Altos de Chavon

The story of the “Cemi de la Cohoba” at the Altos de Chavón Museum of Archaeology – by Yanet Castillo

museo altos de chavon

This post is also available in: Spanish

museo altos de chavonWhen visiting a museum (of any type), have you ever asked yourself which is that one and most important piece of their collection? For the Altos de Chavón Regional Archaeological Museum, the most important piece is the “Cemí” or “ídolo taíno” (taíno idol), a representation of a piece currently exhibited in Cadiz, Spain- sent directly from the Dominican Republic!

Pieces like this one, the “cemí” that reveal so much of the Dominican Republic’s unique and fascinating history (long before this island even became the Dominican Republic) Intrigued? We invite you to join us on a journey with Yanet Castillo, educational co-ordinator at the Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum who has great stories to tell:

But before we start exploring and learning, it is important that we understand the following very important historical terms:

Historical/ Taíno terms

Taíno: Good man
Cacique: Sovereign, Chief
Nitaíno: Chief Counselors
Behíque: doctor, sorcerer
Duho: Ceremony bank, wooden bench
Cemí: God or idol
Cohoba: hallucinogenous substances used for the ritual

Everything clear? Ok!! Lets start our trip:

“Cemí de la Cohoba” by Yanet Castillo

The most important ritual performed by indigenous taíno indians, was related to the inhalation of hallucinogenous powders, obtained from the seeds of a plant called “Anadanthera peregrina“, which produced states of delirium, enabling the people to communicate with their gods to find solutions to grow better crops, to maintain good health, to receive their messages and their guidance on their day to day life; it was a ritual, apparently, managed only by men- as the “cacique” (chief, sovereign) was the principal figure. Participating in the ritual were the “cacique“, the “nitainos” (consultants) and the “behique” (doctor), who in the act, painted their bodies with complex designs, as well as with amulets and talismans made in stones, shells and gold.

During the ritual the “cacique” would sit on a wooden bench or “duho” right in front of the idol or “cemí“, surrounded by the rest of the participants of this important ceremony. This was typically celebrated in front of a tree believed to be possessed by a spirit- or inside the “cacique’s” home.

The cemí, carved in guaiac wood, represented a masculine human figure sitting down with a plate on his head, where the “cohoba” (hallucinogenous substances) were placed. This is the only piece of our Aboriginal culture which is made in wood and it is conserved by the Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum.

Currently, this piece which is the most important one of the museum’s collection is now in the Santa Catalina Castle in Cadiz, Spain and was also exhibited in Valencia in the “Tesoros del Arte Taíno Exhibit”, sent directly from the Dominican Republic to highlight the culture of the indigineous population. This exhibit was presented from July to the 30th of September, organized by Centro León (popular and renowned organization dedicated to promote the Dominican Culture), in collaboration with the Municipal Society in Cadiz as part of the celebrations of the Bicentennial of the Constitution of this city.

Article contributed by Yanet Castillo, Education Coordinator at the Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum

And please don’t forget that this Friday the 12th of October, the monthly Café de la Leche event for the Hogar del Niño will be taking place at the Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum, undoubtedly a fabulous opportunity to tour around and learn even more wonderful stories – click here for more info! 

Altos de Chavon Regional Archaeological Museum

museo altos de chavon

Where: Altos de Chavon (Right behind the St. Stanislaus church)

Open: Daily, 9am – 9pm

Contact: 809.523.8554

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