My language is vibrant color and line.

Treasure Hunting in Dominican Republic

Geographically our adventure is situated in Dominican Republic, more specifically in Luperón, province of Puerto Plata: everything there is very green and with little hills, a lot of cows (and cheese), amazing landscapes, totally unlike the dry and flat (south-)east. Time: early summer 2000

The entire project of "Treasure Hunting" started out in New York, with hundreds (exaggerated) of visits we paid to a store here specializing in metal detectors of any size or making. We went to the store, peeked around endlessly, asked many many questions - and never bought anything, until finally, with the help of a friend, R. managed to buy the brand newest model: a little plastic box revolving on a handle, with an antenna pointing out, which should then lead towards gold (or if you switch a button: silver). The thing came in a pretty silver-shimmering metal box which kind of "irritated" those guys at the airport's security check...

In December of the previous year, when I first had come to Luperón, I already had received a first impression of these folk's way of thinking: in one house out of two a treasure seems to be buried - throughout the entire village! Treasures are a constant topic there. As soon as the voice spread that R. had brought this mysterious detector, people regularly asked him to do them the favor of figuring out the exact location of "their" treasures.

These treasures could roughly be divided into three different categories. One group consists of the Taino-Indian relicts, that is objects left behind by the pre-Columbian native inhabitants of the island. Then there are "historic treasures", that is those buried by pirates. The bay of Luperón counts among the safest natural harbors worldwide, and Columbus' first settlement on the island is very close by (his first landing was in "La Navidad" - today Haiti - however soon destroyed by the Indians. On his second landing, with many thousands of men, he founded the first settlement "La Isabela" (after the Spanish Queen) at a distance of at about 18 km from Luperón. Moving everything to the south coast and the foundation of Santo Domingo (the current capital) was mainly inspired by an insect plague, impossible to control (some say ants, some say mosquitoes) - everybody just jumped back on the ships and fled to the other side of the island.

A third group of treasure are those hidden by rich private persons, who simply had no other place to store their wealth - there were no banks, or times were politically restless (dictatorship of Trujillo, etc.) These people would bury their "Onzas" simply somewhere in the garden, some of them forgot the exact location, others took their knowledge into their grave.

Here is where popular beliefs come into the game: a dead person who had buried a treasure somewhere will not rest in peace, and will be haunting until somebody lifts this treasure, and so gives him/her peace. That is why it regularly happens that dead persons visit people "in dreams": to give them their treasure, with exact instructions about how to lift it. Besides these "given" treasures there are as well those which no longer belong to anybody, treasures which are simply lost in history...

Six weeks of treasure hunting have left us with all kinds of different experiences and impressions, and a lot of stories told by other treasure hunters (in Luperón there are actually people who became wealthy all of a sudden...).

For example there was that story of a group of men digging a hole on a lonely beach, in the night, suspecting to find something... all of a sudden a boat approaches them, with antiquary uniformed men coming towards them... a man decorated with strange chains, approaches the digging in a way trying to scare the workers away, but as nobody moves, he evolves into an enraged bull (which - and this is funny - is wearing the same kind of golden chains as previously the men...) The worker who told us this story, said he would simply hide in the digging hole until the bull had gone away, and then continue the work... That night however they did not find anything. But some nights later other people went to the same place - today owner of the gasoline station and the local supermarket.

We then consulted with the local priest about his opinion on the "dead persons protecting their treasures". But he turned out do be a sober, western-thinking man, whose opinion is that "dead is dead", and there was nothing to be feared (except maybe the "living ones"). And, concerning the holy water - actually this had been another reason to visit him: we had been advised to carry holy water to all our digging sites - we could have as much as we wanted from him.

I was very happy with all this advice, but R. was not yet too satisfied, that is why he went on consulting with other "specialists", that is "Curanderos" who are more close to what the "simple folks" believe. These traditional beliefs are very related with the many African gods, even though in Dominican Republic no one calls them gods, but there are all kinds of "saints". Each saint is assigned a certain color and activity, and one can buy little bottles with colored water. The saint for treasure hunting is p. ex. "San Elias", saint of the dead (as you are looking for something which used to belong to s. o. who now is dead) and its color is purple. Other instructions René was given is to construct an altar, with self-made (black) crosses, candles, holy water, weird crucifixes hung around the neck, a black cloth wrapped around the hips... The number of people involved in the excavation always must be even, and best either 2 or 4 or 8...

But after a while even R. got tired of so many rules, and lateron we let go some details just for practical reasons (we run out of purple water, I actually did rebel against these exaggerated crosses, sometimes we simply were 10 people participating in the digging...). Either way we never found anything...

Again, R. went consulting with one of the "Curanderos". This lady sent him buy some mysterious substance a "Botanica" (a kind of "herb store" - where all those little bottles with colorful water are being sold). I was curious, so I came along, and when the salesman arrived with the desired, he was proud to show us, opening the capsule it came rolling out... mercury! "Oh, said I, that's however poisonous!" - What actually was poisonous was the way the guy looked at me, and then he explained that this substance could not be poisonous at all, because already there have been people eating such capsules (yes, they actually look like any medicine), and that "which was happened to those people was: nothing"... At our next excavation this wonderful "Mercurium" was poured then into the digging hole (environmental protection - no, thank you!) - it was supposed of magically "lift" the treasure towards the top - however then: nothing happened.

Just as previously said, one mystery after the other got worn out. At the end we went digging in any constellations (10 people. Or 5), without purple water or candles (I believe, in the beginning there was even a bottle of ammonia - just in case someone lost consciousness (o got possessed), but unluckily the bottle broke in the trunk of the car - horrible smell for a couple of days...

The result of all these efforts: at about 15 holes, but no one deep enough to definitely be able to say: "here is absolutely nothing". At the same time so strange discoveries as well as a "tangible" ones: a layer of "concrete", ½ m under the sand - at a place on the coast where never ever anybody lived (Columbus already knew a type cement/concrete, that was used building his first settlement). At one such place, R. found also a mysterious shoe (made out of leather, tipped, children's size). At another excavation (also at the coast, also a concrete layer underneath the sand), age old trees were pruned somehow in a strange way, but had not died, but overgrown theirs cuts. René estimates these trees and the pruning to be of 100 or 150 years of age - fact which was ridiculed by one of our friends - as Columbus landed 500 years ago. Interestingly we found out yesterday that the famous pirate Cofresi (whose treasures a lot of people are seeking) just died 130 years ago...

Nevertheless: we did bring an interesting object from Dominican Republic: a little, very heavy figure, in the style of the Taino Indian sculptures. Specifications are:
Height: 7 ½ inches
Width (base) : 3 ¾ x 4 ½ inches
Weight: 4 ¾ pounds (approx.)
Volume: 750 cubic cm (approx.)

Material: unknown material. In relation to its size the figure is very heavy. The material is furthermore unlike the stones, that are used usually for Taino sculptures. Our metal detector reacted strongly on the figure (it smells gold or?? Money?) The material is shimmers silvery and is very hard.

Conclusion: We would love to go back to Dominican Republic on Christmas. Negotiations with the driver of road building machinery were led already - this little "help" would ease the excavations substantially...

To be continued...

My language is vibrant color and line. by Karin Ulrike Soika
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