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Guabancex: Taíno Goddess of Transformation


"Let's not forget our Taíno culture, " Abuela Antonia said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Guabancex gets angry when we forget our Taíno ancient ways.  You don't want to provoke Guabancex," Abuela said in a strident voice.

I swallowed hard.  My six-year old brain did not understand.  "Who is Guabancex?"

 "Your elementary school classmates told you about Santa Clara, the storm that recently hit Puerto Rico, especially our town.  Remember, you had moved from Chicago a month after the storm, " Abuela said. 

The arrival at my grandparents' house in Yabucoa was still fresh on my mind.  A small town on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, Yabucoa welcomed me with a torrent of sensations.  Bright colors, pungent scents, and exotic sounds pleasantly inundated me.  I felt like Alicia in Wonderland.  Sadly, my enchantment faded away during my first day in school.  I encountered trembling children recalling Santa Clara's devastating effects.  Listening to their heart breaking stories turned my stomach into knots.  

Abuela interrupted my reverie: "Guabancex is Santa Clara," she said. "When we forget our Taíno beliefs, the goddess punishes us by unleashing winds, storms, and floods."  Abuela grasped the Blessed Mother medal resting on her chest, and said, "Guabancex is Huracán, the goddess of hurricanes."

In a tremulous voice I asked, How can we prevent hurricanes?

"We cannot control nature, but you can avoid angering Guabancex," Abuela answered.  "You can begin by remembering the Taínos when you eat guayaba (guava), papaya, or yuca; recline on a hamaca (hammock); and play the maraca.   All of these words come from the Taíno language.  Abuela was silent for a while, and then said: "When you watch the huracán (hurricane) reports on TV, you witness Guabancex in action."

At school I learned more about the Taínos.  "The indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Taínos were American Indians who developed a delicate art in the form of carved enigmatic images in bone, wood , and rocks," my  teacher, Mrs. Cuevas, instructed. 


"They had an elaborate religion where the cemí, a sculptural sacred object, symbolized deities, ancestors, and spirits."  Mrs. Cuevas opened a book and showed us a picture of a cemí


"Unfortunately, the Taínos are gone," Mrs. Cuevas said. I gasped, thinking of Abuela.  The teacher continued, "They died from illness brought by the conquistadores, and from slavery."  Mrs. Cuevas' eyes filled with tears.  "Many committed suicide to avoid subjugation," she said.

When I got home, I told Abuela what I had learned in school: "We don't have to worry about hurricanes anymore because the Taínos are dead."

"No!" Abuela's voice sounded like thunder.  She looked into my eyes and said, "The Taínos are alive."

A few weeks later, the TV announced the arrival of another tropical storm.  The memories of my classmates' tales about the Santa Clara destruction filled me with fear.  Abuelo Mato nailed wooden planks on our house's doors and windows to protect against Guabancex's savage winds. I felt like I was trapped inside a dark cave, and held my stomach in pain.  

Abuela Antonia noticed my distress.  "Don't worry," she said, giving me a big hug.  "This is how the Taínos used to protect themselves from Guabancex's fury.  They sheltered in caves and practiced the cohoba ceremony."  Abuela continued in a soft voice, "The shaman began the ritual by reciting magical words and playing a sacred maraca.   Then, the Taínos inhaled hallucinogenic powders made from the seeds of the peregrina (Piptadenia Anadanthera) plant, a tree native to the Caribbean.  The cohoba ceremony helped them to communicate with the gods."  Abuela smiled and said, "Let's do our own cohoba ceremony." 

We went to the kitchen and Abuela turned the radio on. The voice of Sylvia Rexach caressed us with the bolero, Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sands).  Abuela sang along with Sylvia: Soy la arena que la ola nunca toca (I am the sand that the wave never touches), while she prepared a special kind of chocolate. 

An intoxicating scent penetrated the air.  Just smelling it made my mouth water.

"This chocolate is magical, " Abuela declared. "It will help your stomach."

The exquisite chocolate tasted like no other.  Homemade cookies complemented the enchantment.  Needless, to say, the cohoba ritual relieved my stomach distress.  From that day on, we celebrated our cohoba cermony during every storm season.  Tropical storms punished Puerto Rico during my childhood and adolescence, but none was as destructive as Santa Clara. 

As I grew up, I studied more about the Tainos.  I learned that Guabancex controlled the uncontrollable forces of nature.  Twin male companions--Guatauba, the god of thunder, and Coastriskie, the god fo torrential floods, assisted Guabancex/Huracán. Ramón Pané, a Spanish cleric who chronicled his 1493 travels to the Americas, wrote that the Taínos understood the circular movement of the hurricanes because they painted Guabancex with two big arms moving in opposite directions.  

I became interested in the Taíno matriarchal religion.  I learned that Atabeyra, the supreme goddess of creation, was the Mother of All.  When I read Eugenio Fernández Méndez's book, Art and Mythology of the Taíno Indians of the Greater West Indies, I learned that Guabancex was Atabeyra's dark manifestation.  Similar to the Hindu goddess Kali (a destructive aspect of Devi), Guabancex brought suffering.  I envisioned Guabancex as an all-powerful goddess.

Years passed, and I decided to move back to the continental United States.  Before I left Puerto Rico, my brother David painted a picture of a cemí, and gave it to me as a farewell gift.


I landed in New England during a freezing winter.  Glacial weather, gray skies, and dead vegetation made me miss the island.  What is more, culture shock possessed me like an evil spirit.  Fortunately, I remembered Abuela's words, El tiempo lo cura todo (Time heals everything), and slowly got adjusted to my new normal.  I completed graduate school, married, and went on with my life.  Throughout these years I kept my brother's cemí painting.  However, the Taínos receded in my memory.  That is, until I heard some news from Puerto Rico.

In the early 2000's Dr. Juan Martínez-Cruzado, a geneticist from the University of Puerto Rico, engaged in an island wide DNA study.  He found that 61 percent of Puerto Ricans had American Indian mitochondrial (maternal) DNA, while 27 percent had African, and 12 percent had Caucasian. Interestingly, mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother and does not change or blend over time. These DNA findings make sense because many European colonists fathered mestizo children with Taíno women.  Their offspring later mixed with Africans, creating what today are Puerto Ricans.  Dr. Martínez-Cruzado concluded that the majority of present day Puerto Ricans have American Indian blood.

Like a hurricane, the Puerto Rican DNA research brought Guabancex storming into my mind.  As a child, I was scared of her devastating fury.  As a young woman, I admired Guabancex's power.  Finally, as a middle aged woman, I recognized the goddess' true meaning. Like the Hindu Kali, Guabancex transforms through destruction.

The Taíno goddess awakened a part of me that I though was dead.

Just as Abuela said, the Taínos are alive. 


Art:  paintings by David Comas, photographs by Frederick M Jacobsen

Last modified on
As a psychologist, healer, and writer Lillian Comas is interested in spirituality, feminism, and multiculturalism.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Sunday, 09 July 2017

    Ms Comas,

    Thank you so much for sharing the god-lore of traditional Puerto Rican spirituality with us. I always enjoy your posts.

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Monday, 10 July 2017

    Hi Jamie:
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate your comments regarding the Puerto Rican spirituality. Best wishes, Lillian

  • Jamie
    Jamie Tuesday, 11 July 2017

    Ms Comas,

    Where I come from, in the hill towns of northeastern Connecticut, frogs are considered a sort of symbol of local identity. The frog appears in various local landmarks.

    One thing that I've always found interesting, is that many Puerto Ricans who live in the area readily embrace the frog symbolism. I'd read a story about a Taino princess and a frog, but do they have a deeper connection to the Gods and spirits of your ancestral homeland?

  • Lillian Comas
    Lillian Comas Wednesday, 12 July 2017

    Hi Jamie:

    Thank you so much for your question. You are right. There is a Puerto Rican legend about a Taino goddess who fell in love with a Taíno man named Coquí. You can read the story in the internet under the title "The Legend of Coquí."

    It is a beautiful tale that explains the love we Puerto Ricans have for our native coquí-- a small frog that sings "co-quí, co--qui," thus, getting his name from his singing.
    The coquí is a Puerto Rican national symbol. If you visit the island you will hear the soothing sounds of the coquí during the evening.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Thursday, 13 July 2017


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