Panchito and Ceremony

Each week I think of all the events and try to find just the right one to share with you. All about the focus, right? It’s difficult to pick out only one or two stars from that whole Milky Way, and then to refer to it so briefly. The issue is compounded when there are insistent memories, like these…

A happy selfie with Idalis, Panchito’s Daughter

A FB share this week about the Taíno - first people in Cuba and the ones who greeted Columbus (did not go well) reminded me of ten years ago when Joe Clare arranged for us to go to Cuba and then drive across the island to Baracoa to find the Indians. In Cuba, the language only referred to “Indian Descendants” with implications that there were no more, and that the culture was no longer active. This was not the case. The five in our little rented car were the curator Pavel Alejandro Barrios Sosa (from Camaguey), translator Anahiz, impressario and coordinator Joe (from Edmonton), James K-M and me. We met Alejandro Hartmann Matos, the city historian of Baracoa, at the museum, and he took us to a shady space by the sea where a woman demonstrated the old ways of life.

On the fire she was making a truly delicious honey/nut treat in the old ways - amazing Baracoa honey cooked with almonds, and then poured into circle rounds made from palm leaf. Looking like embroidery hoops, these rounds kept the honey-almond treat circular as the honey hardened and cooled.

Then she took us into her home and bags of handicrafts came out from under the bed, tablecloths that she crocheted from plastic that washed up from the sea.

She walked me through her garden with tall plants on either side of the path: useful and significant indigenous herbs and shrubs, each with a spirit and a purpose. She cut some healing leaves, and gave them to me to put in the bath, for peace.

Anahiz looks on as she checks out James’ exhibition catalogue beside her home altar.

We were really in Baracoa for Joe to make contact with Panchito, the shaman of the 90 remaining Taíno people there, and to arrange for him to come to the opening of James’ show in Camaguey.

It worked. Here’s the video of his blessing of the event, including sacred tobacco, the four directions, heartfelt prayer, invoking the seven principal powers, and a spiritual song. From the left: Sandra (translator), Idalis (Panchito’s daughter), Panchito Ramirez, Hartmann

And here’s the passing of the cigar to all the people present, including Joe, the artists, Canadian visitors, and many more.

The following day, we went with Panchito to a nature preserve with ancient caves. Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about that time:

In the caves of Cuba, a group of us joined with the shaman Panchito and his daughter Idalis for a tobacco ceremony and prayers. Here in the depths of the earth, where the indigenous people had hidden from the Spaniards’ dark genocide, we joined in prayer with one of the last living Indian elders in the country. Pictographs on the cave walls indicated that people had prayed and done ceremonies in this cave long before the arrival of Columbus to the island. After Panchito’s deep and heartfelt prayers to the seven principal powers, and Idalis’ song, the cigar was passed through the group. … In that mother womb, we were simple brothers and sisters together. After sharing Idalis’ cassava with Baracoan honey, we left the cigar burning beside a candle on a ledge in the cave, with a little cassava offering, and then we climbed up into the sunlight of the world above.

Since then, the Taíno, and Panchito Ramirez, have become more well-known, with many videos, books, and articles now available, thanks to the work of Barreiro and Hartmann.

Above: Panchito. Below: Joe with some of the ladies in Baracoa.

Looking through the photos, and my own memories, I feel so much gratitude to everyone for this remarkable experience!