Echoes of the Past:
Las Caritas, Dominican Republic
Several million Taino may have lived here when Columbus first arrived.
The people who called themselves Taino, “men of the good” to distinguish themselves from the more war-like Caribs, originated in the Orinoco region of South America 2,000 years. Within 50 years, they were virtually annihilated by Spanish disease, slavery and brutality.
Yet traces of the Taino still remain. The Taino had turned the dry southwest into a bountiful agricultural region by bringing water to the fields from the mountains, a method still employed today. Their square homes made of palm wood with thatch roofs, also called bohios, are still the predominant form of rural housing.
And the Taino left behind written messages in the form of petroglyphs and cave paintings. Although researchers may not have a clue as to what most of the symbols mean, that doesn't stop the work from being appreciated.
One of the best examples of Taino petroglyphs (at least they're assumed to be Taino) isn't far from where the boat leaves for Isla Cabritos on Lake Enriquillo.
The figures are inscribed in the soft cliff rock and inside a shallow cave about a mile south of the village of La Descubierta at a place called Las Caritas (“Little Faces”). A sign which is visible only when driving from south to north marks the spot.
The faces aren't all that little since I could easily see them from the road. After making the five-minute scramble over the loose rocks up to them I realize they are several times larger than my own face.
They all are quite simple, with a round circle for the head, a couple of holes for the eyes and a quarter-moon slash for the mouth. They remind me of Smiley Faces that were popular in the 1960s and 70s.
Farther down the road are another group of smiley faces that are much more difficult to reach. Since they're quite visible from my car, I simply examine them through my telephoto lens.
Why are these cliff faces smiling down on Lake Enriquillo? Were they made before or after the Spanish arrived? Are they actually the work of the Taino or some other group. No one knows.