The Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes, Puerto Rico

In 1975, the remains of two native civilizations were discovered a couple of miles north of Ponce on what is now called the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes (Carr. 503, km 2.5, 787/840-2255, Tues.-Sun. 8am-3:30pm, except when holidays fall on Mon., then Wed.-Mon., $3 adults, $2 children, $1.50 seniors and visitors with disabilities).

The Igneri reigned over the region from 300 BC to AD 600. On the same location, a Pre-Taíno culture thrived from AD 600 to 1200. Excavation of the site is still under way, but among the structures uncovered and restored are seven bateyes, or ball fields, and two rectangular stone-rimmed ceremonial plazas, around which you can spot faint petroglyphs carved into the rock.

Re-created Taíno bohio dwellings at Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.
Re-created Taíno bohio dwellings at Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes. Photo © Suzanne Van Atten.

The vegetation is rich with many of the same plants used by native cultures for medicinal and other purposes, including the cohoba tree (its red berries were used to induce hallucination and communication with the gods), the calabash tree (its gourd-like fruit was hollowed out and dried to make bowls), and the mavi tree (its bark was used to make a fermented drink).

A small museum contains artifacts from both cultures found on the site, including cemies, amulets, vomit spatulas, dujos (stools), idols, necklaces, a mortar and pestle, flints, blades, and stone collars. In addition, there are the human remains of a woman, possibly sacrificed, found among 187 bodies discovered buried under one of the bateyes. There’s also a gift shop selling literature about the native cultures and traditional crafts made by local artisans.

Don’t be misled by the re-creation of a Taíno village on the site. That culture is not known to have inhabited this land, but it’s interesting to see how the bohio (a conical wood and straw hut inhabited by commoners) and caney (a rectangular wood and straw structure where the cacique leaders lived) were constructed.

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