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Gaunara 

n his narration RELACION ACERCA DE LAS ANTIGUEDADES DE LOS INDIOS, the Spanish monk Ramon Pane related that the ancient Tainos informed him about an episode in their creation narrative in which a healer woman called Guabonito provides a healing procedure for an ailing chief called Guahayona, by putting him in something Pane identifies as a "place apart". There is some question among modern experts and even among modern-day Tainos in regards to what this "place apart" could have been, but we do know that the ancient Mayas and other Mesoamerican Indigenous contemporaries of the ancient Tainos, have been proven to have maintained trading interaction and cultural exchange  with each other,  and that those Mesoamerican peoples practiced a healing ceremony, often officiated by female healers just like Guabonito, which employed a secluded enclosed space, a "place apart" within which the healer poured water over red hot stones to create a healing steam bath. The modern-day Guatemalan Maya descendants of those early people call this "place apart" a tuj (tooh) in their language. The modern-day descendants of the ancient Aztecs call it a temazcal.  It is now commonly known as a "sweatlodge".

Based on the research of people like the scholar Eugenio Fernandez Mendez we in the Caney Circle maintain that the ancient Tainos also practiced the tradition of the sweatlodge and that is the "place apart" that Guabonito used to heal Guahayona.

Our Taino guanara sweatlodge ceremony is based on the teachings we have received directly from the cemi spirits themselves. 

The first step in performing the guanara ceremony is to build the guanara lodge, the "place apart" 

Guanara structure construction process:

(click on these images to enlarge them for easier reading)

This LINK will lead you to a blog that chronicles the actual building and use of a Caney Circle guanara in Georgia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interior of a Caney Circle guanara lodge is a three-dimensional cosmogram of the Taino sacred geography.

 

This is an image of the Caney Circle understanding of the sacred cosmic geography:

As can be seen in this image the most important elements of this cosmogram are a circular space divided into four quarters representing the surface of the earth and surrounded by the four sacred directions; North, South, East, and West. Above the earth-plane hangs the sky plane arching over the realm of humans and containing sacred elements such as the sun and the moon. Below the earth plane lies the dark watery underworld that contains the uterine realm of Coaybay where the dead go after their journey through life and where souls are re-cycled and prepared for re-birth and re-incarnation. Through the center of this three-layered space rises the cosmic tree, represented by the ceiba in Taino culture. The trunk of this central tree represents a number of different cosmic concepts: One is the central ray of the male sun symbolizing the phallus of Yoka Hu descending to impregnate the earth by sinking down into the fertile uterine underworld of Coaybay. Another is the great Milky Way galaxy as it appears during some times of the year stretched across the sky from South to North like a great tree-trunk. In this manifestation it represents either the fertile body of Mother Nature who gives birth to the sun and the stars, or the erect body of the standing chief, the kasike, the central anchor of the community, around whom the all the energy of the tribe revolves.  

Theses concepts are represented inside the Taino guanara lodge by the positioning of supporting posts and other structural elements. The four main posts or "sokos" represent the four directions that demarcate the circumference of the lodge. The central post (soko del medio) represents the central staff. In one perception of this post it is seen as the central inseminating phallic pole that descends from the body of the sun (YokaHu), seen above in the ceiling of the lodge with its radiating rays all around it and going down into the pit in the middle of the lodge's floor, entering the womb of the earth mother.  

In another perception of this imagery, it is the center tree, with its roots in the watery underworld represented by the pit in the center of the lodge where the water is poured when the red hot stones are in there, its trunk rising through the middle realm of the surface humans and up into the sky where it branches out over the celestial plane.

Inside this sacred cosmogram the healing process can take place.

The last thing that is done in the construction process is the preparation of the fire pit. This fire pit is built  in front of the door of the lodge and it is positioned so that the edge of it that is closest to the lodge is at least 5 feet away from the lodge.

The pit is dug out to about two feet in depth and lined with stones around its edge except for the area facing the lodge. That edge is left clear so it is easy to go in and pull out hot stones.

Once the lodge with its outside fire pit are built it can serve many ceremonies.

Before the ceremony begins there is a long process of preparation. This process starts with the lighting of the guatu fire to heat the stones. Guatu fire is started with a brief ceremony and prayer.  First draw a circle in the fire pit with the four sacred foods in the directions. Starting at the South, lay down the squash seeds, draw a line with cornmeal to the center of the circle and lay down some seeds in the center as well. Then, on the periphery of the circle, make a cornmeal line to the west where you repeat with the black beans and on around until the circle is completed. When you do the sweat lodge ceremony,  then take the cornmeal line to the mound and repeat the process with laying down the sacred foods. Then  go to the sweat lodge and do the same thing, laying the foods both on the periphery of the lodge and in the pit. Then cover the pit with flat rocks if the ground is  wet and that keeps the rocks from cooling down too fast and the seeds from smoking First, the fire tender creates a small tinder and twig heap. The fire tender lights the tinder heap while offering a silent prayer asking the spirit of fire to help make this a successful blaze and a healing ceremony. Once the fire is going pretty well, the larger logs begin to be organized around it until a pretty large stack of heavier pieces has been raised. All of the stones are then laid on top of that stack. There should be at least 28 stones. The heap of stoness is then totally covered with a layer of wood laid all around it.  When the fire is going pretty well the behike tosses four pinches of tobacco into the flames and some tabonuco, praying and asking the fire for its blessing. 

Sunday June 23 Full Moon Ceremony and guanara in Pittsburgh

The fire is then stoked and fanned so that the whole stack is enveloped in flames

It is suggested that one of the participants of the guanara ceremony take the full responsibility of fire tender so that there is one person who is taking responsibility of the fire from beginning to end. That person keeps a constant vigil of the progress of the flame.

Sunday June 23 Full Moon Ceremony and guanara in Pittsburgh

It typically takes about two or three hours to heat the stones until they are glowing red hot. When they reach that point they are ready to be used in the sweatlodge and should be used pretty soon.

Once the stones are hot enough and ready, the behike signals the beginning of the ceremony. By that point everybody should have already changed into whatever they are going to wear into the sweatlodge.

The participants of a Caney Circle sweatlodge ceremony are not required to wear any specific dress or special clothing, in fact, with due respect given to the sensibilities of all the participants, a person going into a Caney Circle sweatlodge ceremony can wear nothing at all in keeping with the traditional dress habits of the ancient Taino who wore very little or no clothing on a regular basis just like South American rainforest natives.

However the behike of any given Caney Circle sweatlodge ceremony must keep in mind the sensibilities of ALL the participants and never impose a situation on ANY one of them that will make him or her uncomfortable. This means that the behike must judiciously gage the situation from ceremony to ceremony and treat each case individually. There may be a sweatlodge group in which nudity will not present any problems and then, on the other hand, there may be another in which one or more of the participants will feel extremely uncomfortable in the presence of a person with no clothes, and in that case those persons should be accommodated, even if it means that everybody will have to go into the lodge wearing some sort of covering. If there is a possibility that one or more people plan to enter the lodge with no clothes, the behike has the responsibility to find out from each of the other participants before the ceremony starts, if nudity will be a problem  to him or her. Usually a simple rule of trunks or bathing suit, or even a large towel wrapped around the body during entrance or exit is sufficient, but individuals may wish to wear skirts or pants. All of these are permissible. In any case, all participants should show up at the ceremony with a change of dry clothes to put on at the end, and two towels, one to sit on or cover the face during the ceremony and another to keep outside for drying at the end. The participants should be advised not to wear glasses or jewelry  into the lodge except wedding bands.

When everybody is ready to go in the behike guides them to line up in single file in front of the door of the sweatlodge and slightly to the left. The behike stands to the right assisting the entrance of each participant. A smudger holding a shell with burning tabonuko (copal) stands on the left facing the participants and smudging each one as he or she prepares to enter.  As the participants enter, the behike guides them to continue moving in single file and circulate clockwise around the inside of the lodge.  Each participant will have to bend down and squat as he or she enters the lodge because of the low entrance. This will demonstrate humility upon entering the lodge. They will all be obliged to crawl around on all fours as they navigate around the inside of the structure until they reach the spot where they are going to sit. It is not necessary to say "All my relations" or any words in the language of a North American Indigenous tribe such as Lakota, as is urged in the sweatlodge ceremonies of the United States, and the behike absolutely MUST NOT say these words. However any participant who wishes to say such words on their own initiative upon entering the lodge or use any other traditional ritual formula from some other tribe is allowed to do it if he or she wishes to do it. Likewise during each round of the ceremony when the participants are given permission to share individual offerings to the ritual, any participant who wishes to sing a song from some other tradition or say a prayer in the language of some other ethnic group  other than Taino will be allowed to do so, with the understanding that the only REQUIRED language inside the Caney Circle sweatlodge is Taino, all other rituals and languages are optional guest traditions which are allowed but NOT REQUIRED.

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When the last participant enters the lodge, the smudger should approach the behike and smudge him or her.

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Then the smudger sets down the shell with the burning tabonuko in a safe place and enter the lodge, following the last person to come in and leaving a spot by the entrance for the fire tender.

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Now the behike enters the lodge and sits next to the entrance on the opposite side of the door as the smudger. 

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Finally everybody sits down in the lodge facing the center and the fire tender prepares to start bringing in the hot stones.

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The fire tender uses a pitch fork to bring the hot stones into the lodge. He or she reaches in slowly and very carefully, and places each stone in the central pit. The behike sitting inside assists the fire tender to guide the pitch fork carrying each hot stone carefully all the way to the central pit so that no one inside gets burned. It is important to take care that unstable stones do not fall off the pitch fork and roll up against the leg of a participant. 

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One by one the firetender brings the stones in and the behike welcomes each stone saying "Mabrika arokoel" (Welcome Grandfather) and lays a pinch of tabonuko (copal) upon it to fill the lodge with the aromatic scent of the burning resin.

Finally when the behike is satisfied with the number of hot stones in the central pit, he or she alerts the fire tender that no more stones are needed. The fire tender lays the pitchfork to the side in a safe space and hands the water bucket and the ladle into the lodge to the behike. The behike pulls the water bucket and the ladle into the lodge and sets it next to himself and then the fire tender enters to the left, sitting right next to the entrance so he or she can go right back out when the round is over and the group needs more stones. The fire tender pulls down the door flap and covers the entrance, securing it so that no light is entering the lodge. 

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The stage is now set for the beginning of the actual ceremony.

Anytime during the ceremony any participant who feels the need to exit the lodge can request to leave and immediately is given permission to go out, being helped along the way out by the others so he or she will not step in the central pit on the hot stones.

The Caney sweatlodge ceremony is a ritual that is composed of four rounds.  

These rounds are each dedicated to one of the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. The behike should be conscious of the meaning behind each of the four directions. 

The Taino Medicine Wheel is similar in many ways to other Native American sacred hoops. In the Caney tradition it iscalled "Guaiko" and it comprises the most important factor in the Taino Cosmic Geography.
      It is bounded by 28 units usually symbolized in the form of stones or "sibas". The four stones that stand at the fourdirections are considered to be the four original stones that the Great Spirit cast high into the sky at the begining of time and that became the four stars of the four directions; Achiano in the South, Koromo in the West, Rakuno in the North andSobaiko in the East. They represent the four fundamental virtues which the Caney adherent aspires to and which are considered the gifts of each direction. These are Innocence (and open mindedness) in the SOUTH; Introspection in the WEST, the power to look into one's own soul, understand what one sees there and then from that spiritual vantage point look beyond into the mystery of the spirit world, Wisdom in the NORTH, The elusive gift that can not be achieved without paying the painful price of experience, and Illumination in the EAST, the awakening to enlightenment that happens at the moment of perfect balance.
     Each direction is ruled by a spirit who bears the name of that direction's respective star, ACHIANO, KOROMO,RAKUNO and SOBAIKO. Each has its own color; Green in the SOUTH, Black in the WEST, White in the NORTH and Yellow in the EAST.
    Each one has its own sacred bird and its own sacred food mother; The SOUTH is inhabited by a turkey (guanaho),andharvests the green squash. The WEST is inhabited by the owl(mukaro) of nightfall and harvests the black beans. The NORTH is inhabited by the elusive hummingbird(babae) of Wisdom and harvests the white casava bread manufactured from yuca. The EAST is inhabited by the high-flying hawk(guaraguao) and harvests the yellow maize.

The ceremony starts with the round of the South to celebrate the place of childhood and open mind of the infant. The behike first makes a brief explanatory introduction of the gift of the South spirit Achiano, the gift of Open Mind. Then he or she dips the ladle into the water and pours four small drips of water on the hot stones, just enough so that the group hears the stones hiss four times. Then the behike picks up his or her rattle and begins the chant to Hurakan. Please click on this LINK to access the page that contains videos of all the main songs used in Caney Circle ceremonies. Look up "Chant To Hurakan" to hear what this chant sounds like and read the lyrics of the song in the Caney Circle dialect of theTaino language as well their translation into English . As the behike sings he or she begins to pour water on the hot stones in earnest filling the interior of the lodge with hot steam until the participants begin to sweat. After singing two or three rounds of the song the behike stops singing and continues to pour in silence.

The behike continues to pour water as he or she sees fit heating up the interior of the lodge to the desired temperature. When he or she feels the sweatlodge is hot enough he or she stops pouring and just sits quietly for a while listening to the hiss of the stones. After a bit of quiet contemplative time the behike begins to speak to the group and gives a more detailed explanation of the gift of the South Spirit, Open Mind, and what it truly means to humans within the understanding of Caney Circle wisdom.

When the behike is finished with his or her explanation he or she opens the ceremony for a brief period of free sharing from the participants. The participants are allowed to take turns to offer personal opinions, impressions, ideas, songs or prayers related to the concept of Open Mind

After this brief sharing session the behike concludes the round of the South by evoking the image of the bird of the South, the turkey. The behike says words to the effect of. "And now from the central pit of our sweat lodge a bird rises, a turkey, upon its back rides the green-haired one. This bird rises from the center and flies around the inside of our lodge in a clock-wise direction. Upon its back the green haired one carries a turkey feather, As the bird passes each one of us the spirit upon its back touches each one of us on the head with that turkey feather blessing us with the energy of Open Mind. Then the bird flies out the door of our lodge thereby concluding the round of the South...Jan Jan Katu!"

Once the round of the South is concluded the Behike signals the fire tender to open the door flap and go out to get more hot stones. While the fire tender goes out for more stones a container of drinking water is brought and passed around clockwise. Each participant is given the opportunity to drink and even to pour some cool water over his or her head.

The fire tender begins to bring in more hot stones just as before and continues to bring them in until the behike signals him or her to stop. The fire tender again puts down the pitchfork and re-enters the lodge to occupy his or her spot in the circle.  He or she lowers the door flap once again and the behike begins the next round.

The ceremony resumes with the round of the West to celebrate the place of Introspection and the ability to look within one's self and gain power from that inward journey. The behike first makes a brief explanatory introduction of the gift of the West Spirit, Koromo, the gift of Introspection. Then he or she dips the ladle into the water and pours four small drips of water on the hot stones, just enough so that the group hears the stones hiss four times. Then the behike picks up his or her rattle and begins the chant to Hurakan.  As the behike sings he or she begins to pour water on the hot stones in earnest filling the interior of the lodge with hot steam until the participants begin to sweat. After singing two or three rounds of the song the behike stops singing and continues to pour in silence.

The behike continues to pour water as he or she sees fit heating up the interior of the lodge to the desired temperature. When he or she feels the sweatlodge is hot enough he or she stops pouring and just sits quietly for a while listening to the hiss of the stones. After a bit of quiet contemplative time the behike begins to speak to the group and gives a more detailed explanation of the gift of the West Spirit, Introspection, and what it truly means to humans within the understanding of Caney Circle wisdom.

When the behike is finished with his or her explanation he or she opens the ceremony for a brief period of free sharing from the participants. The participants are allowed to take turns to offer personal opinions, impressions, ideas, songs or prayers related to the concept of Introspection.

After this brief sharing session the behike concludes the round of the West by evoking the image of the bird of the West, the owl. The behike says words to the effect of. "And now from the central pit of our sweat lodge a bird rises, an owl, upon its back rides the black-haired one. This bird rises from the center and flies around the inside of our lodge in a clock-wise direction. Upon its back the black haired one carries an owl feather, As the bird passes each one of us the spirit upon its back touches each one of us on the head with that owl feather blessing us with the energy of Introspection. Then the bird flies out the door of our lodge thereby concluding the round of the  West...Jan Jan Katu!"

Once the round of the West is concluded the Behike signals the fire tender to open the door flap and go out to get more hot stones. While the fire tender goes out for more stones a container of drinking water is brought and passed around clockwise. Each participant is given the opportunity to drink and even to pour some cool water over his or her head.

The fire tender begins to bring in more hot stones just as before and continues to bring them in until the behike signals him or her to stop. The fire tender again puts down the pitchfork and re-enters the lodge to occupy his or her spot in the circle.  He or she lowers the door flap once again and the behike begins the next round.

The ceremony resumes with the round of the North to celebrate the place of Wisdom and Experience. The behike first makes a brief explanatory introduction of the gift of the North Spirit, Rakuno, the gift of Wisdom and Experience. Then he or she dips the ladle into the water and pours four small drips of water on the hot stones, just enough so that the group hears the stones hiss four times. Then the behike picks up his or her rattle and begins the chant to Hurakan.  As the behike sings he or she begins to pour water on the hot stones in earnest filling the interior of the lodge with hot steam until the participants begin to sweat. After singing two or three rounds of the song the behike stops singing and continues to pour in silence.

The behike continues to pour water as he or she sees fit heating up the interior of the lodge to the desired temperature. When he or she feels the sweatlodge is hot enough he or she stops pouring and just sits quietly for a while listening to the hiss of the stones. After a bit of quiet contemplative time the behike begins to speak to the group and gives a more detailed explanation of the gift of the North Spirit, Wisdom and Experience, and what it truly means to humans within the understanding of Caney Circle wisdom.

When the behike is finished with his or  her explanation he or she opens the ceremony for a brief period of free sharing from the participants. The participants are allowed to take turns to offer personal opinions, impressions, ideas, songs or prayers related to the concept of Wisdom and Experience.

After this brief sharing session the behike concludes the round of the North by evoking the image of the bird of the North, the hummingbird. The behike says words to the effect of. "And now from the central pit of our sweat lodge a bird rises, a hummingbird, upon its back rides the white-haired one. This bird rises from the center and flies around the inside of our lodge in a clock-wise direction. Upon its back the white haired one carries a hummingbird feather, As the bird passes each one of us the spirit upon its back touches each one of us on the head with that hummingbird feather blessing us with the energy of Wisdom and Experience. Then the bird flies out the door of our lodge thereby concluding the round of the North...Jan Jan Katu!"

Once the round of the North is concluded the Behike signals the fire tender to open the door flap and go out to get more hot stones. While the fire tender goes out for more stones a container of drinking water is brought and passed around clockwise. Each participant is given the opportunity to drink and even to pour some cool water over his or her head.

The fire tender begins to bring in more hot stones just as before and continues to bring them in until the behike signals him or her to stop. The fire tender again puts down the pitchfork and re-enters the lodge to occupy his or her spot in the circle.  He or she lowers the door flap once again and the behike begins the next round.

The ceremony resumes with the round of the East to celebrate the place of Illumination and enlightenment. The behike first makes a brief explanatory introduction of the gift of the East Spirit, Sobaiko, the gift of Illumination and enlightenment. Then he or she dips the ladle into the water and pours four small drips of water on the hot stones, just enough so that the group hears the stones hiss four times. Then the behike picks up his or her rattle and begins the chant to Hurakan.  As the behike sings he or she begins to pour water on the hot stones in earnest filling the interior of the lodge with hot steam until the participants begin to sweat. After singing two or three rounds of the song the behike stops singing and continues to pour in silence.

The behike continues to pour water as he or she sees fit heating up the interior of the lodge to the desired temperature. When he or she feels the sweatlodge is hot enough he or she stops pouring and just sits quietly for a while listening to the hiss of the stones. After a bit of quiet contemplative time the behike begins to speak to the group and gives a more detailed explanation of the gift of the East Spirit, Illumination and enlightenment, and what it truly means to humans within the understanding of Caney Circle wisdom.

When the behike is finished with his or  her explanation he or she opens the ceremony for a brief period of free sharing from the participants. The participants are allowed to rake turns to offer personal opinions, impressions, ideas, songs or prayers related to the concept of Illumination and enlightenment

After this brief sharing session the behike concludes the round of the East by evoking the image of the bird of the East, the hawk. The behike says words to the effect of. "And now from the central pit of our sweat lodge a bird rises, a hawk, upon its back rides the yellow-haired one. This bird rises from the center and flies around the inside of our lodge in a clock-wise direction. Upon its back the yellow haired one carries a hawk feather, As the bird passes each one of us the spirit upon its back touches each one of us on the head with that hawk feather blessing us with the energy of Illumination and enlightenment. Then the bird flies out the door of our lodge thereby concluding the round of the East...Jan Jan Katu!"

With the conclusion of the round of the East comes the end of the sweatlodge ceremony. There is a formal way in which the ceremony is officially concluded inside the lodge before the door flap is lifted for the last time and the participants begin to file out. 

 

The ceremony should be ritually concluded with a session of thanksgiving.

The behike should thank the spirits of the stones, the water, the fire, the wood that was burned, the materials that went into building the lodge, the spirits of the land where the ceremony was conducted, the participants for attending and, If applicable, the host in whose home or property the ceremony has been celebrated. Once the thanksgiving prayer is recited the participants begin to move clockwise again and leaving the lodge in the same order in which they entered. The behike exits first and stands at the door to assist anyone who needs help crawling out.

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