Cemi Museum – A Window to the Past
The town of Jayuya seems to be loaded with the traces of the ancient Taino Indian culture. It could be because the Tainos, and other indigenous cultures in Puerto Rico, appeared to have a preference of living and/or gathering together for ceremonies in the mountains in the central part of the island.
The Cemi Museum (Museo El Cemi, in Spanish) in Jayuya is a visitor center for the area and a showcase of Taino artifacts. Archaeological digs and large rocks with shapes carved into them (petroglyphs) prove that pre-Columbian cultures lived in this area. The leaders of Jayuya wanted to preserve and educate about the Taino culture, so they opened this odd-shaped museum in 1989.
What is a Cemi?
According to Taino tradition, a cemi is a god, spirit or ancestor. It is also the name given to the religious symbol that is the physical representation of a god. The most common shape for cemis in Puerto Rico is a form with three "points" carved in stone or wood. These idols have carved representations of both humans and animals.
The scholars who study this culture are not sure if the shape of the cemi was meant to mimic the shape of the nearby mountain range (Tres Picachos), but is sure looks similar.
The building that houses the museum is itself in the shape of a cemi. The museum is small, but it is nice. It has pieces of pottery, some tools and other artifacts from daily Taino life. There is a mural with examples of the petroglyphs that have been attributed to the Tainos and other indigenous cultures. Those petroglyphs have been found on rocks and caves all around the island, including Jayuya, Arecibo and Las Piedras.
The signs and informational placards in the museum are in both Spanish and English. The first thing to see at the museum is a video (about 20 minutes) of all the things the town of Jayuya has to offer. There is no audio track, but it does have subtitles (only in Spanish). The video helps you know what to look for during your visit to Jayuya.
After the video, you’re free to wander through the museum — which takes all of 10 minutes.
What Else is Nearby?
Casa Canales located adjacent to the Cemi Museum. Dona Juana Waterfall is about 15 minutes away. Not far up the road is the Hacienda Coffee, that offers tours on Friday – Sunday. Piedra Escrita (which is a big rock covered with petroglyphs in the middle of the river) is a short drive away. It is possible to make a day out of exploring the area in and around Jayuya.
If you do head to this area, keep in mind that the roads are mountainous and twisty, so plan accordingly so you can get back to "flat ground" before sunset.
Admission costs $1/adult and 50¢/child.
The museum is open 7 days/week from 9am – 4pm.
Allow about 30 minutes to view the museum.
You can call 787-828-4618 or 787-828-1241 for more information.
There are clean restroom available in the buildings behind the police station (across the parking lot from the museum).
Driving directions: From Route 149, turn left on Route 144 and take it to KM 9.3 (or so). You will see the Cemi Museum and police station from road.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.