Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center

Last updated

Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes
Taino Village.JPG
Taíno village at Tibes
Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center
Established30 April 1982 [1]
LocationRoad PR-503
Sector La Vega de Taní
Barrio Tibes
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Type Archeology museum
Visitors60,000–80,000 per year [2]
DirectorJosé Reyes Feliciano (default Director) [2]
OwnerAutonomous Municipality of Ponce
Website http://ponce.inter.edu/tibes/tibes.html
Centro Ceremonial Indígena
USA Puerto Rico location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Coordinates 18°2′32.05″N66°37′18.41″W / 18.0422361°N 66.6217806°W / 18.0422361; -66.6217806 Coordinates: 18°2′32.05″N66°37′18.41″W / 18.0422361°N 66.6217806°W / 18.0422361; -66.6217806
Area40 acres (16 ha)
NRHP reference No. 78003381 [3]
Added to NRHP14 April 1978

The Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center (Spanish : Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes) in Sector La Vega de Taní, [4] Barrio Tibes, Ponce, Puerto Rico, houses one of the most important archaeological discoveries made in the Antilles. The discovery provides an insight as to how the indigenous tribes of the Igneri and Taínos lived and played during and before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Tibes is the oldest Antillean Indian ceremonial and sports complex yet uncovered in Puerto Rico. Within its boundaries is also the largest indigenous cemetery discovered to date – consisting of 186 human skeletons, most from the Igneri and the rest from the pre-Taíno cultures. [5] Based on the orientation of the ceremonial plazas, this is also believed to be the oldest astronomical observatory in the Antilles. [6] The museum was established in 1982 and restored in 1991. [7]



The Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center is one of the largest and most significant indigenous sites in the Caribbean islands, and is the largest ceremonial site in Puerto Rico. [8]

The continuous occupation from Igneri to Taíno times, the presence of the large stone constructions, the presence of shell middens and stratified deposits, all afford an opportunity to investigate some of the major substantive and theoretical problems in Caribbean archeology. Besides lending itself to the traditional problems of culture, history and chronology, the site provides the ideal setting for the study of the cultural processes responsible for the transition from Igneri to Taíno cultural manifestation. There has been some controversy in the literature as to whether there was a direct unilinear, in situ, transition from one to the other or whether the two manifestations actually represent two different groups. The data at this site can contribute significantly to the resolution of this research problem, as well as to other basic questions pertaining to the changes in sociopolitical organization which may have gone along with the changes evidenced in the material culture. [9]

The site also lends itself to the study of problems relating to extra-Antillean influences on the Caribbean. The evidence from the site indicates that possible influences from Mesoamerica, e.g. the ball game, are in evidence in Puerto Rico as early as 700 A.D. The presence of shell middens and refuse heaps at the site will afford an opportunity to study subsistence patterns as well as possibly some information on the paleo-environment. The burials and associated grave goods will provide an insight into social, religious, ceremonial/symbolic systems of these occupants, as well as provide information on prehistoric demographic patterns, nutrition, disease and other prehistoric population characteristics. [9]

Over 186 human remains were found within the boundaries of the ceremonial center, in what is considered to be the largest indigenous cemetery in the region. [10] Most of the remains were from the Igneri Culture and DNA samples have been taken from the remains for further studies. Information such as the ceremonies, eating habits, ceramic styles and much more has been provided from these remains and from the excavations. [11]

The site is now a tourist attraction which was opened to the public on 30 April 1982. [1] Artifacts found on the site are on display and can be seen in a museum on the site and at the Ponce Museum of Art.

It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on 14 April 1978. It is known as the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes.

Physical appearance

The Centro Ceremonial Indigena at Tibes, Ponce, Puerto Rico, was discovered during the days after heavy rain downpours. The survey was conducted by the Sociedad Guaynia de Arqueologia e Historia and was sponsored by the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture. Clearing the area's high brush revealed a number of shell middens, as well as the major features of the site which were the carefully laid out stone constructions traditionally referred to as ball courts. [8]

A total of seven ball courts and a quadrangular plaza are distributed throughout the site. Five of the ball courts are rectangular, consisting of two parallel lines of flat stones and open at both ends. The remaining two ball courts are U-shaped, bounded on each side by a walk paved with flat river cobbles and boulders. Another major feature of the site is a series of triangular stone arrangements surrounding a flat excavated area. [8]

The main feature of the site is the nearly quadrangular enclosure which has been called a plaza. It is bounded on two sides by a walk paved with flat stones while the other two sides are defined with flat slabs. Many of the stones surrounding the plaza bear petroglyphs. The terrain within the ball courts and plaza have been artificially modified. Several shell middens are scattered irregularly throughout the site and is some instances the ball courts intrude into them, indicating that the site was occupied for an extended period of time with a gradual evolution into a ceremonial center. [8]

A number of test pits have been excavated to establish an absolute and relative chronology as well as to define the potential for the site. These indicate that the site was originally occupied by the earliest agricultural immigrants into the greater Antilles, the Igneri. Radiocarbon dates and pottery analyses have revealed a continuous period of occupation between 400 AD and 1000 AD The last inhabitants of the site were presumably the Taínos. [8]

Pre-Columbian era

The Taínos who inhabited Puerto Rico before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493, played a series of games which were both ceremonial and recreational, such as races, contests involving body strength and fishing. However, the two most important of these sports were the simulated warrior fights (similar to the gladiators) and ball playing. [11]

Body strength games

According to the eyewitness account of Spanish historian Pedro Martir de Angleria, the body strength games were played in front of the whole village in the presence of the "Cacique" (Chief) and in some occasions an invited guest. Two teams would fight with bows and arrows in defense of their possessions as if they were enemies. In one of the events, witnessed by Angleria, four men died and many others were injured in the space of one hour. The contest would come to an end only if the Cacique gave the ending signal. [11]

Ball games

Ballpark Centro Ceremonial Indigena de Tibes.jpg
View of the Indigenous ballparks at Centro Ceremonial Indigena de Tibes Tibes.JPG
View of the Indigenous ballparks at Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes

The ball game, called "Batey", was played in the ceremonial ball court, which they also called a "Batey", situated in the middle of the village. The fields were either shaped like a triangle or like a "U". The ball was called Batu and made of rubber and vegetable leaves, which gave it flexibility. Two teams played against each other. One team to the west and the other to the east. The fathers and sons played on the opposite teams. The objective of the game was to keep the ball in constant motion. The players were allowed to use their heads, elbows, shoulders and knees. The team would lose a point, if for any reason the ball stopped moving. The score was kept with a mark on the ground and the game would end after the losing team received a certain number of points. The winners were treated like heroes and the losers were sacrificed. [12] The game had changed by the time the first Spanish settlers arrived. According to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas the game was played in the following manner: "One team served the ball and the other team returned it, using anything but the hands. If the ball arrived at shoulder height, it was returned like lightning. When it came in near the ground, the player rapidly hit the ground, striking the ball with his buttocks. Play continued from side to side until an error was made. [13]


The site was discovered in 1975 in the aftermath of Hurricane Eloise. [2] In that year, archaeologists from the Guaynia Society of Archaeology and History at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico, members of the Archaeological Society of the Southwest, announced the discovery of the ruins of a "Batey" in barrio Tibes, on the northern outskirts of the city of Ponce. A total of 9 ball fields were discovered buried under thick forest overgrowth, dating back to AD 25 in the area which is now known as "Centro Ceremonial Indigena de Tibes" (The Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center). The fields varied in size from 12.8 meters (42 ft) long by 10.9 meters (35.8 ft) wide to 35.1 meters (115 ft) long by 9.3 meters (30.5 ft) wide. [11] [13]

Early inhabitants

An Areyto Ceremony Areyto ceremony of the Taino.jpg
An Areyto Ceremony

According to archeologists, the ball parks and ceremonial centers were built by the Igneri Culture, a Pre-Taíno tribe which inhabited the island. Modern technology tells us that the area was populated in 25 AD and that the Igneri abandoned the area in 600 AD for some unknown reason or reasons. The Taínos populated the same area in 1000 AD. [11]

According to archaeologist Osvaldo Garcia Goyco, there is evidence that some of the plazas are oriented in relation to the equinox and solstices of the four seasons of the year. This is not unusual since the Taínos cultivated their crops in accordance to their astrological observations. The Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center is the oldest astronomical observatory in the Caribbean. [11] [13]


The Taínos had their own culture, customs and governing structure. Besides using the fields for ball playing, they would also use the plazas to celebrate the "Areyto" which was a celebration consisting of telling an oral history told by singing and dancing accompanied by music. Most of the knowledge and information that we have about the traditions of the Taínos came about the personal observations and historical documentations of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas described an "Areyto" in the following manner: "And on this island what I could understand was that their songs which they call "areytos", were their history passed from person to person, fathers to sons from the present to the future, as here uniting many Indians... passing three or four hours or more until the teacher or guide of the dance finished the history, and sometimes they went from one day to the next." [11]

Arrival of the Spaniards

When the Spaniards arrived on the island one of their first actions was to forcibly convert the Taínos into Christianity. They considered the ceremonial and religious practices of the Taínos as uncivilized and a form of paganism. The Taínos were enslaved and forced to build fortifications and to work the mines. Many died because of this harsh treatment, and also because of the introduction to diseases such as smallpox to the island by the Spaniards. However, before the Taíno tribes ceased to exist in Puerto Rico, Spanish historians such as Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, were able to witness and record the life and customs of these people. [11]

Ongoing work

The continued restoration of Tibes by archaeologists is not an easy one. The following are some factors that are taken into consideration: [14] [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ponce, Puerto Rico</span> City and municipality of Puerto Rico

Ponce is both a city and a municipality on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. The city is the seat of the municipal government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caguax</span> Taino leader in Borikén/Puerto Rico

Caguax was a Taíno cacique who lived on the island of Borikén before and during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The name of his yucayeque, or Taino village, was Turabo; it comprised the Caguas Valley and surrounding mountains. This area today comprises the modern municipalities of Caguas, Aguas Buenas, Gurabo, and portions of San Lorenzo, Juncos and Las Piedras in east-central Puerto Rico. Guaybanex Caguax was an early convert to the Catholic faith; he adopted the Spanish name Francisco at the time of his baptism. His high rank in Taino society allowed him to also retain his Taino names, Guaybanex, and his surname, Caguax. Francisco Guaybanex Caguax sought to avoid conflict with the Spanish; as a powerful chief in the northern slopes and plains of the island he understood the heavy toll his people would suffer if they were to oppose the Spanish rule, and he sought peaceful ways to deal with the situation. As early as 1508, Caguax cooperated with the colonists’ requests for labor and a food supply. In 1511, he was one of only two chiefs who accepted the peace terms that the Spanish had offered a few months after the Taino Revolt started. In 1512, he was taken captive and transported to Hacienda del Toa. There he was humiliated before his nitainos by being forced to become the governor's personal servant. Caguax died in captivity in 1518 or early 1519. He was succeeded by his daughter, Maria Bagaaname.

Agüeybaná was the principal and most powerful cacique (chief) of the Taíno people in "Borikén" when the Spanish first arrived on the island on November 19, 1493.

Batéy was the name given to a special plaza around which the Caribbean Taino built their settlements. It was usually a rectangular area surrounded by stones with carved symbols (petroglyphs).

Hayuya was the Taíno Cacique (Chief) who governed the area in Puerto Rico which now bears his name.

At the time of first contact between Europe and the Americas, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean included the Taíno of the northern Lesser Antilles, most of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas, the Kalinago of the Lesser Antilles, the Ciguayo and Macorix of parts of Hispaniola, and the Guanahatabey of western Cuba. The Kalinago have maintained an identity as an indigenous people, with a reserved territory in Dominica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site</span> Indigenous historic site in Utuado, Puerto Rico

The Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site is an archaeological site located in Caguana, Utuado in Puerto Rico, considered to be one of the most important Pre-Columbian sites in the West Indies. The site is known for its well-preserved ceremonial ball courts and petroglyph-carved monoliths. Studies estimate the in-situ courts to be over 700 years old, built by the Taíno around 1270 AD.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Agüeybaná II</span> Taíno tribal leader and military chief

Agüeybaná II, born Güeybaná and also known as Agüeybaná El Bravo, was one of the two principal and most powerful caciques of the Taíno people in "Borikén" when the Spaniards first arrived in Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493. Agüeybaná II led the Taínos of Puerto Rico in the Battle of Yagüecas, also known as the "Taíno rebellion of 1511" against Juan Ponce de León and the Spanish Conquistadors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guarionex</span> Taino cacique of Hispaniola

Guarionex was a Taíno cacique from Maguá in the island of Hispaniola at the time of the arrival of the Europeans to the Western Hemisphere in 1492. He was the son of cacique Guacanagarix, the great Taíno prophet who had the vision of the coming of the Guamikena.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archaeology museum</span>

An archaeology museum is a museum that specializes in the display of archaeological artifacts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">José G. Tormos Vega</span> Puerto Rican politician

José Guillermo Tormos Vega, known as Joselín, was a Puerto Rican politician and Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico from 2 January 1977 to 22 February 1984. Tormos Vega is credited with establishing, during his term as mayor, Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes as a museum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Portugués (Ponce)</span> Barrio of Ponce, Puerto Rico

Portugués Rural or, more commonly, simply Portugués, is one of the 31 barrios in the municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Along with Magueyes, Tibes, Montes Llanos, Maragüez, Machuelo Arriba, Sabanetas, and Cerrillos, Portugués is one of the municipality's eight rural interior barrios. It was founded in 1831.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taíno</span> Indigenous people of the Caribbean

The Taíno were a historic indigenous people of the Caribbean, whose culture has been continued today by Taíno descendant communities and Taíno revivalist communities. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of what is now Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the northern Lesser Antilles. The Lucayan branch of the Taíno were the first New World peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus, in the Bahama Archipelago on October 12, 1492. The Taíno spoke a dialect of the Arawakan language group. They lived in agricultural societies ruled by caciques with fixed settlements and a matrilineal system of kinship and inheritance. Taíno religion centered on the worship of zemis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Feria de Artesanías de Ponce</span> Crafts fair in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The Feria de Artesanías de Ponce, formally, Feria de Artesanías y Muestra de Arte de Ponce, is an event that takes place every year in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where artists, craftsmen and artisans showcase their products. The products showcased are traditionally hand-made and in small quantities. The fair centers around crafts that highlight the traditional cultural background of Puerto Rico, including Taino, African, and Spanish traditions. The event started in 1974 and is reported to draw "thousands of visitors". It lasts three days and is held over a weekend during the month of April.

Areíto or areyto was a Taíno language word adopted by the Spanish colonizers to describe a type of religious song and dance performed by the Taíno people of the Caribbean. The areíto was a ceremonial act that was believed to narrate and honor the heroic deeds of Taíno ancestors, chiefs, gods, and cemis. Areítos involved lyrics and choreography and were often accompanied by varied instrumentation. They were performed in the central plazas of the villages and were attended by the local community members as well as members of neighboring communities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Museo de Arqueología de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico</span> Archaeology museum in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The Museo de Arqueología de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico is a museum of archaeology located at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico (PUCPR) main campus on Avenida Las Américas in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The museum is an educational unit of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico's Biblioteca Encarnación Valdés, the university's main library. It has a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts from the past civilizations of Puerto Rico, including Igneri, Pre-Taíno, and Taíno cultures. In addition to displaying its permanent and special exhibitions, the museum also guards numerous other artifacts which are currently not on display due to its space limitations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taino archaeology</span>

The Taino were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and the principal inhabitants of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Caribbean archaeologists have theorized that by the mid 16th century the native people of the Caribbean were extinct. However, the story of Taino extinction may not be the case according to recent research and archaeological findings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ball Court/Plaza Sites of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands</span> United States historic place

Ball Court/Plaza Sites of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are the subject of a Multiple Property Submission to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The submission consists of 56 archaeological sites containing bateyes, out of which five have been inscribed in the NRHP.


  1. 1 2 3 Carmelo Rosario Natal. Ponce En Su Historia Moderna: 1945–2002. Published by Secretaría de Cultura y Turismo of the Government of the Autonomous Municipality of Ponce. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 2003. p. 141.
  2. 1 2 3 En picada el Parque Indígena de Tibes. Reinaldo Millán La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 1 May 2013. Year 31. Issue 1535. p. 10. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  3. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. 9 July 2010.
  4. Tibes Cumple Cuatro Decadas. Periódico La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico Year 39. Issue 2004. 27 April – 3 May 2022. p. 7. Accessed 27 April 2022. Archived.
  5. Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. "Let's Go to Ponce: Insider's Guide to South Puerto Rico." Oldest Antillean ceremonial and sports complex. Also largest indigenous cemetery discovered so far. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
  6. Knowing Our Roots: Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center (Esbozo histórico). By Archaeologist Luis Á. Rodríguez Gracia. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  7. Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades. Ponce Ciudad Museo 2001. 2001. p. 130.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Juan Gonzalez-Colon, President, Sociedad Guaynia de Arqueologia e Historia, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Luis M. Rodriguez-Morales, Certifying Official and State Historic Preservation Officer, State Historic Preservation Office, San Juan, Puerto Rico. February 16, 1978. In National Register of Historic Places Registration Form – Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. United States Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (Washington, D.C.) p. 2. Listing Reference Number 78003381. 14 April 1978.
  9. 1 2 Juan Gonzalez-Colon, President, Sociedad Guaynia de Arqueologia e Historia, Ponce, Puerto Rico. Luis M. Rodriguez-Morales, Certifying Official and State Historic Preservation Officer, State Historic Preservation Office, San Juan, Puerto Rico. February 16, 1978. In National Register of Historic Places Registration Form – Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. United States Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (Washington, D.C.) p. 3. Listing Reference Number 78003381. 14 April 1978.
  10. Largest cemetery in the region
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. Luis Á. Rodríguez Gracia. Accessed 5 May 2018.
  12. The Origin of Ball Games Archived 21 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  13. 1 2 3 Cultura e Historia (Culture and History). GotoPuertoRico.com. Accessed 5 May 2018.
  14. Tibes. Puerto RicoDailyTrips.com 2018. Accessed 20 May 2018.