This museum in the mountains of central Puerto Rico gets its name and shape directly from its subject. The three-pointed stone shape is a cemi, an important spiritual object among the Taíno, an indigenous people of the Caribbean region. The El Cemi Museum in Jayuya showcases cemis and other Taíno artifacts in its unusually-shaped home.
For the Taíno, each cemi is deity or ancestral spirit housed in a sculptural object. The carvings bring the spirit to life. Cemis were made of stone and other materials, and though designs vary, the three-pointed form is a common element. Scholars believe that the cemi’s shape was inspired by the Tres Picachos (Three Peaks) mountain, which the Taíno held sacred. The central point represents a mountain peak—home to Yaya, the Creator. The mouth-like point represents Coabey, the land of the dead. The final point represents the land of the living.
The El Cemi Museum’s building takes the shape of one of these sacred symbols; when viewing the structure against the mountains behind it, it’s easy to see how this symbol mirrors the topography. Inside the small museum there are cemis and other Taíno artifacts on display, including a carved wooden tongue depressor that was used in ritual vomiting ceremonies. There is also a mural depicting a series of petroglyphs that the Taíno are believed to have created.
To see the real Taíno petroglyphs, go back down Route 144 to La Piedra Escrita, a boulder in the middle of the Río Saliente, that has the beautiful spirals and cartoonish faces of Taíno stone carvings.
Update: As of January 2020, the Cemi Museum is temporarily closed due to earthquakes in Puerto Rico.
Know Before You Go
From Route 149, turn left on Route 144 and take it to KM 9.3. You will be able to see the El Cemi Museum and police station from road.
The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (closed from 12:30-1 for lunch). Admission costs $2.00/adult, $1 for kids which includes admission to the El Cemi Museum and the Casa Canales.