A trip of 500 Years
By: Rubén Rodríguez / Photos: Amauris Betancourt
Visiting Chorro de Maíta is like making a fantastic trip through time. The most important archaeological site in Cuba and the major indigenous cemetery of the Caribbean is on the northern coast of Holguin, 750 kilometres east of Havana.
This village, also called Yaguajay Yucayeque Turey - the Resplendent Sky Village in the Arauca language - has nestled for 500 years in the shadow of Yaguajay, a summit of the Maniabón Mountains.
The mysteries of life and death are presented to visitors in 2,000 square metres, where some fifty burial sites are preserved in their original shape, length and depth. Although excavation began in the 1930s, the site was discovered in 1976 by archaeologist and intellectual José Manuel Guarch del Monte.
Chorro de Maíta (Maíta Spring) was named for the former owner of the farm estate in the 18th Century and for a famous spring located in the area.
Many years of work revealed the greatest indigenous burial ground of the Caribbean, where scientific tests have proven there lived a group of natives dedicated to agriculture and pottery. Further studies have indicated this village was a reflection of an even more primitive community on the site some ten thousand years ago.
Some of the most attractive mother-of-pearl, flint, pottery fragments and stone and shell pendants of the region are exhibited here, while mortars and necklace beads form part of the museum’s heritage and allow us to experience the ingenious and marvellous world of Cuba’s first settlers.
Cross-cultural evidence is clear. Together with Spanish pots, adornments, tin fragments and bells, there are Christian burials with outstretched extremities, arms crossed over chest and skulls with no deformation, along with the burial and beauty customs of the natives.
Among the remains was found the skeleton of a young white man, possibly Spanish, who apparently lived among the natives and seems to have been appreciated, since he received their burial treatment.
Another enigma deals with a necklace found with a princess, probably aged 18-22: the ornament unique in Cuba, made of coral, quartz, pearls and golden beads with the head of a golden bird representing the god of creation in Aruaca mythology.
Only a road separates this burial ground from the mysteries of another life, the replica of a Taino village, such as Admiral Christopher Columbus found when he called Cuba the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.
According to Dr. Guarch del Monte, this area, a kind of theme park, includes clay sculptures with the figures of the Aruaca people from the north of South America who lived in the Antilles.
The complete 22,000 square metres of the primitive village are not reproduced, but the replica does include three great circular huts or caneyes where natives lived collectively and in which they performed their rituals, as well as smaller intermediate huts where they cooked and worked their pottery, and a vara-en-tierra, a small hut where they protected their instruments.
A walk among the Tainos, frozen in time, is more realistic thanks to father and son sculptors Argelio Cobiellas and Lauro Hechavarría Osorio, who provided the figures with the original shape, facial traits and color of skin of Cuban Tainos.
On average, men and women were no more than 5’2’’ tall, deformed their newborns’ heads and died at the early age of 45.
The figures inside the caneyes wear dresses of textile fabrics and ornaments made of stone, shells and feathers accompanied by elements they used in their daily chores. The outside is decorated and painted with the same design but in clay.
Chorro de Maíta is located in the Banes municipality, also known as the Archaeological Capital of Cuba, only seven kilometres from Guardalavaca beach, in Holguin’s tourist area.
The white sand, warm temperatures and vegetation are the same as five centuries ago in the so-called Lost Paradise: Yaguajay Yucayeque Turey: the Resplendant Sky Village.