The San Juan Daily Star
Indigenous ceremonial centers receive million-dollar injection from FEMA
By The Star Staff
The facilities that house the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Ponce, the Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Center in Utuado and the Cueva del Indio Ceremonial Park in Las Piedras, three areas of great archaeological and historical value in Puerto Rico, received an allegation of nearly $1.6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
“These federal funds will serve to restore the grounds of these three indigenous parks, which have an incalculable educational and cultural value to see first-hand a part of our history and our Taíno ancestry,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero said in a written statement Sunday. “These sites are also a way to promote tourism, as they receive thousands of visitors each year, both local and international, as well as students from our schools.”
At the iconic Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center, located on 31 acres, repairs include the exterior area of the museum, the building that houses exhibits and the parking lot, among others. Also found at the center are administrative offices, representations of circular bohíos or huts, bateyes (sacred spaces in Taíno culture) and plazas.
The Tibes center, open to the public since 1982, is considered by many archaeologists to be the oldest indigenous West Indian ceremonial complex and astronomical observatory in the Caribbean, as well as the largest indigenous cemetery in Puerto Rico. The center, which received about 20,000 visitors last year, will be repaired with an obligation of nearly $100,000.
Some of the works to be completed there are the removal and relocation of 19 stones in several bateyes and the replacement of some bohíos, among other repairs. According to the center’s administrator, Irma Zayas Alvarado, the architectural and engineering studies have been completed and the project will now move to the design phase. On the current state of the center’s indigenous pieces, she said the entire collection is safeguarded in the laboratory for future studies. Zayas Alvarado noted that for 27 years, specialists in archeology and anthropology have conducted research and several studies at the center, like those by Dr. Luis Antonio Curet, an archeologist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, with a team of professionals.
Curet said Tibes is a place with a history of great cultural value, where changes in ideology over hundreds of years are reflected in its pottery and petroglyphs. He said the preservation of the ancient ceremonial space “is very important to understand the ancestral history of Puerto Rico.”
Likewise, over $1.4 million was obligated to the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture for the Caguana Ceremonial Indigenous Center in Utuado, to replace lighting and repair the representation of bohíos and other buildings located in the site, such as the museum, an auditorium and the administrative offices. The repairs include fixing roofs, the electrical system, ceiling fans, two septic tanks, gutters and drainage system, and benches.
It is said that the Caguana center, considered one of the most important pre-Columbian archeological sites in the Caribbean, was built by the Taínos more than 800 years ago. It has cobblestone walkways that border some 10 bateyes and stone monoliths, many of which are decorated with petroglyphs. Because of its great archeological value, the National Park Service included the site in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 and named it a national historic landmark in 1993. It is also included in the UNESCO Astronomy World Heritage List.
Meanwhile, another obligation of over $72,000 will help repair the recreational facilities at the Cueva del Indio Ceremonial Park in Las Piedras, where repairs include replacing doors, waterproofing the roof and the wooden framework of the gazebos. The park, which has three bateyes and a group of stones that form a cave with petroglyphs, was discovered in 1982 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003.