Boricuas Seek Support for Protecting Indigenous Sites: Threats to Bateyes in Jayuya highlight need for community vigilance

Liliana Taboas Cruz | Indigenous Rights | Commentary | February 13, 2019

On the morning of Friday 18th of January 2019, a call on social media was made by visiting Boricua archaeologist Dr. Isabel Rivera-Collazo asking for urgent help in protecting an archaeological site in Jayuya. The site, known as Bateyes Sonadero and Muntaner, is located in the Barrio Jauca in Jayuya. According to records at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP), is known to contain a batey (Caribbean ceremonial plaza and ball court, outlined with stones which include monoliths), remnants of a village, ceramics, and lithic material. Archeologist who reported the land movements on site, Adalberto Alvarado, told local press "Ese yacimiento era de uno de los yacimientos que tenia menos impacto en el pueblo" (This archaeological site was one of the less impacted sites in the area.). Alvarado had been inspecting the known batey sites following hurricane Maria. The owner of the property used heavy machinery to clear land for agricultural purposes. In Puerto Rico, land removal requires permits to protect archaeological sites. The owner did not have proper permits to comply with the 112 law. Though the ongoing threat had been reported earlier in the week through formal channels, it wasn't until that Friday morning that the owner forced the archaeologists off the property and started the land removal despite warnings of the illegality of his actions. It was at this point that the social media call was made by Dr. Isabel Rivera-Collazo, who pleaded with the Institute of Culture and the general public to intercede.

The call was answered by many native Puerto Rican and indigenous activists. Personal visits were made by a local Boricua archaeology students to the ICP office in Old San Juan, who informed that archaeologist Dr. Carlos Perez, head of the archaeology office at the ICP, would visit the Jayuya site that Friday evening. Since then the ICP representatives have assured that the destruction has been delayed, though claiming the severity of the removal was still unclear. Their investigation is ongoing.

In Jayuya, local indigenous elder and activist Margarita Kukuya informs that the damage to the site has been extensive and "devastating," describing a scene where batey stones are pushed into a nearby river, while others piled up and broken with debris from the land clearing. This particular site had been the subject of study in 2007 by Dr. Yasha N. Rodriguez Melendez as part of her doctoral thesis. She wrote, "Bateys are endangered and their study becomes increasingly difficult as fewer of them remain." Yasha described bateys as "a permanent structure that has become part of the landscape and visibly identifies a space as different from the rest." These statements only reinforce what indigenous communities have tirelessly expressed. These sites, having immense cultural value and significance, need to be protected and should remain undisturbed.

Indigenous activists have used this opportunity to highlight the need for community vigilance of archaeological sites which have immense historic, social, cultural, and spiritual value to Boricua People, Caribbean Indigenous Peoples, and as Global Patrimony. The need for further education to generate more public awareness and pride in these important historical sites is critical to their preservation. For Caribbean Indigenous Peoples these sites represent the presence of their ancestors and connection to their traditional lands and should remain undisturbed. For archaeologists, the invaluable information contained in these places are completely destroyed with any disturbance and represent a loss of cultural and historic knowledge for the people of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and the world. For local Boricua, as well as those in the diaspora, these sites are meant to be cared for and protected for future generations.

Indigenous Puerto Ricans do not belong to any federally-recognized tribe, they remain as part of the hundreds of non-recognized tribes and indigenous peoples in the United States, despite the US adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which, among many others, includes the right of self-determination. Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are currently facing one the of worst political, economic, and humanitarian crises in modern times, dealing with a colonial government, an imposed control board, the whims of the federal government, and a debt negotiation where they have no say. The austerity measures being imposed to pay for the debt (parts of which are already being declared illegal) directly affect healthcare, education, natural resources, energy production, pensions, and security. These issues took a turn for the worse after hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017, causing the death of over 3,000 people and the exodus of hundreds of thousands in a single year.

Caribbean Indigenous Peoples and all living in Puerto Rico deserve better than this. This call is for URGENT support and assistance to those organizing to protect their sacred sites and cultural patrimony, as well as highlight the need for education that includes indigenous perspectives, methodologies, and philosophies that generate the social consciousness needed to protect these sites as a united community.

Let the ICP know you support indigenous participation and perspectives when it comes to access, protection, and management of sacred sites, as well as to demand the strict application of Puerto Rico's laws that protect archaeological sites so that they may be respectfully enjoyed and studied by future generations. The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena can be reached by calling (787) 724-0700.

Let your local representative know you support a just recovery for Puerto Rico, reject the undemocratic federal control board created by PROMESA, and support a full audit of the debt of Puerto Rico, a US colony.

If you wish to support the indigenous coalition, Pueblo Indigena Taino Unido, created to address these issues, please contact for further information.

Lili, Jibaro-Boricua/Taino

Cupey, Boriquen

I humbly present these words to all those willing to receive them. Seguimos.