Introduction Patagonia Andes Amazon Mesoamerica / Caribbean Southwest Plains / Plateau Woodlands California / Great Basin Northwest Coast Arctic / Subarctic Contemporary Art
Taíno zemí of Itiba Cahubaba

Taíno zemí of Itiba Cahubaba
AD 1200–1500
Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic
15 x 9 x 18 cm
Collected by Henry Hurst

Itiba Cahubaba, “Great Bleeding Mother,” is a primary ancestor spirit among those respected deities the Taíno call zemí. Itiba succumbs in childbirth, begetting with her sacrifice the humanity and universe of the Taíno. Her four sons will be creators of the ocean and the land and will beget the living Mother Earth and her support of humanity.

Identified by Caribbean scholar José Juan Arrom, Itiba Cahubaba is notable for her oblong eyes, indicative of Taíno depictions of deities. Itiba’s emaciated arms, always folded over her bulging belly, represent the suffering of her creation. Cosmic navigator, Itiba Cahubaba wears a headdress with four trapezoid incisions that appear to depict the Caribbean winter (short) and summer (long) solstices. According to Arrom, the curvature of her cap informs Taíno navigation.

In Cuba, Itiba Cahubaba is associated with pregnancy, labor, delivery, and—among the people of the eastern mountains—the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the matron saint of the island. Many pregnant and post-natal women attend the Virgen’s shrine in supplication and thanks. Taíno descendants from the Sagua–Baracoa Mountains still make offerings and burn tobacco for the Mother Earth spirit and attribute the success of their crops and the potency of their traditional herbal medicines to her benevolence.1 The names of Caribbean Taíno cosmological personalities also continue to figure in the toponymy of the islands. There is a historic Río Cahobabo and a nearby village Playitas de Cahobabo in the easternmost part of Cuba. The local population from the region of Cahobabo sustains many Native herbal and culinary traditions.

—José Barreiro (Taíno)

Back to Top
  1. Reciting his tobacco prayer—a ceremony of appreciation to the Seven Powers of Nature—Panchito Ramirez, Taíno cacique from Caridad de los Indios, Cuba, implores first the four cardinal directions and then the Mother Earth. In his autobiographical testimony, don Panchito tells of a visitation by the Mother Earth spirit in the dream–vision that has guided his leadership of in the Native community. Barreiro, José. Panchito: Mountain Cacique—Guajiro—Taíno Testimony. Santiago de Cuba: Ediciones Catedral, 2001.