Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Mystical Workings of Maracas Waterfalls

On a lovely weekend morning, I ventured to Maracas Waterfalls with a group of fellow students. After a short hike in the lush, green forest surrounding, we found ourselves climbing into a grand opening to take in the largest waterfall in Trinidad. In the midst of the foliage was pathway of large rocks and boulders leading to the area under the falls. Beneath the curtain of falling water, there stood cluster of people dressed in various degrees of classiness. 

One older woman perched on a boulder beside the falling water, mist billowing over her thick, dark robes. I saw her lips moving in endless speech as she tilted her head back and poured a white liquid over her face and down her jacket. Several other people stood beneath the falls (which we realized later was a very strong current of water) and chanted loudly in prayer while washing themselves in a combination of milk and water. These substances represent purification of the body and soul.

After asking a few locals, we realized these were the Spiritual Shouter Baptists, known particularly in Trinidad and Tobago (a country which banned the practice in 1917 and later repealed the ban, giving the Spiritual Baptists their own national holiday on March 30th)! Spiritual Baptists consider themselves to be Christians with elements of traditional African religion. It was brought to Trinidad by the "Merikens", former American slaves.

The woman in the long gown was a regal sight to behold. She walked with a large stick, its wood rough and oddly shaped. Despite her tiring limbs, her movements had great purpose and strength. She kindly explained to us curious travelers what her practices meant, describing the water and milk as purifying sources to the body and the Baptist hymns, the "moaning", as a way of fasting… feeling the power of the Holy Spirit.

I really enjoyed watching an altered form of prayer. Shouting, singing, and bathing beneath the waterfall is, to me, quite an unfamiliar way of displaying religious devotion. It aids the realization that there are so many ways of exploring spirituality. I had my own sort of spiritual experience, fighting the water's current and grappling my way up the rocks to sit beneath the waterfalls. There are so many ways of exploring the connection of the mind and body with the natural world around you. Drinking the water of the Trinidadian waterfalls out of a hollowed coconut shell is just one.

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