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Joining one of Irka Mateo’s Taíno ceremonies, you learn two things very quickly: hahom is “thank you” in the Taíno language and to have your own rattle ready if available. This testifies to how the bohutio, meaning Taíno medicine woman, and singer-songwriter guides her sessions in gratitude and makes it as interactive for her audience, Taíno or not, as possible. As she performs Indigenous sound healing through “spontaneous chanting,” Irka’s passion radiates as she dons a headdress of parrot feathers and begins ceremony with a prayer and rattle of the maraca. Sacred Taíno Healing is not only a spiritual service, but a community established during and outside sacred ceremonies and healing sessions.. Mateo’s healing practice also includes areítos, or Taíno ceremonial celebrations. One of the Taíno’s oldest forms of cultural expression, the areíto The areito is about sharing of the members of the community passions more lighthearted but no less vital to community-building. Like ancestral Taíno practice, Sacred Taíno Healing provides space for friendship, celebration, and connectedness. Inspired by the traditions of Indigenous Kiskeya, or what is today known as the Dominican Republic, and South America, she incorporates animism, spontaneous sacred chanting, and pre-Hispanic Taíno and South American shamanic instruments in her ceremonies and healing sessions.

As a Taíno akutu, or “grandmother,” Mateo approaches her healing practice with the nurturing and loving “energy of the mother.” Originally for friends and family, she has made her practice accessible to anyone willing to learn, engage, and decolonize their own spirituality. Enriched by her 25 years as a sacred sound healer and the multiculturalism of her Afro-Indigneous heritage, her practice as a ceremonialist decolonizes spirituality by returning to Taíno and Indigenous South American ways.

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Irka Mateo is a Dominican Taíno ceremonialist, spiritual healer, researcher and singer songwriter with 35 years of experience in the music industry. Research being the foundation of her work, she has recorded several albums and toured, bringing the multicultural blend of Taíno and African spirituality that she has researched and that has been passed down through her family for generations to a global stage. Combining music from Dominican folk and popular music to African and South American genres, she is a pioneer of the Dominican alternative music movement.

What started as a practice she did for family over twenty five years ago, Mateo’s healing practice and performance of Earth-honoring ceremonies result from decades of research and the resilience of ancestral tradition and knowledge. Her family traces back to San Juan del Maguana, the “Taíno capital of the Dominican Republic '' and birthplace of her ancestor, messianic spiritual leader and medicine man Liborio Mateo. After researching folk music for ten years in rural Dominican Republic, she has documented more than thirteen genres of folkloric musical traditions despite previously remaining largely unknown and out of mainstream consciousness. Based on her research, she has produced numerous short ethnographic documentaries and led childrens’ Taíno art and music programs at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. She was awarded a grant by the Grammy Foundation in 2012 for her work “Sacred Music and Spirituality from the Liboristas Communities in the Dominican Southwest,” a Dominican folk music archive of 33 hours worth of rare recordings largely celebrating her ancestor Liborio Mateo. Building on her research on Afro-Taino spirituality and on her family’s legacy, Mateo introduced genres of music that represent resilience and resistance to the global music community. This research later informed the music of her solo project.

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