Like many other ancient groups, the Taino shamans used hallucinogens to make contact with the spiritual world. Natural hallucinogens were considered sacred, and only to be used by those who had the power and ability to connect with the supernatural. Once contact was made, they would have greater power to heal the sick, predict the future and ensure the existence of the tribe. The most important of these natural halluginogens to the Taino was the cohoba. Cohoba was a powder ground from the seeds of vegetation native to the islands in the Caribbean. Sometimes mixed with tobacco, shamans used cohoba to cure illnesses, and to solve problems among the community. But caciques would take it to connect with spirits and ancestors. It was considered so powerful that the caciques who took it would fast and purge before taking it to ensure that it would remain pure within their system. Then, they would inhale the power from trays through carefully carved wooden straws. Cohoba is still used by some South American shamans, and it causes the user to see the world in a psychodelic way: objects, people and animals appear upside down, movements are reversed, and colors are made more intense. Today, many Taino artifacts, especially the "vomit spatulas" are carved with upside down animals and distorted figures.
As you can see, the Tainos held a tremendous respect for the dead and the supernatural world. Pictured above are their sacred grounds and religious center- the Caguanas Ceremonial Site. At one time, this was the site of the Batey ball games, in which many lives were sacrificed. But the Batey games did serve an important social funtion. Since the outcome was decided by the Creator Yaya, squabbling families resolved their differences by submitting them to Yaya's judgement in the ball court. Today, the Spanish have closed the gates of the place and opened it up to commercial exploration. The image in the picture represents a ghost warrior, watching over the grounds. It is likely that the warrior is part of a myth, as the Tainos have many myths about everything from mosquitoes to rainbows to love. One myth lies in the form os a "coqui", a very small frog that lives in Puerto Rico. As soon as it is taken from Puerto Rico, it will die. The coqui has a very distinct night song, and it is said that he cries out for all the mothers who are looking for their lost children- children seized by the Spanish many years ago. Below is a picture of a coqui. For examples of myths, and more information on spirituality, follow the list of links.