Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Mon 15 Feb 2010 23:36
Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Centre
In 1975, tropical storm Eloisa hit the city of Ponce and caused the River Portugues to overflow. When the floodwaters subsided, they lay bare what was to become the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Centre. Seven bateyes, two ceremonial plazas, burial grounds and many artifacts were found on a private farm in Barrio (borough) Tibes. The Ponce Municipal Government were persuaded to expropriate the farm to protect the cultural heritage of the ancient people of Puerto Rico. A team of archaeologists, historians, geologists and scholars surveyed the area and analysed a vast amount of ceramic, lithic material and other remains found at the site. They concluded that not one but two different cultures, the Igneri and the Pre-Tainos populated the Valley of Tibes at different times.
This image represents the God, Guardian del Sur, the second is Guardian del Aire
We had a look around the well laid out museum, then watched a short film about the site, then met our guide for a tour of the site. Usually closed on a Monday, except today a Bank Holiday
The Igneri People
The Shaman beginning the ceremony and a man on the end of a pipe.
The "Cohoba" - Road to the Gods. Sitting solemnly in a circle, the Indians surrender themselves to a strange ritual in order to communicate with the gods. First, they cleansed their bodies. This cleansing was done by vomiting by sticking a special spatula down their throats. Then, they inhaled hallucinatory powders using wooden inhalators which looked like a nose pipe. The powders were a mixture of cohoba seeds and crushed shells. You put the pipe up one nose hole and your neighbour blew the mixture up your nose with quite a bit of force. The Indians told Christopher Columbus, that during one of their communications with the gods which could foresee the future, they were told of an invasion of men wearing clothes. At the time they had thought the gods meant the Caribes who they were at war with, until they met the Spaniards. Inhalations ceremonies were performed before any major decision was taken about harvests or going to war. The ceremony is still going well today among the Amazon Indians and is called the Yopo ritual. As well as inhaling cohoba, the Indians were habitual tobacco smokers using pipes, the Spaniards believed their tobacco had hallucinatory effects.
Preparing for a ceremony. The shapes of the Igneri skull and the flattened Taino skull.
The Igneri Culture: The Igneri or Saladoids, were the first farmers and ceramists to settle in the West Indies. They journeyed from the coasts of the Orinoco River in Venezuela and settled on the various islands along the way. They finally arrived in Tibes at around 300 AD. The Igneri settled near the coastlines and rivers developing an advanced culture based on the cultivation of cassava and other New World plants. An artistic contribution made by the igneris was pottery in the shape of inverted bells, these were painted red and decorated in most cases with white geometric designs. The peoples revered the Valley of Tibes, More than a hundred human burials were found, some had pottery, seashells, food amulets buried with them. This is widely regarded as evidence to show the Igneri had a belief in a spiritual and supernatural world.
A shaped stone could be a grinder, or the other way up a tool for gardening etc
 The Pre-Taino People
The Pre-Tainos settled in the Valley of Tibes hundreds of years later. They farmed, fished and hunted using the River Baramaya - now called the River Portugues - as a source of food and transportation. Small tools for personal use were made from seashells as well as stones. Pre-Tainos constructed "Plazas" and "Bateyes" that characterises Tibes. Within the plazas they played a ball game called batu, the ball was made from resins, roots and leaves and weighed between nine and twenty pounds. There were twenty five to thirty players on each team and the idea was to keep the ball from touching the ground using any part of the body except the hands. It is thought that outcome of the game decided the fate of Spanish prisoners and generally had religious overtones. The court or playing areas were marked with rows of stones.
Several times a year, Pre-Tainos staged Areytos - ceremonies combining religious and educational elements. Traditions, stories and beliefs were an intrinsic part of this festivity that included music, dancing and singing. These events were great learning times for the younger ones.
Taino Indians had certain recommendations in order to attain beauty and harmony, their tips were:  
  • To deform the skull of a newborn by tightening the forehead between two boards. This caused the forehead to be inclined towards the back
  • To wear a cloth band around the forearms and legs. The first Europeans to arrive on the island said that married women wore a skirt-like loin-cloth called a "nagua"
  • If no clothing is worn, paint your face and body with paint in many different colours, obtained from plants and minerals. This made them look ferocious, attractive and protected them from mosquitoes.
  • Their hair was shiny, black and straight. The men had it cut above their eyebrows and the women wore it long, either loose or braided.
  • They wore necklaces made from different materials to add the finishing touch. These could be made from sharks teeth, bones or shells, others from stone, ceramic and metal.
  • Both men and women wore earrings, nose rings and decorations on their ankles and arms.
  • The Tainos had broad faces, similar to Asian or Mongoloid tribes from which they were descendants. They had high cheekbones, beautiful expressive dark eyes and olive or copper coloured skin. They had magnificent teeth, good looks and were short in height, for men the average was five foot three and the women the average was four foot ten.
This sequence of photos shows the steps followed by the Taino Indians when making pottery. The artisan, Maria Cheverez, a native of Morovis, used the original techniques. The first step was to make small cylinders of wet clay. These would be placed one on top of the other to form the body of the container. These cylinders were then smoothed using wet hands or or a piece of wood or stone until the surface was soft and even. Once this was achieved the decorating process would begin. Cutting the clay with a small stick or a piece of bone. Then the container was burned by placing it in a hole in the ground which was heated with charcoal and kindling.
The finished pots, as found by the archeologists at the site. The big flat dish was used for grinding cassava etc, the small piece was decorative and the odd shaped thing is a stool.
 Anon           - Sweetsop, custard apple
Areyto         - Celebration ritual
Barbacoa     - Observation tower
Bija             - Red pigment
Boriken       - Land of the High Lord
Buren          - Round ceramic plate to cook casabe
Casabe       -  Cassava bread
Coa             - Digging stick
Guanabana  - Soursop                                                                                              Some native words and their meaning
Guasabara   - Skirmish or fight
Higuera       - Gourd to make utensils
Jicotea        - Sea turtle
Juracan       - Evil God
Maboya       - Bad Spirit
Quenepa      - Honeyberry
Tibes           - Stone river
Yukiyu         - Supreme and good deity
This perfectly preserved skeleton was found during the dig on the site, buried in the traditional fetal position.
Walter, our very knowledgeable guide. He told us this site had been used only for ceremonies and meetings as no evidence of a village has ever been found 
 Indian villages or "Yucayeques" were located in areas surrounded by dense tropical vegetation and beautiful landscapes. In the centre of each was a "Batey" or plaza similar to those seen in Spain. It was used for celebrations, ceremonies and ball games. The Indians had two types of houses, one square - the other round. The "Bohios" or huts could house one or more family. The largest Indian village was estimated at around three thousand people. Each village had its own chief "Cacique". Each village was also part of a district which was ruled by a head chief. In contrast to other tribes the lineage was via the eldest child or first born of the chief, male or female. When the old chief died, there was a huge ceremony where the locals celebrated his or her life with alcoholic beverages and stories led by the Shaman. The chief could have many wives, or husbands in the case of a female chief, the first was buried with them. They were given much stronger liquor during the feast of remembrance, until by morning they were unconscious and easily covered by the burial party. This was seen as a great honour. Sometimes food, jewelry or trinkets were put in the grave. Some 157 graves were found on this site, many have been reburied, a few have been taken to be studied.
A typical pattern of huts. The chiefs was in the centre of the village and much larger and oblong, not circular, to accommodate his or her large family.
The Indians called Puerto Rico Boriken. When the Spaniards arrived, the most powerful chief was Agueybana whose village was known as Guainia. The area was near the mouth of the River Yauco. Agueybana's political district covered what is today Ponce and extended beyond Cabo Rojo. Historians, however, believe that this chiefs orders were obeyed throughout the island and most of Hispaniola - the Dominican Republic. 
The pitch for ball games
The ceremonial stones, have been proven to follow celestial patterns.
The huge plaza, where all ceremonies and important occasions took place, the stones to the left mark the graveyard.