To the indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Tainos caves were used not for shelter, but for access to the spiritual world. The Tainos were the people that inhabited Hispaniola (Dominican Republic & Haiti), Jamaica, Puerto Rico, as well as most of Lesser and Greater Antilles when Columbus stumbled upon the “new world,” in 1492.
Caves are a common geographical feature throughout most islands of the Caribbean. They are formed in two different ways. Sea caves and caves in the interior mountain ridges.
Sea caves are formed when waves and sea action cuts its way under rocky buffs and cliffs along the shore. Caves formed in interior ridges are the result from rainwater and underground streams that have dissolved the limestone. These caves are usually found near fault lines and away from the coast.
To the Tainos caves were where all life came from and where spirits return to after death. The Taino belief system recognized three different dimensions of existence. These three dimensions were the sky world, the land world where people lived, and the land of the underworld. To Tainos caves were the portals to the underworld.
To the Tainos caves were our souls were conceived and were our spirits return after death. To the Tainos there ancestors were in the Island itself. All life on the earth came from two caves.
Cacibajagua, the cave of the Jagua and Amayaúna, “the cave of no importance.” Jagua is a tree that produces a fruit with a black dye that was used in temporary tattoos to the Taino people. The Tainos came from this cave. “The cave of no importance” is where the rest of us came from.
So what of other Taino caves? Well, the Tainos themselves had no written language. The only clues that they left of who they were and what they believed where in the forms of cave art, pictographs and petroglyphs.
To Tainos caves were where Caciques (chiefs) and Shaman, communicated with the spirits of their ancestors. The caves and the ceremonies preformed in them were only reserved for this class of people and not for the laymen.
Inside these caves the Caciques and Shaman preformed the ritual of Cohoba. From these hallucinogen induced ceremonies is where they left us evidence of how the lived, what they believed, what they found important. These pieces of evidence are seen in pictographs, which are cave paintings, and petroglyph, which are cave carvings.
The Pomier Caves
When I first climbed my way into the Pomier Caves. I knew it was a special place. This system of 55 different caves houses over 5000 pictographs and nearly 500 petroglyphs . These works date back 1800 years before the landing of Columbus.
This system of caves played a large part of their belief system. It is believed that chiefs and shaman from all over the Caribbean and as far away as South American came to the Caves of Pomier to participate in the ceremony of Cohoba.
Adventuresque offers a unique cultural and high-adventure approach to caving in the Caves of Pomier. It’s something we call “anthropological spelunking.” Our guides are not only trained and skilled caving guides, but also experts in Taino history, folklore, and belief systems.
The caving excursion of Pomier requires repelling, rope ascending, spelunking, and a high sense of adventure. What make this caving excursion unique is that it is in the presence of spirits of the Tanios. Listen as our guides translate the pictographs, share legend and folklore, and how their ceremonies took place.
Adventuresque runs an 8-day high adventure tour of Dominican Republic. If you are interested in joining us for a high-adventure week, please fill out the contact form below.
Here is a great documentary about the Tainos. At minute 27:00 and beyond tells more about the significance of caves to Taino system of beliefs.