The Taino Tradition of the Sweat Lodge Purification
Steam-driven purification ceremonies or “sweats” have always been a well-documented common tradition among the native peoples of ancient Mexico and Central America. We in the Caney know that the Tainos participated in this form of ritual healing tradition which they may have brought from South America when they first migrated into the Caribbean, or they may have learned it from the Central American peoples whom they came into contact with when they arrived there.
In the tradition of the Caney the human soul is forever linked to the spiritual birthplace in the center of Cosmic Existance from which everything is born. This spiritual birthplace is called “Koa Bai”.
Koa Bai is the womb of Ata Bey, the Cosmic Matriarch. It is the warm dark place from which all life emerges. It is also the biological recycling center deep in the soil of the Earth Mother where all living things eventually return after the life journey has been completed. As such, it is the dwelling place of the dead and the abode of the ancient ancestors. It is a repository of all human experience accumulated by those who came before.
The sweat lodge is the physical manifestation of Koa Bai. As the celebrant stoops to enter the sweat lodge, he or she returns to the primordial womb to experience again the renewal of spiritual rebirth.
The kansi (sweat lodge) of the Caney Spiritual Circle is patterned after the construction design of the round bohios used by our Taino ancestors. It doubles as a non-sweat healing lodge (a “guanara”) when it is not being used as a kansi. As a result of this fact the structure serves two different but related purposes.
Every Taino who truly desires to connect thoroughly with his or her ancestral spirits needs to experience a kansi at least once a year, and preferably more frequently.
The kansi ceremony is similar in some ways to that followed by certain North American peoples. The strictures are different because our Taino perception of certain aspects of human physical process and human relationships are perceived differently. To begin with there is no stricture on men and women sweating tegether in the same lodge as occurs in some other traditions and there is no prohibition on the participation of a woman as a result of her being on her “moon” (time of menstruation). These are uniquely North American and particularly Plains (Lakota) strictures that have become very widespread among folks who follow Native American traditions in the United States and elsewhere.
Although there is no prohibition on the use of sage, sweetgrass and cedar in the Caney Spiritual Circle kansi, it is not required since the most important smudging substances in our tradition are tobacco and tabonuko or copal.
The structure itself is oriented with the entrance facing the East, since this is the the direction from which the sun rises and the fire upon which the cibas orokoel (hot grandfather stones) are heated is just beyond that also in the East.
The conducting of a Caney Spiritual Circle kansi is a complicated procedure that needs to be taught person to person and usually should be led by a beike. However if taught by a competent teacher anybody can conduct a Caney Circle tradition sweat lodge for himself or herself and/or for friends.
The most important aspect of the ceremony is that it is divided into four cycles or rounds. Each round is dedicated to one of the four directions following the order of South. West North and East. Each round begins with the communal singing of a chant dedicated to the spirit of the hurricane, called HURAKAN. The chant asks the spirit of storms to sweep away all impurities and to cleanse the body and the soul.
Time is alotted during each round for quiet personal meditation and then afterwards for personal sharing out loud.