CROSSING OVER CEREMONY
The ancient Taino people perceived the transition of a human soul from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead as a journey to a symbolic land called CoayBay. This place was imaged as being the very womb of the Earth Mother AtaBey, the Cosmic Matriarch, from which all life had emerged and to which all life returned, and it was associated with a number of symbolic objects that represented that womb. Among these objects were specially designed clay vessels, curiously shaped stone sculptures with ovoid uterine shapes known as "stone collars", odd-shaped cylindrical pendants, and special dried gourd-like fruits called higueras, This last object was even featured in the Taino creation story as the final resting place of the mortal remains of a legendary man called Yayael.
The fact the ancient Tainos included clay bowls among the objects used for interment of human remains is reminiscent of the fact that In the ancient Indigenous tradition of Andean mountain people in South America there existed a custom of interring the deceased in large earthenware vases called "huacas", a tradition that inspired this memorable painting by Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. This painting, which depicts an earthenware vessel in the shape of a pregnant woman with a child in her belly, evokes the belief among most South American Indigenous people that humans all originate in the womb of the earth mother, and to that womb they all return one day. This painting, in turn, inspired a song by Guayasamin and a number of his personal friends called VASIJA DE BARRO which literally proclaims the fact that humans emerge from the womb of the earth mother and to her they return when they are interred in an eartheware vessel. WE sing that song during funerary rituals.
ORIGEN by Oswaldo Guayasamin
In the Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle we honor the memory of individuals who have started their journey to the realm of the deceased, CoayBay, with a procedure called the CROSSSING OVER CEREMONY.
This ceremony is designed to evoke the ancient Taino burial ceremonies which in many cases culminated in the production of two separate interment devices, one a gourd containing remnants of the long bones to be hung by cords from the rafters of the house and the other a ceramic burial bowl under which is placed the skull and then buried under the house,
When a person passes away he or she moves from one plane of reality to another. In Caney belief system that person's Ya (soul), an entity composed of two parts, leaves the body and begins the journey to the realm of Coa Bay in a new form called "opia" or "hupia". Coay bay is the state of being that lies at the very center of existence. The deceased is spoken as being "operito" (meaning "lifeless") his or her soul now travels to the realm of the hupias. This soul is composed of the Hu, a spiritual entity that resides in the person's solar plexus providing the person with the animating force to move, to breathe, to live, and the Guis (Goeiz), a spiritual force residing in the head that provides that person with sensory awareness.
When the person dies the Ya turns into an entity
called "hupia" or "opia". Caney tradition has a ceremony
designed to assist in the transition of the hupia from this
world to the next, and to provide the mourner with an
opportunity to connect with the soul of the deceased.
This ceremony summons up the imagery of Coa Bay as
it was envisioned by our Taino ancestors. Contemporary
Caney Circle tradition includes the incorporation of a
special wall in the family home that is set aside and
dedicated to the ancestors.
As envisioned by ancient Tainos in stone, Coa Bay is represented by a cylindrical structure with a facet facing each of the four directions, a flat base that touches Ata Bey's Earth and a conical top that points toward the sky dwelling of Yoka Hu. This represents the fact that, even though it is envisioned as being in the Underworld, Coa Bay, jn fact, at in the very center of existence, nowhere in particular and everywhere all at once.
For the purpose of the ceremony it is necessary to construct a kind of stylized replica of this structure out of a strip of corn husk.
This is done by spreading and flattening out the strip of corn-husk, Four circles are drawn on it in a row to represent the four facets that point tothe four directions. The strip is curled to create a cylindrical structure and glued into shape. During the ceremony this structure is filled with a variety of small tokens that represent the deceased, A small picture of the person, a brief prayer of poem written on paper, a small dried sprig of his or her favorite flower.
family and friends planning to participate in the ceremony are asked beforehand to bring tiny tokens that memorialize the deceased, such as a small sheet of paper inscribed with a verse or a saying that the deceased loved, or a two inch by two inch photocopy image of the deceased's favorite pet or car.
Before the ceremony begins the behike creates an arrangement in the wooden bowl or on the wooden tablet with the corn husk CoayBay in the center surrounded by piles of straw flowers or dried flowers
The ceremony begins with the usual initial introductory ritual of the Caney Circle with its Tobacco Ceremony.
Once the Tobacco Ceremony is finished the behike sets the corn husk CoayBay arrangement at the center of the altar and asks for the token objects of the deceased to be brought up and placed inside the corn husk structure. The participants come up one by one to deposit their tokens inside the corn husk structure.
the corn-husk structure on the small wooden platform or bowl, now filled with the symbols of the deceased and surrounded with dried flowers, is floated in a large container of water. It is set on fire to represent renewed life.
Once the corn-husk structure is completely burned down to ashes, the remains are gathered up and split into two equal portions. One portion represents the "hu" and it is placed in a gourd. The other portion represents the "goeiz" and it is placed in a small ceramic bowl.
A wooden tablet called a "memory board" is made ahead of time to bear these two objects. This tablet can be crafted by the behike or it can be ordered from a crafts person and is made ready before the beginning of the ceremony.
The gourd is suspended on cords from the top of the tablet. The bowl is placed on a small platform in the front of the tablet. The tablet is decorated with a photo and a small label bearing the name of the deceased. This tablet is called the "memory tablet". The memory tablet is hung on the wall and kept there as a permanent memorial to the loved one.