So yesterday was awesome. Not only did I teach you how to take a bucket shower, but I also took a field trip with my fellow trainees to Yamasá, the pueblo next to Peralvillo. As business volunteers, there´s a good chance that some of our projects will include working with artisan groups. So, we visited the Guillén brothers to understand some of their business practices and to learn about the history of the Taíno Indians.
For over 3 generations, the Guillén family has been collecting and reproducing native Taíno ceramic art. The majority of the original pieces they showed us were made of clay, and were at least 500 years old! The scultpures were of both male and female gods that the Taínos worshiped – Mother Earth, Yuca, Thought, Moon, Shaman, etc. – and were used in various rituals throughout their culture. For example, a bowl they showed us was used to store holy vomit. Yes, vomit. If someone became sick or was thought to have a bad spirit within them, they would not eat or drink for at least three days. After a period of time, what they were able to throw up was kept in a sacred bowl, and then used as a cream to rub on ailing body parts. Another fun cultural fact has to do with their funeral traditions. When a Taíno cacique died, he was buried with his chosen, favorite ´mistress´, who was normally still living. Fun stuff, huh? Anyway, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island and discovered the Taíno, he stole many sculptures from them and sent them back to Spain, as they were often decorated in gold.
…Es mejor morir de pie que vivir en las rodillas…
Despite the fact that the native population is now non-existent, people like the Guillén brothers have managed to keep aspects of the Taíno culture alive. Every year they hold a large gathering to celebrate and advocate Taíno culture. They have dance, food, and art exhibits, and they told us that around 5000 people attended last year!
Over all, it was a very impressive visit. They are a very grass-roots organization, and you could tell that it´s important to them to involve the community in the work they´re doing. For example, instead of having to hire someone to cook us a snack during our recess, one of the brothers, Jesús, had a local coquero (guy selling coconuts) come over and crack one open for each of us! Jesús also showed us around their workshop. They still use pottery methods the Taíno used to make their own line of products – sculptures, plates, amulets, etc. He gave us a pottery lesson, and explained that a local school had just visited to understand Taíno culture and to make their own ceramic creations. The Guillén family wants their business to support other local entities, and in doing so, makes people aware of what a culturally rich country they (we!) live in. I bought an amulet necklace depicting their shaman god as a souvenir 🙂
Once I get WiFi back in the capital, I have lots of pictures to share! But for now, check out their website here.
On another note, I´m off to go food shopping! Samantha, Lauren, and I are making brunch tomorrow for my host family – scrambled eggs, hash browns, pancakes with VT maple syrup (what´s a pancake without it?!), fruit salad, and chicken salad sandwiches. Wish us luck and buen provecho!