The Sacred Taino Earthmound, the Conuco, is an enduring Spirit who continues to bring forth its wisdom and solutions to our lives! The Conuco was the mounded gardens of our Ancestors, fertilized with Bat Guano, shells of sea creatures, rotting organic matter, and fertilized most importantly by the Spirit of the Taino Dead.
The Conuco is Ancestral Wisdom in a form that is especially important in the challenging roads that lie ahead in now adapting to the climate change that is already taking place, and which cannot be stopped. Adaptation is essential, and the Taino Conuco once again rises, as if from Coabey herself, to bring forth the fertile life giving mounds that simultaneously feed the living, honor the dead and catch and filter the erosive waters of the rains.
Water is Life! However water slides away down the hillside, eroding the hillside creating gullies like the ones shown in the cheeks of Boinayel, Cemis of the rains (shown above). This is especially true for soils that have been cleared for agriculture or horticulture, and for slopes that are steep. Erosion is exponentially worsened with impermeable surfaces, such as concrete blanket our Mother. A heavy rain takes valuable rich topsoil and deposits it into streams, who swell with the rains into raging, muddy rushing rivers. This topsoil is then taken into bays and oceans where it can negatively effect marine ecosystems. In this same way water also slips away from the gardens which soon dry out once again. With the amplification of the ferocity of rainstorms and the unpredictability of droughts, the Conuco becomes even more important.
There are many forms of Conucos that we work with today. Some are small and composed of soils, manures and mulches. Others are built up with rotting wood or branches and any other biodegradable natural substance, such as old clothes, bedding, oak pallets and so on. These are then covered with top soil which is collected in the process of flattening the hillside between Concucos to create terraces.
In this way the Conucos, which are placed on the contour of the hill are able to catch the water, and the rotting logs inside them act both as a sponge to absorb the water and as a source of fertility for the plants growing in the Conuco. These rotting logs will continue to decay releasing further fertility for years and acting as a carbon sink. The Conuco is a world of simultaneous putrefaction and regenerating growth, it is the world of the Dead and the Living in a Sacred Place. It is the Sacred Crossroads of Life and Death.
Within the decaying wood we see many organisms such as the beetle below who thrives in this decaying environment. We also know that there are many more micro-organisms, invisible to the naked eye, who contribute to this incredible process of decay and the recycle of nutrients that will once again be absorbed by life into root, stem, leaf, flower, seed and fruit. It is a world inside of a world that is vital to us as Tainos, Paleros and those who understand that our relationship to Mother Earth is Essential!
Also within the decaying wood we find fungi fruiting with its intricate arrays of white mycelium making networks throughout the wood. These are critical in the breakdown of the wood into humous. As Paleros this is another face of the Mpemba, the white chalk of the Dead!
Also within the Conuco are the multitude of ingredients that we add to attract the Spirit, to bring the blessings of the Spirits of the Waters, the Spirits of the Oceans and Floods; the elements that come from many Caminos of the Earth that bring Spiritual Strength and Resilience to the Conucos. For those who understand the essence of Fundamento, you will be able to see the expanding in understanding that allows one to define Fundamento also in terms of Conuco. The Conuco below is the same one as shown with all the logs, but is now covered with soil.
The Conucos pictured here are on the hillside adjacent to one of our Bateys and we see them as a natural extensions of the Batey, the necessary accompaniment to them. In the foreground of the photo below is an "Empress Tree" which is next to the area of the Conuco shown in the first photo which is the shrine for the Cemis and a space where we focus offerings for the Spirit. The Empress Tree is interesting in that it is not a native tree, however it flourishes as what is termed a "Weed Tree" along roadsides all over the area. This one sprung up somehow and has amazing huge tropical looking leaves in the summer which are nitrogen rich and form a wonderful mulch and soil amendment for the garden! The empress tree is a good example of adaptation and we likewise adapt to embrace the tree, just as our Ancestors would have.
In winter the Conucos are blanketed with snow and go through multiple freeze-thaw cycles that all enhance the soil. Below the Empress Tree along with a Palo Muerto (Dead standing tree) stand over the shrine of the Conuco Cemis. Yucca plants surround the Cemis, which is commonly found in Graveyards in this area. They mark and protect the sacred space.
Today we face a crossroads of Fire and Water as the Earth Changes gather momentum. Taino Ancestors built the Conucos without machinery, without metal! Here we are today seeking to bring solutions for healing for the Natural World and simultaneously for the world of all Living Beings, yet we are starting with a highly degraded and abused Earth surface. The soils have been depleted now here for hundreds of years through farming, logging, orchards, quarrying and more. Dramatic action is required and the numbers of people contributing to destruction and consumption is significantly greater that the numbers of people contributing to healing and regeneration. By using this small tractor, which is very efficient, we are creating the Conucos which will trap carbon, reduce erosion, grow a tremendous amount of plants, vegetables, fruits, raw materials, food for birds and other wildlife, as well as bring beauty and harmony to the environment, bringing happiness to the Living and the Dead! Once the Conuco is built it will continue indefinitely and our need for the tractor will greatly diminish. In our analysis it is wise to use what fossil fuel remains to make those positive and regenerative changes that can feed generations to come so that they will not need to rely on the fossil fuels.
Below the same Conuco which is all brush above is now covered with soil and will begin its process of decay!
A final view of the same Concuco from the opposite end reveals Ceremonial grounds in the distance. The Conuco will now go through the winter with all its magic occurring under its surface to break forth in greenery in the Spring! The shrub in the middle of the photo is the Elder bush, a native shrub which has become a extremely important plant for us here. It was a gift from Mother Earth herself as we did not plant any of the Elders that we have here. This fall for the first time we propagated Elders in the Conuco that has the Conuco Cemis Shrine. We look forward for the wisdom and knowledge we will gain in observing how the Conuco will enhance the Elder's growth! We see the working with the soil, the Earth herself as a great blessing and opportunity to reclaim once again our Ancestral Wisdom. We also see it as an opportunity to embrace the principle of humility as our hands get dirty and our sweat pours into the Earth. It is our way to show through ACTION our principle that the Rights of Mother Earth are Primary for all of our sustainability!