The Divine

Gods, and Other Beings that Govern the Natural World of the Taino

Nature

The Natural World is Composed of the Divine

Taino divinity differs from European beliefs in that they are one with nature and lack human tendencies of jealousy, lust, and anger. Rather than living on a mountain high above humanity and looking down upon us with somewhat royal disdain, Taino divinity is the rivers, stones, grass, and animals of the environment. They are not supernatural, as they are not beyond nature like Zeus and Odin, but one and the same with it. As in, cassava itself is a part of the god Yúcahu, not governed or created by him as a separate product.

Incorporated into nature, the Taino deities were believed to be connected to all things like plants, animals, as well as the dead, and even stones you walk past or step on to cross a small stream. The gods did not inhabit any special objects or single special animal that was different from the rest. They did not set themselves apart, hence why all life constitutes divine existence to the Taino. It is this belief that led the Taino to respect, honor, and revere nature always. All forms of life outside of the Taino themselves were considered manifestations of the divine in the Taino imagination.

(Ah-Tahh-Beh) Goddess of Creation, Eternity, The Invisible World, Reality, Ocean, Fertility, Streams and Rivers, The Universe, Life, The Four Winds. Associated with childbirth, nurturing, motherhood, The ocean/lakes/streams, and Mother Earth

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. GAIA/Gaea Greek
  2. YEMOJA/Yemonja/Yemaya Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. NAMAKA Polynesian
  4. PACHAMAMA Andes
  5. PRITHVI Hindu
DEITY PROFILE Atabey is a primordial being, one who existed at the beginning of all things. Her story can be found in many variations across the Caribbean, South America, the Antilles, and in our very own Puerto Rico. She was the mother of all things, and gave birth to the twin gods Yúcahu and Guacar. Some variations of her story describe caves as the openings of her womb, by which all things were born in the Taino imagination. There are other creation stories to corroborate this belief as well, such as the popular story of how the sun (Mauatiatibuel or Cuban Guey) and Moon (Cuban Karaya) were both born from caves. As well as the existence of Coaibai/Coaybay in caves, the home of the dead both who were worthy of paradise (mostly women), and those unworthy that remain sad and apparently bored in the darkness of the caves. You may find her name spelled in forms like Ata Bey, Atabei, Atabera, Bibi Atabey Atte Itabo Era, Itiba Tahuvava, and Ataveyra. Her story, as found in “Stories from Puerto Rico“— Robert L. Muckley & Adela Martinez-Santiago-1999, is very brief even in non-Puerto Rican versions. Despite this, she is honored by Tainos across all cultures, but if any other myths of her existed, those stories are lost to time. I have uncovered variations of this same short mention of her in the creation myth but nothing else. The goal of this project is to reinvigorate figures like Atabey. Polishing their existing stories and appearance to reveal the rich heritage that has been hidden for decades. My version of her story is not meant to replace, or reinterpret. It is simply a creative retelling from a narrative of my own making that I hope modern audiences would enjoy hearing, with touches of my personality thrown in for fun. I hope you will leave with both an understanding and deeper appreciation for the Boricua culture of Puerto Rico. Return to top of entry.

(Kah-Hwah-Nah) Goddess of Love and an avatar of Atabey. Associated with the ocean, frogs, and human affection

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. APHRODITE
    Greek
  2. OSHUN
    Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. LAKA
    Polynesian
  4. VENUS
    Roman
  5. PARVATI
    Hindu


DEITY PROFILE

Caguana is an interesting figure in that she represents feminen beauty and is depicted with frog-like hands, feet and even legs. I can only surmise that this is due to the Boricua’s fondness of the COQUI, and the beauty of its song.

The Boricuas lived in a fairly calm society, without war other than the occasional attack from Carib Indians who were natural enemies of the Taino. This gave them much time to focus on the land, religion, and imagination. Given that women were held in high-regard due to the matrifocal and matrilineal society of the Taino, it is logical that goddesses like Caguana were held in high-esteem. She is one of the manifestations of Atabey, though there is very little about her in specificity that I could find other than mentions of her name.

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(Gwah-Car) God of Reason, Teachings, Trials, Wisdom. Associated with twin brother Yúcahu, and later cruelty, and destruction

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. PERSES
    Greek
  2. SHIVA
    Indian/Hindu
  3. QUETZALCOATL
    Mesoamerican/Aztec/Nahuátl
  4. FUKUROKUJU
    Chinese
  5. THOTH
    Egyptian

DEITY PROFILE

The twin brother of Yúcahu, and eventual god of evil and hurricanes. Guacar was jealous of his brother’s creations, especially the Taino. His envy eventually became rage and Guacar hid in the heavens where he changed his name and appearance. He would later return to his brother as Juracan, enemy to Yúcahu and terror of the Taino.

Upon his birth, Guacar and his brother were tasked with finishing their mother’s work. Reality had space, planets, and the earth. But, it was Yúcahu who created the sun and moon, the stars, animals, and even people. Guacar was just as responsible as his twin for completing the task laid before them by their mother. However, rather than joining his brother and applying himself, Guacar fell to jealous, which led him to hate.

The life of Guacar before his transformation is shrouded in mystery. I can’t imagine he simply stood around and watched his brother take all of the glory, but I could not find anything related to that. In Guacar’s Cuban appearance, he has more development and is considered wise and even a teacher.

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(Gwah-ban-seh) Goddess of Destruction, Hurricanes, and Storms. Associated with volcanoes, lava, thunder and lightning, and the wild untamed fury of mother nature

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. ENYO/ERIS
    Greek
  2. OYA
    Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. PELE
    Polynesian
  4. BELLONA
    Roman
  5. KALI
    Hindu


DEITY PROFILE

There cannot be creation without destruction, one must oppose the other in order for balance to be maintained. Guabancex is the goddess of destruction and the antithesis of Caguana, but she is not evil.

Destruction is viewed as a necessity to maintain balance by the Taino. They believed all things existed thanks to this paradise, which happened to also be composed of the divine beings they believed in. That said, just as Yúcahu was apart of Cassava, so was Guancanbex apart of volcanoes, storms and winds, but unlike the evil Guacar who became Juracan out of malicious intent, Guancanbex exists to ensure the abundance of life does not get out of hand, and that the Taino respect the honor of living in their world.

It is believed that when the Taino displease the gods, regardless of the nature of the offense, it is Guancanbex who appears and like a mother disciplining her children, the goddess delivers her judgment upon the Taino. The goddess is always accompanied by her companions the spirit of roaring hurricane winds Guataubá, and the spirit of flooding waters Coatrisquie.

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(Mah-Keh-Tow-Ree Gwhi-yah-bah) God of Coaybay/Coaibai/Underworld, not of evil, but the land of the spirits of the dead. Associated with caves where Coaibai is said to be, bats, guava fruit, and Hupias (dead spirits or ghosts)

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. HADES
    Greek
  2. YAMA
    Indian/Hindu
  3. CAMAZOTZ
    Mesoamerican/Mayan
  4. VELES/VOLOS
    Russian/Slavic
  5. OSIRIS
    Egyptian

DEITY PROFILE

Maquetaurie Guayaba, also known as Maboyas (word meaning evil spirit) was only active during the nighttime. The Taino believed the night brought forth another world, namely that of the dead. Therefore, he, like the Hupia/Opia, could roam and cause havoc among the living. He would be blamed for destroyed crops, and believed to be able to seduce women like the Hupia, but worse. The Hupia are already dead, and carry no seed within their ethereal bodies, but Maboyas is a living deity that does possess the ability to impregnate women.

Since such things would not be discovered until the next day, the Taino understood that generally bad things took place at night which would create this notion of night being the realm of evil. But these activities are not considered malicious on the part of Maboyas and the Hupia. Since during the day the dead are confined; it is only at night that they are free. They enjoy eating guabaza (guava), and terrorizing people, because for the Hupia it is their only chance at having a good time.

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(Mah-Roh-Ya) Goddess of the Moon, Tides, Night, Stars, Menstruation. Associated with hidden love, mercy, inspiration, tears, transformation, and the menstrual cycle

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. SELENE/ARTEMIS
    Greek
  2. YEMANJÁ
    Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. HINA
    Polynesian
  4. IX CHEL
    Mayan
  5. CHANG’È/HENG’È
    Chinese


DEITY PROFILE

Maroya is a hard one to pin down, as she is associated with many things, and I have found very little information about the Boricua variation of her. The only myth I have found based on her from the Boricua is of her birth from a cave alongside the sun god.

In Cuba, the goddess’ name is Karaya and Itza (similar to the Mayan name Itzamná and city Chichen Itza) in the Dominican Republic. She was believed to be born in the Iguanaboina cave on the eastern side of Quisqueya (the Taino name of Hispaniola that means “mother of all lands” that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share).

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(Mow-Te-Ah-Te-Bwell) God of the Sun, name means “Sun of dawn”, “Lord of the dawn”, or “God of daybreak.” Associated with the energy that grows plants, sometimes considered an avatar of Yùcahu

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. APOLLO
    Greek
  2. SURYA
    Indian/Hindu
  3. LUGH
    Ireland/Celtic
  4. AMATERASU
    Japanese
  5. RA
    Egyptian

DEITY PROFILE

As god of the sun, Mauatiatibuel plays a crucial part in Taino life. He provides the energy needed for cassava to grow, which is the staple crop and resource of the Taino that is essential for their survival. Cassava is also the staple food in the Taino diet, and presided over by Yùcahu.

Since the sun is needed for cassava to grow, it is natural for the Taino to believe that Mauatiatibuel was also an avatar of their creator and protector Yùcahu.

Mauatiatibuel is believed to have been created by Yúcahu, and born in El Cueva de los Indios along with the moon goddess Maroya. This same cave is also where the two deities return at regular intervals. When the sun is high in the sky, the moon is hiding in this cave, and vice versa.

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(O-Pee-Yell-Gwah-Bee-Rahn) Dog spirit guide, guardian, and warden of the dead. Associated with mischief, sadness, herding, and transportation to the afterlife of both the good and the bad spirits

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. CERBERUS/KERBEROS
    Greek
  2. TARAKESHWARA
    Indian/Hindu
  3. HEIBAI WUCHANG/HAK BAK MO SEONG
    Chinese
  4. AZRAEL
    Saudi Arabia/Islam
  5. AMMIT
    Egyptian

DEITY PROFILE

Opiyelguabirán means “our mocking weeping spirit.” It is the dog companion of Maboyas and described with a wooden body, and like the beast Ammit from Egyptian mythology or Cerberus from Greek mythology, it prevented those who were not worthy from entering the Taino paradise. But unlike their contemporaries, this canine deity is not described as vicious or an entity of rage, destruction, or evil. It is simply a dog doing its job, and it is known to do it with great respect and honor.

This dog spirit would ceaselessly search the rainforest in order to bring back the hupia once their time of revelry ended. So before the sun god Mauatiatibuel would return from the cave, and push their world of darkness back, Opiyelguabirán was tasked with returning the spirits every night within the time limit. The dog was considered the mediator between the world of the living and the world of the dead. It was obligated to maintain living and non-living beings alike, ensuring they remain confined to their world as it controlled entry between domains.

The dog was also described with a sense of duality. Opiyelguabirán could be a mocking spirit at times, but then would shed tears for it felt the anguish caused by the loss of life and having to escort the newly deceased to Coaybay. However, Opiyelguabirán was obligated to escort the deceased in absolute silence, as an act of deep respect for their ancestors whom they were about to reunite with.

When the conquistadors arrived on the island of Hispaniola, Opiyelguabirán was seen apparently, or at least a real indigenous dog of the Tainos known as the Josibi, later renamed Ateo by the Spaniards. The dog fled to a lagoon as they followed it by its footprints. But the conquistadors never found it, which is also true of the real Josibi dogs of the Tainos that went extinct shortly after the arrival of the Spanish invaders.

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(Yah-Yah Gwah-Tuh-Rhey) Combination of Yúcahu and Atabey, Creator of the Taino, Ocean, Yuca/Cassava, Skies

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. PHANES
    Greek
  2. OLODUMARE
    Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. KÃNE
    Polynesian
  4. PANGU
    Chinese

DEITY PROFILE

In some regions, the deity Yúcahu and his mother, Atabey are both one in the same. In this form, the deity is called Yaya Guaturey.

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(Jew-Kah-Who) God of the Taino, Life, Ocean, Yuca/Cassava, Skies, Harvest, and Peace. Associated with twin brother Guacar, warriors, fishing, El Yunque, sometimes the sun, and opposite of Juracan

SIMILAR DEITIES

  1. PROMETHEUS
    Greek
  2. OLODUMARE/OLORUN
    Cuban/Creole/West Africa/Yoruba/Orisha
  3. LONO
    Polynesian
  4. NÜ WA/NÜGUA
    Chinese


DEITY PROFILE

According to my findings, Atabey is the primordial creator, but her story ends there and her son Yúcahu takes over in Taino society. He is honored as the supreme deity and male counterpart to his mother. His name is Yoka Hu in Cuba, and Yucahú Bagua Maorocotí (which means “White Yuca, great and powerful as the sea and the mountains”) in the Dominican Republic.

In the creation myth of the Taino, Yúcahu along with his brother Guacar are both left with the responsibility of completing the creation of their mother (reality). The goddess had departed to maintain creation in her nurturing womb, for only she could ensure all things would continue to thrive as reality itself was alive within her.

Yúcahu is credited with taking over for his mother and producing the things that she felt were missing from her creation. Because of his many additions to reality, he gained the favor of his mother Atabey over his brother Guacar, who consequently changed himself out of spite and became the god of evil and hurricanes Juracan. Yúcahu is credited with creating the animals, the sun and moon gods, the ocean, and cassava. He even took the jewels of the earth and transformed them into the stars that illuminate the universe.

Yúcahu’s crowning achievement is the creation of the first human who was named Locuo. The myth sometimes describes that he asked his mother for help in this matter since I assume the creation of intelligent life and beings that can evolve rests with his mother Atabey alone. He wanted to create something that was neither god nor beast, and thus Locuo was born, and then he split in two and the first woman was born, and from them came the rest of the Taino.

Yúcahu is believed to reside in Yuké, which is the peak of the highest mountain on the island, which is found in the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico. The peak is associated with the large white clouds that constantly surround it, which explains the name Yuké, “white lands”. The Taino believed this throne was where Yúcahu would defend his beloved Taino from the gods who would harm them. When Guancanbex or Juracan bring storms and hurricanes, the mountain lessens the strength of the winds which reenforces this belief of Yúcahu defending the Taino. 

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GUATAUBÁ
(Gwah-Tow-Bah) Bringer or spirit of hurricane winds, Associated with hurricanes, and servant of Guacanbex

COATRISQUIE
(Ko-Ah-Tris-Keh) Bringer or spirit of floodwaters, Associated with hurricanes, and servant of Guacanbex

BAIBRAMA
(Bi-Brah-Mah) God of Antidotes, Associated with growing cassava, and curing the naturally occurring cyanide from its raw juice by soaking and cooking it.

BOINAYEL
(Boy-Nah-Yehl) God of rain, Associated with calm and normal rain, and his twin brother Márohu. Boinayel was described to shed tears that would water crops and help Yuca grow.

MÁROHU
(Mah-Roh-Who) God of fair skies/weather, Associated with calm weather, and his twin brother Boinayel

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