Indigenous Caribbean Network

The Four Sacred Directions

Jorge Estevez

These excerpts are derived from the contributions by Jorge Estevez to the online post

Buyío Taimani—Agua Dulce Continuing Taino Traditions in the Dominic...

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Native Americans across the

hemisphere as well as other peoples

around the world observe ceremonies

utilizing the four sacred directions. In

the Dominican Republic, many

curanderos (healers) pray to the four

directions when planting food crops or

medicinal plants.

As a child, I remember my mother had a peculiar custom of tying together two sticks in the form of an X

with cotton forming a candlewick. She would then place the wick in a water-filled higuero

(gourd) or cup, with a tiny bit of oil. She would then light the wick, raise the gourd and pray to

the four directions. Supposedly this would help her locate a family member who was missing

and, in turn, would make the family member return home 23. Inhabitants of Maguana perform a

sunrise ceremony that also invokes the four sacred directions. Although it has some Catholic

overtones, its Indigenous elements are indeed quite discernable. Below, Don Juan de Mateo

and his wife (Liborista) arrive at a church located in lower Maguana. The church is rumored to

be the birth place of Saint John the Baptist.

Don Mateo and his wife arrive waving a flag

and singing Christian songs. His wife carries an

higuero (gourd) filled with corn flour, which

represents the sunrise. He then begins building

sacred geometrical designs that contain the four

directions; however, instead of one Four Direction

symbol, he creates seven. As he draws the design, his wife welcomes the morning sun.

Prayers for this ceremony are Catholic yet the Indigenous element is undeniable24.

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23 Picture of four directions candle prepared by Doña Luz Patria Estevez.

24 Photos from documentary special The Dominican Southwest parts 1-2-3, by Martha Ellen Davis, available at

Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8LtqF6EAq8. Permission granted by Mrs. Davis.

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Voodoo priests also use geometric

patterns to build what they call “VeVe” or

“bei-bei.” Veve designs are said to have

arrived with Africans to the New World, in

particular with Africans from the Congo

region. Africans use four directions

symbols as well.

To ascertain as to whether the designs in Maguana are African or Taíno, I spoke with Dr.

Robert Farris Thompson of Yale University, who is a renowned expert of African cosmograms.

His reply to me, via email, was: “ Hi Jorge. A book on Taíno cosmograms must be written and

you are the man to do it. This message coming from Mr. Thompson, was quite an honor for me. I admire his work immensely. But we needed further proof...

 

 

The answer came to us on May 4, 2014, when I traveled to Pomier, a town in San Cristobal Province, Dominican Republic. I was there with my wife Valerie to assist in the second

annual Pomier Taíno Festival. There are a series of 55 caves in Pomier, most of which are

covered with ancient Taíno petroglyphs and pictographs. Don José Corporán and his family are

caretakers of this national treasure. They are wonderful to work with and love these caves as if

they were alive. They report that people come from all over the island to offer tribute to the

cave spirits. Upon entering the second cave, I was astonished to find a four-directions symbol

 

28 | Bahío TaimaníJorge Estevez

 

on the wall of the cave identical to the one in the photos with Don Mateo. So not only are Don

Mateo designs four directional, but they are ancient and Taíno.

In addition, directly facing west of these symbols there are what appear to be sun

symbols. One of these apparently faces east, representing the rising sun, and another

represents the setting sun. It appears that the symbol was used not only to mark the sacred

directions, but also as a sunrise ceremony symbol, just as in Maguana.

Could Don Mateo have visited Pomier and copied this symbol? Perhaps, but then the

real question would be, how and why would he assume they are four-directional symbols and

use them in an elaborate ritual to “lift” the sun? No, Don Mateo is merely exercising a tradition

quite common in Maguana. After all, the four-directions symbol is common throughout the

island from Haiti to Higuey.

Another 4-directions symbol is to be found in Higüey Province in the Eastern side of the island

at a place called Piedra de Anamú (Anamú’s Stone) This flat stone is approximately 20 x 20 feet in

diameter and is covered in petroglyphs. The symbol below illustrates a unique four-directions symbol.

 

29 | Bahío TaimaníJorge Estevez

 

 

Each arrow on this symbol points to a cardinal point.

The four-directions symbol on right comes from a

Carib Indian community of Sambua Woyupore. It

appears identical to the one above from Anamuya.

This symbol, perhaps coincidently, is used in

Haitian Veve ( African cosmograms) as well. As stated

above, some researchers have suggested that Haitian

Veve originated in the Congo region of Africa. It may

well be that Africans incorporated this particular symbol into their own, since they are similar; perhaps a

religious iconographic reinforcement has taken place. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the

symbol at the Piedra de Anamú predates African arrival to the

island and has been in continuous use since ancient times.

On the left is an illustration of a Haitian Veve. It is used as a guiding

beacon for the Voodoo priests (Loa). This one represents Loa

Legbe

Example of four-directions medicine wheels. On left,

Mapuche Indian symbol from Argentina, South America.

On right, Lakota Indian version, South Dakota

 

 

 

30 | Bahío TaimaníJorge Estevez

 

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Notes

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