensure safe passage to Coaybay, the spirit world, for a deceased loved one, to ensure a good harvest or a good hunt, etc.

One of the most valuable, most prestigious gifts that one Taíno could give to another was a song, because it was not just a song--it was a link to the powerful world of the spirits.15 Caciques of different yucayekes or cacicazgos on the island and within the region exchanged songs to create stronger bonds of fictive kinship and reciprocal responsibility between themselves and among their people. The chronicler Pedro Martyr confirmed the importance of this exchange of songs. For example, he wrote that the cacique Mayobanex would not turn traitor against the cacique Guarionex because Guarionex had taught him and his principal wife “to sing and dance, [which was] a thing not to be held in mediocre consideration."16

Most Taíno songs, however, both the melody and the words, came via dreams or when a person was alone in the forest or mountains, and they were taught to that person by a cemí, who would henceforth guide and help the song’s owner. Most Amerindian peoples across the continent consider songs to be divine gifts from the gods, hence the almost universal popularity of dreamcatchers and dream interpreters of different kinds across the indigenous Americas.

Note that, if the Taíno’s song were given away as a gift, the cemí’s divine help was transferred to the new owner. A Taíno man or woman could also gain the divine help of a cemí by receiving as a gift--or by taking--the physical representations of these spirits, which were sculptures of various sizes made of wood, bone, stone, or shell. The concept helps explain why the Taíno went to such great pains to hide their cemí sculptures from the Spaniards.

Like the chicken or the egg riddle about which came first, I have often wondered if a cacique originally become the cacique because he had so many cemíes, thus was more powerful than other men (powerful as in “wise” because he had the counsel of his multiple cemíes), or did he have so many cemíes because he was the cacique through inheritance, thus was given many cemíes as gifts.


Taíno instruments

Taíno instruments were principally percussion instruments, which is typical of indigenous peoples across the Americas. Of prime importance among their instruments was the mayohuacán or maguey,17 a wooden drum, that was played during almost all Taíno songs. It was made out of the trunk of a tree and could be “as thick as a man.”18 Most of the mayohuacanes had an oval, an open slit, or an “H” shape carved into the top to allow the sound to come out, although Fray Ramón Pané, who many say was the first New World anthropologist, wrote that he had seen mayohuacanes that were shaped like “blacksmiths’ tongs” at one end and that the sound of these drums could be heard a league and a half away—around 4 or 5 miles.19 That may have been a woman’s drum or a special one used for long distance communication, because the indigenous women of today’s Mexico used a kind of drum that was smaller than that used by males and which had “one tongue above and another below… and thus it was much louder than those that have two tongues on the part above and none below.”20 The chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés described and drew a mayohuacán that was suspended on a cord between two poles. Obviously there were different kinds, which may have varied by use as well as by nation, by region, or perhaps through the choice and creativity of the individual musician who crafted the drum.


Modern sketch of a Taíno drum

The chroniclers are in general agreement that the mayohuacán drums were played with sticks, although some say two while others say just one. Because they were sacred instruments, whose music accompanied sacred songs, it is pretty safe to assume that mayohuacanes would have been carved and painted with symbols of their owners’ cemíes.

Maracas are rattles, most frequently today made out of small hollowed-out gourds (higüeros) with stick handles attached, but sometimes carved out of wood.21 The main difference between original Taíno maracas and modern ones is that the original ones, at least those used by the behique for religious rituals, appear to have had one large ball of wood inside—in fact, the maraca was carved out of one piece of wood, handle and all, with the ball of wood that produces the clicking sound carved out of the inner core of that one piece of wood, through open slits that allow the sound to come out.22 Today’s maracas have no slits; they are left enclosed, with many small stones or seeds sealed inside the empty gourd before the handle is attached. The maracas used by Taíno musicians may have been more like the modern ones, and they appear to have used two at a time, like most modern percussionists. The behique used only one maraca, not two, and he played not by shaking it, but by hitting it against his other hand. Based upon archeological finds, all Taíno maracas appear to have been carved and painted with cemí designs, which was no doubt especially important for the maracas used by the behiques.

maraca
Depiction of a maraca by Dominican artist Joel Villalana

Güiros or güiras, are scrapers, raspers, that the Taíno made from hollowed-out elongated gourds with parallel ridges carved into their sides. They no doubt used a shell or piece of bone or wood to rhythmically scrape the instrument. Today güiras are more often made of tin, stainless steel, or even plastic, and musicians use a metal-tined scraper. The original Taíno word for the instrument appears to have been guajey, according to the Puerto Rican historian Cayetano Toll y Coste.23 The güira’s sound is so popular that it is used today to accompany every kind of Dominican song I can think of, except lullabies.

The Taínos used several kinds of flutes and ocarinas or whistles. The Taíno guamó or cobo, today called a fotuto,24 was a one-note flute or trumpet made from a conch shell, whose sound, like that of the mayohuacán, carried for long distances. Some may have had clay or bone mouthpieces, like those that have been found in Mexico.25 In addition to musical accompaniment, we know that the Taíno used their guamó to sound announcements and warnings across the vast mountain valleys, probably in code, with messages like: “The nasty Spaniards are heading your way!” In later centuries, Dominican butchers blew fotutos to announce to the townspeople what kind of meat was fresh that day, using codes of long-long, short-short, long-short-long tones, etc., which suggests how the guamó might originally have been played.


Depiction of a guamó (conch shell) by Dominican artist Joel Villalana

What may have been decorated bone flutes have been found at various Dominican archaeological sites,26 although Fradique Lizardo did not believe that the ones in the Aida Cartagena Portalatín and Morban Laucer collections were, in fact, flutes.27 The Taíno may also have used reed flutes, but if they did, none have survived the tropical climate that we know of at this time.

Various kinds of ocarinas or whistles with one, two, or three finger holes have survived the centuries. They are made of stone, bone, sometimes of baked clay, and are carved or molded in the shapes of animals (frequently birds) with fanciful designs by which the owner honored his or her cemíes.

Other rhythmic instruments? We know from what the Spanish chroniclers wrote that Taíno dancers, both males and females, wore multiple strands of shells—most frequently those called olive shells28--that tinkled like bells as they moved. Modern-day descendants of the Taíno, like the Dominican musician, composer, and musicologist Irka Mateo, use percussion instruments made of shells, dried seeds, and other natural objects that, shaken or rubbed together, make beautiful music. Such instruments might very well have been used by the Classic Taíno, too, who were very creative people and made excellent use of their environment.

Finally, a wide variety of objects have been found that served a double purpose. They include jars with handles that have small stones or seeds sealed inside so that they rattle and stamps that are also rattles, so that one could make music while stamping clothing and skin with pleasing designs. A few wooden vomiting spatulas were also found that not only served a double purpose as rattles but also had up to three finger holes near the top, indicating that they served a third use as flutes.29


Taíno areítos in detail

Nearly all of the chroniclers went to great lengths to describe the Taínos' fondness for areítos, their song-and-dance celebrations. There were different kinds of areítos that took place in the batey. There were areítos to celebrate annual events such as solstices, first plantings and first harvests, and to celebrate special events such as the marriage of a cacique, the birth of an important nitaíno (upper-class Taíno), the coming of age of an important female, a visit from a neighboring cacique, or victory over an enemy. Areítos were also held for no other purpose than to entertain or appease the people of the cacicazgo (chiefdom) and to bond them more closely to each other and to their cacique. Areítos were also held to propitiate a particular cemí. Most importantly, perhaps, areítos served educational purposes and to glorify both the cacique and his cazicazgo, for it was through song and areítos that the Tainos transmitted their histories and legends.30

The Taíno had not yet developed writing by 1492, so they kept their history alive in their art and in their songs, both of which are proven mnemonic techniques. Martyr wrote that the Taíno, “being simple and illiterate men, have preserved the principal stories of their ancestors. Since time immemorial, particularly in the mansions of their kings, they have ordered their behiques or wisemen to instruct their sons in knowledge about everything.” He explains that, “With this teaching, they accomplish two goals: one general, playing [songs] about their origins and development, and the other particular, lauding the illustrious deeds in peace and in war of their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and other ancestors.” Both types of songs, he writes, “they call areitos, and like among us the guitar players, they sing, accompanied by dances, to the sound of drums.”31

“They have amorous areitos,” Martyr continues, “as well as those that tell of war tactics, whose melody is perfectly in accord with each theme.” He also admired their dances, explaining that, “they display much more agility than in our dances, because they spend more time on them than on anything else, and also because they dance nude, so they never trip over an encumbrance.”32

The areitos performed for religious reasons required rigorous preparations. For example, the participants fasted for eight days before the ceremony, taking only "the juice [or tea] of certain herbs" known as diga. Just before the areíto began, they bathed in rivers and sacred charcos (natural pools), cleansing their bodies with the sacred diga herb.33 The ritual bathing may have been obeisance to Atabeyra, the mother of Yúcahu, the principle Taíno god; in one of her multiple guises, Atabeyra was the goddess of fresh water. After bathing, the males who were going to participate in the areíto painted their bodies with the symbols of their cemíes in colors made from vegetable dyes. To complete the purification, they vomited together, using vomiting sticks to purge their bodies of any remaining food remnants, preparing themselves to receive divine guidance. The vomiting sticks, many of which have survived and are exhibited in various museums, were frequently made from the intricately carved rib bones of the manatee, an animal whose rich, fatty flesh was reserved for the cacique and his family--a good indicator of its prestige.

Finally, before the singing and dancing began, the cacique, seated on his dujo (a low 4-legged wooden or stone stool with cemí designs), inhaled cohoba, a sacred hallucinatory powder, and consulted his spiritual guides. When he began to come out of the trance, he revealed the cemíes’ prophecies to the people.

From that point, each areíto, depending upon its purpose--and upon whether the prophecy was favorable or not--followed a different sequence of celebration. A focal point of each was always a series of songs and dances in which participants alternated as leaders, while drummers and other musicians accompanied the singers and dancers from the batey’s sidelines.

Martyr and others described the pleasant, rhythmic tinkling of strings of snail shells which "both sexes [of dancers] wore on their arms, calves, thighs, and heels," which accentuated the beat of the mayohuacanes. Martyr wrote that, "Loaded with these shells they struck the ground with their feet, leaping, singing, and dancing, and they saluted the cacique who, seated in the doorway [of his caney], received those who came, beating on his drum with a stick."34

As many as 300-400 dancers participated in the areíto, weaving around the batey while holding hands or with their arms around each others shoulders. The men wore designs painted in red, black, and white on their bodies, but Marty insists that the women did not: “The women, on the other hand, came without any special haircuts or paint, the virgins totally nude…”.35 He notes, however, that the women did wear garlands of multi-colored flowers in their hair.36

Martyr described in detail the annual areito with which the Taíno celebrated the first casabe made from a harvest of newly planted yucca, details which were told to him by Santiago Cañizares, who had witnessed one. While the cacique was partaking of cohoba and seeking counsel from his cemíes, the women musicians, who were seated elsewhere, offered casabe to the people. “At a signal from the bovitos [behiques],” writes Martyr:

the garlanded women, “dancing and singing their hymns, which they call areitos, offered cassabe in laboriously woven baskets. Upon entering [the batey] they began to circle those who were seated there; these, rising with sudden leaps, celebrated with admirable areitos of praise, together with them, to the cemí, narrating and singing with the illustrious gestures of their ancestors, giving thanks to the deity for their well being, humbly asking him for future felicity; both sexes on their knees at the end, they offered the deity cassabe, which the bovitos blessed and then they divided the cassabe into pieces as personal presents. Each person carried part of the cassabe to his or her home and kept it there all year as something sacred.37


Final notes

The Taínos celebrated all that was good, beautiful and positive in the world with the songs and dances of their areítos. Songs, music, and dance were a way to thank the cemíes for helping them to live happy and healthy on earth. The Spanish chroniclers, who wrote most of what we know about the life and culture of the Taíno people in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, were astonished by the vibrancy of Taíno song and dance, by the pulsing rhythms of their percussion instruments, and by the fact that Taíno men, women, and children of all ages and all social levels sang and danced together.

I believe that one of the most enjoyable of the many cultural legacies from the pre-Columbian Era is Dominicans’ deep appreciation for music, song, and dance. Just like their Taíno ancestors, Dominicans today will happily participate in a fiesta with lots and lots of music to celebrate all kind of holidays and special events. And dance! My five-year-old Dominican grandson, Brighton, has danced since before he could walk, and one day when he was four, his mother called me to come see—she had the radio playing in the bedroom, and he was wriggling his hips to the music even though he was sound asleep!

Across the country, music blares from radios that are part of the standard equipment of every colmado--the mom-and-pop neighborhood stores that are the gathering spots for young and old alike in the Dominican Republic’s urban barrios and rural pueblos--and from the radios of almost every street vendor as well as all the established stores, and, of course, from speakers in vehicles of all kinds, some of which are so large they fill the trunks or backs of the cars and vans, and are so loud that they set off car alarms as they travel down the city side streets. And then there are the discos in all the cities and towns, and even small pueblos in the countryside, where Dominicans spend many happy hours dancing ‘til dawn.

Joyful noise!..Joyful movement! This music is a living legacy from Caribbean peoples’ indigenous ancestors, who were enjoying music, song, and dance as many as 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, since their arrival in canoes from Central and South America. Let the fiestas continue!


Notes

1 Rodríguez Demorizi. Música y baile en Santo Domingo (pg. 65). Translation from the Spanish by Lynne Guitar.

2 Samuel M. Wilson, Hispaniola: Caribbean Chiefdoms in the Age of Columbus, pg. 26.

3 Luis Díaz, a Dominican musician and musicologist, believes that Taíno musical notation exists in the Vatican’s archives.

4 “Native Americans & American Popular Music” in Parlor Music: Popular Sheet

Music from the 1800s to the 1920s, http://parlorsongs.com/insearch/amerindian/amerindian0.asp.

5 Among other sources, see Music of Amerindians (a course at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), http://www.uwm.edu/Course/660-310/02AmIndianMusic/tsld005.htm.

6 Music of Amerindians.

7 “Vocable,” in Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocables.

8 “Native Americans & American Popular Music.”

9 This helps support the theory that Asians crossing the Bering Strait were the ancestors of many Amerindian peoples.

10 “Native Americans & American Popular Music.”

11 Enrique Martínez Miura, La música precolombina; un debate cultural después de 1492, pg. 53

12 Nearly all sources on Amerindian music are in agreement on this point.

13 Among other sources, see Spoken Taíno Dictionary, http://www.taino-tribe.org/tedict.html.

14 From Paul Westheim’s Ideas fundamentales del arte prehispánico en México, as quoted in Martínez Miura, La música precolombina; un debate cultural después de 1492, pg. 106.

15 Wilson, Hispaniola: Caribbean Chiefdons in the Age of Columbus, pg. 26.

16 Pedro Martyr D'Anghiera, Pedro Mártir de Angleria, primer cronista de Indias: Décadas del nuevo mundo, Vol. 1, pg. 146.

17 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. 1, pg. 351.

18 Aida Cartagena Portalatín, Aida. Danza, música e instrumentos de los indios de la

Española, pg. 12.

19 Pané Relación, as found in Ferdinand Colón’s The Life of the Admiral, by his son Ferdinand, trans. Benjamin Keen, pg 159.

20 From Sahagún’s Historia general as quoted in Martínez Miura, La música precolombina, pg. 120.

21 Fradique Lizardo, Instumentos musicales folklóricos dominicanos, pg. 44.

22 Many thanks to Vanessa Frappier de Rubino, who has volunteered her time for many years at the Museum of Dominican Man and who pointed this out to me, which we confirmed by observing the construction of a maraca that is among the Museum’s permanent exhibits.

23 Dictionary--Taino Indigenous Peoples Of The Caribbean, based on the Clásicos de Puerto Rico encyclopedia by Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, http://www.taino-tribe.org/terms1.htm.

24 The Inca people called the conch shell trumpet a pototo or pututu, according to Huamán Poma de Ayala in his Nueva crónica y buen gobierno, as quoted in Martínez Miura, La música precolombina, pg. 144. Through trade over time, this may have influenced the Taíno word for it, or vice versa.

25 Samuel Martí, Music Before Columbus, pg. 20.

26 Aida Cartagena Portalatín, Danza, música e instrumentos de los indios de la Española, pg. 25.

27 Lizardo, Instumentos musicales folklóricos dominicanos, pg. 69.

28 Cartagena Portalatín, Danza, música e instrumentos de los indios de la Española, pg. 24. These are shells of the family Olividae, which are smooth and shiny, resembling elongated cylindrical tubes.

29 Lizardo, Instumentos musicales folklóricos dominicanos, pgs. 12-13.

30 Juan Tovar, in Relación del origen de los indios que habitan en esta Nueva España (as cited by Martínez Miura, La música precolombina, pg. 186), wrote that in order to memorize their “prayers and poems, they had practice every day in the schools for the principal youths, who were the successors to these, and that with continuous repetition [the words] remained in their memories without missing a word.” Similar schools for the successors of the caciques on Hispaniola were mentioned by most of the chroniclers.

31 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. 1, pg. 351.

32 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. 1, pg. 351.

33 Las Casas, Vol. 3, Chp. 167, pg. 1155.

34 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. 2, pg. 643.

35 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. II, pg. 643.

36 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. II, pg. 644.

37 Martyr D'Anghiera, Vol. II, pg. 644.

 

REFERENCES

Cartagena Portalatín, Aida. Danza, música e instrumentos de los indios de la Española. Santo Domingo: Taler Gráfico de la UASD, 1974.

Casas, Bartolomé de las. Apologética Historia Sumaria, Vols. 6-8 of Obras Completas, comp. Paulino Castañeda, Carlos de Rueda, and Carmen Godínez e Inmaculada de la Corte. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1995.

Colón, Ferdinand. The Life of the Admiral, by his son Ferdinand, trans. Benjamin Keen. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959.

Dictionary of the Spoken Taíno Language. http://www.taino-tribe.org/tedict.html.

Dictionary--Taino Indigenous Peoples Of The Caribbean, based on the Clásicos de Puerto Rico encyclopedia by Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, http://www.taino-tribe.org/terms1.htm

Fields, Gary S. “American Indian Music Traditions and Contributions.” www:\Documents and Settings\Guitar\Desktop\Taino music\Taino Music Notes2\American Indian Music.htm. Version 1995 07-14.

Lizardo, Fradique. Instumentos musicales folklóricos dominicanos. Santo Domingo: Editorial Santo Domingo, 1988.Martí, Samuel. Music Before Columbus. Mexico: Ediciones Euroamericas Klaus, 1978.

Martyr D'Anghiera [de Angleria], Peter [Pedro]. Pedro Mártir de Angleria, primer cronista de Indias: Décadas del nuevo mundo. Santo Domingo: Sociedad Dominicana de Bibliofilos, 1989.

Martínez Miura, Enrique. La música precolombina; un debate cultural después de 1492. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 2004.Music of Amerindians (a course at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), http://www.uwm.edu/Course/660-310/02AmIndianMusic/tsld005.htm.

“Native Americans & American Popular Music” in Parlor Music: Popular Sheet Music from the 1800s to the 1920s, http://parlorsongs.com/insearch/amerindian/amerindian0.asp.

Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo Fernández de. Historia general y natural de las Indias, 5 vols. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vols. 117-121. Madrid: Gráficas Orbe, 1959 (originally 1535).

Rodríguez Demorizi, Emilio. Música y baile en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo: Librería Hispaniola, 1971.“Vocable,” in Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocables.

Wilson, Samuel M. Hispaniola: Caribbean Chiefdoms in the Age of Columbus. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.


About the author:
Dr. Lynne Guitar is a co-editor of CAC and Kacike, The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology; Resident Director of CIEE's program in "Spanish Language & Caribbean Studies" at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic; and a member of the Counsejo de Ancianoso/a of the new Dominican organization called Guabancex, Viento y Agua, dedicated to promoting knowledge about the Taíno people, their culture, and their importance through the present day. This article is the complete version, with notes and references, of an oral summary presented for the Dominican Congress on Archaeology and Anthropology “Dr. Fernando Luna Calderón,” on October 11, 2006. It will also be published in Spanish in an upcoming issue of the Boletín del Hombre Dominicano

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