The Centinela of the Caribbean forest and Sanse tradition is the ancient Ceiba Tree, she is the official tree of the island of Puerto Rico and has been respected and venerated since the times of the Taino people of the island of Boriken. The Taino people venerated this tree as Bibi Ceiba or Ancient Mother Ceiba, the mother of all trees. Not just in Boriken "Puerto Rico" is the Ceiba viewed as sacred and blessed, but through out the Caribbean, she is viewed as a Saint, a Queen, the Majesty and the Mother of all trees. She is the ancient daughter of Yaya, sister to Yucahu, and faithful maiden of Atabeira. She is known as "She who holds the mysteries and secrets of Mother Earth, Atabey."
It is said that La Ceiba is indestructible the "Zemi / Cemi" , Loases and Orisha Spirits who govern the forces of Nature respect her and do not dare harm her. The great Spirit Jurakan does not pull her from her roots, Guabanex herself the ancient spirit of the winds does not harm her, and the great Spirit Guataba who is the spirit of lightning itself dares not strike her, for fear of unleashing the fury of Yaya.
Imagine if la Ceiba could speak, the stories she would tell and the secrets she may reveal. She would tell the tales of the Taino Aracoel "grandmothers" the stories they told their grandchildren under her shade. La Ceiba would tell of the lament of both the Africans and the Taino, she would reveal the struggles both these proud people had to indure. She would tell us the tale of the Taina Guanina and the Spanish Conquistador Don Cristobal Sotomayor, she would tell of the Arietos and the Guateques the Taino people had and how they under the light of the Full Moon would dance their guarachas and jaranas to the beat of maracas and mayohacan, and how the Africans would dance la bomba to the beat of tambores, the ancient dances of Dahomey and Yoruba.
La Ceiba tree should never be killed by the careless hands of humans, for if she suffers so shall he who dare kill her. La Ceiba must be respected and venerated, she must be loved and held with great esteem.
It was believed by the Taino that to place your palms on her, she would give you stability and ground you, she would give you strength and stamina and to place your forehead on her trunk she would give you the answer to any situation.
La Ceiba is a natural peristyle and is also the portal to the realm of the dead and to the realm of the Great Spirits, her roots would lead one under the earth into the realm of the dead and the ancestors, while the branches led one to the realm of the great spirits in the heavens. The Ceiba is the sacred portal an energy conductor from which the energy of the Loases manifest themselves on earth, it is not just a portal for the Misterios but also for the ancestors. If one is to come in contact with the shadow of the Ceiba, one first must ask her of her blessings and permission before stepping on her shade. To fall asleep enveloped by her trunks, one will subconsciously connect with the Ceiba and will be blessed with prophetic dreams and healing powers. Folklore also says that to walk around the trunk of the Ceiba clockwise at the hour of noon,, three times touching the trunk with the power hand, she will reveal a spirit that will grant you three wishes. If one is to walk counter clock wise touching the tree with the power hand twelve times, as the clock strikes midnight, 12 demons will come and unleash their fury upon you, others say you will receive a fright.
The Ceiba is a Saint, and will never work black magic on humans for she loves all humanity, but to steel a branch, a leaf, roots, barc or dirt from her without first asking permission and making a payment of coins is to insure that she will not grant that your magic work and bestow unfavorable results.
The Ceiba is a powerful energy conductor, receiving her energy from Gran Solier, "The Sun." She is the ancient shrine to all the elemental spirits of the forest, and offerings of coins, fruits, flowers, incense and liquids are carefully placed by her trunk. In many magical and earth related traditions of the Caribbean one goes before this tree so that she may bless the initiate with fortification and foundation. On the night of the full moon, magical tools, religious items, talismans and amulets are buried or left within her trunk over night, so they may gather both the Moon’s and the Ceiba’s energies. The branches with permission are used for magic, the dirt the roots and barc are used for making magical powders to place within Resguardos while seven leaves from the tree are used in ceremonial baths. To plant a new Ceiba tree during the birth of a child is to ensure that the child will be well grounded and protected through out life. When an infant was baptized the infant was brought before the Ceiba, and she was adorned with white lace and ribbons and holy water was poured over her roots, to insure that the Ceiba would become a protector of the child. In the Sanse tradition ones Centinela is viewed as San Sebastian, who is believed to be bounded to a Ceiba tree.
If a woman wishes to become fertile, she is presented to the ocean and brought to the Ceiba, where the magic is grounded and fortified. She then places white eggs between each crevice of each trunk to ensure fertility.
The Ceiba is venerated in all Caribbean and South American Religions, from Sanse, Brujeria, Santeria, Vodou, Palo Mayombe and Maria Lionza, and each tradition uses the tree for their magical purposes. The trunk is used in binding spells, its shade entices the ancestors, the rays of sun light that pears through its trunk or leaves gives energy, and the soil around the Ceiba is used in every form of magic.\
A long time ago in the time when the first Indians came to Boriken there lived a handsome Naiboria Taino by the name of Seiva. Seiva loved to sing and it has been said that he had the most magical voice in the Caribbean. Seiva was a peaceful man, and at the time he was the tallest man amongst the Taino, so tall and slender that many considered him a giant. But Seiva was a gentle giant, and often he would toil in his kanukos "herb garden" planting herbs and yuca and singing the most enchanted melodies.
Seiva was also a healer and many times the Caciques would invite him to their Bohio where a feast was made in Seiva’s honor. After the meal, an Arieto was always done and Seiva would sing his melodies, as all the Tainos danced around the fogon.
Seiva’s voice was so beautiful that it could tame the fury of the ancient Zemi spirits. Even the feared Hupia (Obeas) spirits would be calmed by his voice. But amongst the Zemi there was one who was very jelouse of Seiva’s voice. Uiquillo was the spirit of the voice of the ocean waves, and before Seiva was born, Uiquillo had the most beautiful voice. It was said that before Seiva was born, no other voice in the world was as beautiful as Uiquillo’s. But when Seiva began to sing, everyone agreed that his voice was more beautiful than that of Uiquillo.
With rage and jealousy Uiquillo began to plot. One day when the fishermen were fishing
Uiquillo enchanted the fish so that they could get caught by the fishermen. This of course made the fishermen happy for they had enough fish to feed many Taino villages. Then Uiquillo went to Seiva’s bohio, and told him of the fishermen fortune of the day. Uiquillo instructed Seiva to meet them at the shore and to serenade the fishermen with songs. Seiva respecting and obeying all Cemi "Zemi" Spirits did as he was told.
When the fishermen were at the shore and taking their catch out of the canoa, they saw Seiva coming towards them. They placed the catch of the day on the hot sand and ran to Seiva asking him to serenate them with songs. Seiva of course did, but every time he had finished, the fishermen asked for another song, then another and then another. This lasted a long while until the Sun began to set. Seiva tired told them that he could not sing another note, bid the fishermen, good day. The fishermen of course told Seiva that a feast of fresh fish and casava bread was to be eaten that night, and that he must attend. Seiva agreed.
But Uiquillo was not done with her plotting, she sang into Seiva’s ear an enchantment that made him fall into a deep sleep.
Unknown to the Fishermen and the village, the fish had spoiled from sitting on the hot sand under the Puerto Rican sun.
The following day many Taino became ill and some died from eating the rotten fish. Soon the fishermen placed the blame on Seiva, for it was he who sang to them, he who did not make it to the feast the night before. Seiva was responsible for the illness and deaths.
The Cacique was also enraged, for his eldest son had succumbed to death from eating the rotten fish. The Cacique and the Nitaino arrested Seiva and tied him to a tree and began to burn the gentle giant alive. Seiva not knowing why this was happening began to sing his final song, the song of agony, pain and dis pare.
When Seiva was dead, the Zemi became infuriated with the wrong and unjust the people had done, and sent a Hurricane that shock the island to the core. When the Hurricane was gone, those people that survived went to the burnt corpse of Seiva and burried him. Soon the first Ceiba tree began to sprout, grow and flourish on the spot where Seiva was buried.
Today it is said that before Hurricane season, one can hear the rustling of the leaves of the Ceiba tree and believe it to be the voice of Seiva either singing his warning of the coming hurricane or trying to appease the Hurricane from striking hard upon the island of Puerto Rico.
My granddaughters love the Disney movie Pocahontus, as did my children before them. I know most of the songs by heart, especially Colors of the Wind, one of my personal all time favorite Disney tunes. As I watch Pocahontas I cant help to think of Guanina, the Puerto Rican Taino princess who predates Pocahontua by a 100 years and see the similarities within their stories..
Guanina was a Taino princess, neice of Agueybana and younger sister to Agueybana el Bravo. Guanina’s uncle was the head Cacique of Puerto Rico during the time when Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de Leon came to the island.
During this time and as was expected for a young girl of 18, Guanina was betrothed to a strong Nitaino warrior by the name of Guarionex. He was a handsome Taino warrior, and although Guanina did love him dearly, she was not in love with him, as she saw Guarionex as a close childhood friend. But Guarionex although being a great fierce warrior was deeply in love with Guanina and every time he set eyes on her, he would declare his undying love towards her.
Guanina’s feelings where not mutual and could not return the love because she had fallen in love with a Spanish Conquistador named Don Cristobal de Sotomayor, who had named a settlement after his own last name which was a custom.
Guarionex like most Taino people loathed the Spanish. At the time they where plotting their revolt against these white men from the sea that they once treated as Gods, for the Spanish all they did was bring cruelty, injustice and disease. Also Agueybana the Great Cacique who had welcomed "these Gods from the Sea" with open arms died mysteriously of a unknown disease that was killing many Taino and the Bohitu Shamans could not heal with their mojo, medicine, or magic.
One night an Arieto was held so that Agueybana el Bravo would be crowned head Cacique after the strange death of his uncle Agueybana.The Cacique Urayoán and his people from the village of Yucayeque had come. Urayoán did not believe the Spanish were Gods and plotted with Agueybana to drown one to see if he was man or immortal. The victim was Diego Salcedo, who was drowned and watched for three days thereafter to see if his God like spirit would reanimate his body, when this did not happen Agueybana el Bravo in great fury for the treacherous lies and deceit ordered the revolt against the Spanish.
Guarionex wanted his revenge on Don Cristobal de Sotomayor. but his plans where foiled as Guanina warned him to stay away or death would surly follow. But Guarionex had one of his sisters spy on every move that Guanina did and rushed to tell him how Guanina had warned Don Cristobal not to come to the village. In great fury Guarionex and a large group of Nitaino warriors went after Don Cristobal.
Don Cristobal fought ferociously but was out numbered. Just when Guarionex was to deliever the death blow with his Macana, Guanina jumped in between both of them and recieved the blow that killed her instantly. Don Cristobal who had felt nothing more than love and respect for Guanina and her people held her within his arms. At that moment Agueybana el Bravo came and with one blow of his Hacha, killed Don Cristobal. They where then both buried under a Ceiba tree, but with Don Cristobal’s legs protruding out of the ground so that he could not enter into the realm of Spirit and become a tormented soul for all eternity.
Shortly afterwards, the Spanish found the burial grounds and dug up the corpses, and both where given a proper Christian burial.
The Jibaro folk of Puerto Rico say that when the wind blows through the Ceiba trees and one hears the beautiful sound it makes and if one closely looks one will see two small orbs of light which are not Fireflies but the souls of Guanina and Don Cristobal dancing and singing in the joys of being united for all eternity.
There once lived a poor Jibaro, "peasant" who had many children and raised them alone, his wife had passed away a few years earlier while giving birth to their last child. Each morning the Jibaro would gather fruits and herbs and go into the Pueblo so he could sell them and make a prophet, so that he could afford to clothe his many children.
One night returning from the Pueblo, the Jibaro over worked and tired decided to rest nestled within the trunks of a Ceiba tree. Shortly afterwards the Jibaro fell into a deep sleep, soon the hour of midnight came apon. All who lived in the island knew that midnight was the hour of the Ceiba when these enormous gentle giants became animated and walked the earth.
Suddenly the Jibaro awoke to the sound of thundersom foot steps coming towards him. This frightened the Jibaro and he hid himself in the darkest creves of the trunks of the Ceiba tree. To the Jibaro’s amazement it was another Ceiba coming towards the one he was hiding in. Then with the deepest and most ancient of voices the Ceiba he was hiding within spoke to the one that was walking. "Tai Guey Seiva Ti." (Good Day. May the Good Spirits of the Ceiba be with you.)
" Tau Seiva Ti." ( Hello May the Ceiba Spirits be with you.) Replied the one that was walking. "Where are you heading to in such a hurry?" "I am off to tell the eldest Ceiba amongst us about the predicament I am in. Iimagine my dear friend that I live in the garden of the mayor and he is in deep distress, for his daughter is deathly ill and it seams she will succumbed to the illness come morning. The mayor has sent for every Curandero and Spiritual Healer on the island and is willing to pay a large ransom for the one who finds the cure that will heal his daughter. None has been able to heal her and I know the remedy to heal her, but as you know, we are prohibited from communicating with humans, and I wish to help them. You see the mayor, his daughter and their descendants have always been so kind to me." "And what is the remedy for that which ails the child?" Replied the Ceiba who listened intently, and although the Ceiba pretended that she did not know the Jibaro was hiding between her roots, she was very wise and always very mindful of her surroundings and knew that he was there.
"Well..." Replied the Ceiba who was of to see the Ancient Ceiba. "The mayor’s daughter must be wrapped in a fresh clean white blanket and an infusion of, Mavi fermented barc juice, Guarapo "Suger Cane Nectar", Cinnamon and fresh cow’s milk must be given to her, this will heal her in an instant." "Well.." Replied that Ceiba with the Jibaro hidden within her roots. "I will let you go on to see the eldest amongst us, as I must rest know"
When the other Ceiba left, the one with the Jibaro hidden within her pretended to sleep, as her plan was under way. Soon the Jibaro emerged from the Ceiba and ran to the Governer’s manshion. He told the govener that he was a wise Curandero and could heal his daughter. At this time the Govener was beyond tired of seeing Curanderos and told the Jibaro that if he would heal his daughter he would be given a wealth beyond his wildest imagination, but if he was to fail he would be beheaded.
The Jibaro knowing that the Ceiba where wise beyond belief began to pray and heal the girl with the ingredients the Ceiba spoke of. In an instant the young girl recovered her health. The Govener was pleased and paid the poor Jibaro a large amount of money. And it is because of the Ceiba tree that a once poor man became rich and a young girls life was saved.
SANCISTA BRUJO LUIS