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Myth / Taíno Mythology

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The Taíno were an indigenous people of the Caribbean. Until Spanish colonizers began traveling to the islands in the 15th century, they were the main inhabitants of The Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, the northern Lesser Antilles, and Puerto Rico.

The Taino worshipped deities and ancestral spirits called zemi (also written as "cemi"). Zemi were housed in sculptures sculpted from a wide variety of materials, including wood, clay, sandstone, bone, shells, and stone. Medicine people could consult zemis for healing and advice. During these consultation ceremonies, images of the zemi were sometimes painted or tattooed on the body of a priest (who was known as a "Bohuti" or "Buhuithu"). While Zemi are most associated with the Taino, they were also created by indigenous South American cultures.

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Notable Deities

  • Atabey is often cited as the Taino's supreme god. She's a fertility and water goddess (as well as an Earth Spirit), alongside the masculine Yúcahu. Pregnant women prayed to Atabey to ensure a safe childbirth.
  • Yúcahu (alternately, Yocahú or Yocahú-Bagua-Maorocoti) is known as the creator of the Taino. He is a fertility god, alongside the feminine Atabey. He created the sun, moon, stars, animals, and humans. Yúcahu lives on a throne on the peak of the largest mountain in the El Yunque National Forest.
  • Maquetaurie Guayaba was the lord of the dead and in charge of watching the space where they rested. More importantly, he kept balance between the forces of the day (order and the world of the living) and the forces of the night (chaos and the world of the dead). He is associated with bats. Opiyelguabirán served as a guardian who kept the living and the dead where they belonged.
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  • Guabancex, also known by her Spanish name "Juracán" (which actually refers to the storms themselves), controls the weather, particularly storms and hurricanes (which is where the word comes from). She was an important goddess, as good weather was needed for crops and wind was vital for travel between islands. She is often depicted with an angry face, her arms flailing in an S-shape on either side. Guabancex has a temper and often becomes enraged and bent on destroying all in her path with hurricanes. She is always associated with Guataubá, who heralds her eventual arrival with clouds and lightning. Guabancex threatens the other deities in an attempt to have them join her. The goddess often clashes with their supreme deity, Yúcahu, when she reaches the rainforest peak of El Yunque.


Taino mythology provides examples of:

  • Creation Myth: The goddess Atabey originally created the heavens and nothing else. The world was void and empty. To fix this, she created her two sons Yúcahu and Guacar. Yúcahu took over his mother's role as a creation deity in an attempt at gaining her favour. He awoke the Earth from its slumber and created two new deities: the controllers of the sun and moon, Boinael and Maroya. Yúcahu noticed four gemstones that lied in the ground and converted them into the celestial star beings Achinao, Coromo, Racuno, Sobaco. He then created the animals. Finally Yucáhu created a new entity that wasn't either an animal nor a deity. He opened a rift in the heaven, from which emerged the first man, Locuo.
  • Food God: Yúcahu is a god of cassava, a staple crop of the Taino (and even their modern descendants)
  • The Great Flood: Yaya, known as the grandfather, and his wife had a son named Yayael. Yayael grew up to become a rebellious, angry man who hated his father. Yayael ordered him to leave the home for four moons. Upon return, the situation didn't improve. In a bout of anger, Yaya killed Yayael and out of remorse, put all of Yayael's bones inside a gourd he hung from the ceiling. One day, he took down the gourd and saw that it was full of endless fish. He and his wife tried eating some and still the fish would keep in number. Nearby, Itiba Cahubaba gave birth to quadruplets, the oldest named Deminán Caracaracol. When Yaya was absent, they took down the gourd to eat from it too, but in their hurry to put it back, the gourd burst, and from it, came out so much water and all the fish, and that is how the ocean came to be.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Opiyelguabirán, a dog-shaped god who watched over the dead. He has a human head but the body of a dog from the waist down.
  • Mother Nature: Atabey represents the Earth's spirit. She is the creator goddess who created the heavens and gave birth to Yúcahu, another important creator deity.
  • Water Is Womanly: Atabey is the Taino's supreme god — the goddess of water and fertility, contrasted with the masculine Yúcahu.
  • Weather Manipulation: Guabancex is a storm goddess who has control over the weather.


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