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The Taíno are pre-colombian indigenous Amerindian inhabitants of the Greater Antilles islands, which include Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The seafaring Taíno are relatives of the Arawakan peoples of South America. Taíno of the Bahamas were known as Lucayan. Their language is a member of the Arawakan linguistic family, also found in South America.

The Taíno culture was nearly destroyed in the 16th century, decimated by genocide, introduced disease, and forced assimilation into the plantation economy that Spain imposed in its Caribbean colonies, with its subsequent importation of African slave workers. There was substantial mestizage as well as several Indian pueblos that survived into the 19th Century (Cuba). The Spaniards who first arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispanola in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico in 1508, did not bring women. They took many Taino wives in civil marriages, and had mestizo children.

At the time of Colon's arrival in 1492, there were five Taíno "kingdoms" or territories on Hispaniola, each led by a principal Cacique (chieftain), to whom tribute was paid. Another indigenous group called the Carib lived in the islands. This group is said to be another Arawakan related people originally from South America. The Tainos and the Carib would sometimes battle each other.

At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the largest Taíno population centers may have contained around 3,000 people or more.

Contents

Culture and Lifestyle

In the center of a typical Taíno village (yucayeque) was a flat court (batey) used for various social activities such as games, various festivals and public ceremonies. Houses would surround this court. The Taíno played a ceremonial ball game called "Batu" between opposing teams (of 10 to 30 players per team) using a solid rubber ball. Batu was also used for conflict resolution between communites.

Taíno society was divided into four main sections:

  • 1) naboria (common people)
  • 2) nitaíno (sub-chiefs)
  • 3) bohique (priests/healers)
  • 4) cacique (chieftains)

Often, the general population lived in large circular buildings (bohio), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses could hold 10-15 families. The caciques and his family would live in rectangular buildings (caney) of similar construction, with wooden porches.

Taíno home furnishings included cotton hammocks (hamaca), mats made of palms, wooden chairs (dujo) with woven seats, platforms, and cradles for children.

The Taíno practised a mainly agrarian lifestyle but also fished and hunted. A frequently worn hair style featured bangs in front and longer hair in back. They sometimes wore gold jewellery, paint, and/or, shells. Taíno men sometimes wore short skirts. Taino women wore a similar garment (nagua) after marriage.

The Taíno spoke a form of Arawak and used the words: barbacoa (barbecue), hamaca (hammock), canoa (canoe), tabaco (tobacco), yuca (yucca) and Huracan (hurricane) which have been incorporated into the Spanish and English languages.

Some Taíno practiced polygamy. Men, and sometimes women, might have 2 or 3 spouses, and the caciques would marry as many as 30.

The Taino indians originally came from what is today Venezuela and moved through the Caribbean and into parts of Florida.

Food and Agriculture

The Taíno diet was centered around vegetables, meat and fish. There never were many large wild animals to hunt on the islands, but small animals such as rodents, bats, worms, ducks, turtles, and birds were utilized.

Taíno groups in the interior of the islands relied more on agriculture. Their crops were raised in a conuco, a large mound, which was packed with leaves to prevent erosion and then planted with a variety of crops to assure that something would grow, no matter what the weather conditions. They used a coa, an early kind of hoe made completely out of wood.

One of the primary crops cultivated by the Taíno was cassava, which they ate as a flat bread similar to a burrito or pizza shell. The Taíno also grew maize, squash, beans, peppers, sweet potatoes, yams, peanuts as well as tobacco.

Technology

The Taíno used cotton, hemp and palm extensively for fishing nets and ropes. Their dugout canoes (Kanoa) were made in various sizes, which could hold from 2 to 150 people. An average sized Kanoa would hold about 15 - 20 persons. They used bows and arrows, and sometimes put various poisons on their arrowheads. They used spears for fishing. For warfare, they employed the use of a wooden war club, which they called a macana, that was about one inch thick and was similar to the cocomaque.

Religion

The Taíno respected all forms of life and recognized the importance of giving thanks, as well as honoring ancestors and spiritual beings whom they called (Cemi). (meaning) (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/Taino/photos/zemi.html) Many stone carvings of Cemi have survived. Some of the stalagmites of the Caves of Dondon were carved into the figures of Cemi. The Cemi are sometimes represented by toads, turtles, snakes, caiman and various abstract and human-like faces.

During certain ceremonies, the Taíno would induce vomiting with a swallowing stick. This was to purge the body of impurities, both a literal physical purging and a symbolic spiritual purging. After the serving of communal bread, first to the Cemi, then to the cacique, and then to the common people; the village epic would be sung and accompanied by maraca and other instruments.

Taíno oral tradition explains that the sun and moon come out of caves. Another story tells that people once lived in caves and only came out at night, because it was believed that the Sun would transform them. The origin of the oceans is described in the story of a huge flood which occurred when a father murdered his son (who was about to murder the father), and then put his bones into a gourd or calabash. These bones then turned to fish and the gourd broke and all the water of the world came pouring out.

The Supreme God was called "Yucahú", which means "white yuca", or "the spirit of the yuca", for the yuca was the main source of food of the Taínos, and as such it was revered. The Taínos of Quisqueya (Dominican Republic) called him "Yucahú Bagua Maorocotí", which means "White Yuca, great and powerful as the sea and the mountains". "Yucahú" was also the invisible spirit of the sky, whose mother was "Atabey", the mother of the gods and spirit of the waters. Other names for this goddess include "Guabancex", "Atabei", "Atabeyra", "Atabex", and "Guimazoa". "Huracán" was the evil god of storms, although some historians claim this was only the Taíno term for "storm", and the real goddess of storms was "Guabancex". Other minor gods or "cemíes" include "Boinayel" (god of rain, in other sources the Sun god), the messenger "Guataubá", "Deminán Caracaracol" (who broke the gourd and caused the flooding of the world and the spreading of the waters), "Opiyelguabirán" (a dog-shaped god), and "Maketaori Guayaba" (the ruler of the Coaybay, the underworld).

The Taínos believed that the souls of the dead go to Coaybay, the underworld, and there they rest by day, and when night comes they assume the form of bats and eat the fruit "guayaba".

Some anthropologists assert that some or all of the Petwo Voodoo rites may have their origins in Taíno religion.

Columbus and the Taíno

Columbus and his crew, landing in the Bahamas on October 12th, 1492 were the first Europeans to encounter the Taino People. It was Columbus who called the Taino "Indians", an identification that was grown to encompass all the indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

There is debate as to how many Taíno inhabited Hispaniola when Columbus landed in 1492. The Catholic priest and contemporary historian Bartolome de Las Casas wrote (1561) in his multivolume History of the Indies:

"There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?"

It is proposed by some historians today that Las Casas's figures for the pre-contact levels of the Taino population were an exaggeration and that a figure closer to one million is more likely. The Taino population estimates range all over, from a few hundred thousand up to 8,000,000. They were not immune to European diseases, notably smallpox, but many of them were worked to death in the mines and fields, put to death in harsh put-downs of revolts or committed suicide to escape their cruel new masters. Some academics have suggested that the numbers the population had shrunk to 60,000 and by 1531 to 3000 in Hispanola.

On Columbus' 2nd voyage, he began to require tribute from the Taíno in Hispanola. Each adult over 14 years of age, was expected to deliver a certain quantity of gold. In the earlier days of the conquest, if this tribute was not observed, the Taino were either mutilated or executed. Later on, fearing a loss of labor forces, they were ordered to bring 25lbs of cotton. This also gave way to a service requirement called "encomienda". Under this system, Taino were required to work for a Spanish land owner for most of the year, which left little time to tend to their own commuity affairs.

Taino opposition

In 1511, several caciques in Puerto Rico allied with the Caribs and tried to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was pacified by the forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León. In Hispanola, a Taino Chieftain named Enriquillo also mobilized over 3000 remaining Taino in a rebellion in the 1530s.

Taíno Heritage in Modern Times

The general scholarly opinion is that Taíno culture became extinct in the 16th century, wiped out by genocide and introduced disease; however many people still claim to be decendants of the Taíno, most notably among Puerto Ricans, both on the island and US mainland. Those who claim to be Taino decendants have been active in trying to assert a call for recognition of their tribe. Recently, a few contemporary Taino organizations, such as The United Confederation of Taíno People [1] (http://www.uctp.org/) and The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken (Puerto Rico) [2] (http://www.taino-tribe.org), have been established to put forth these claims.

Related topics

Puerto Rico

References

  1. United Confederation of Taino People http://www.uctp.org/
  2. The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Band of New Jersey (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/Taino/jatibonuco.html) (A Tribal Government Affairs website)
  3. The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken (http://www.taino-tribe.org/index.html) (Puerto Rico Tribal Government website)
  4. DeRLAS. Some important research contributions of Genetics to the study of Population History and Anthropology in Puerto Rico (http://www.udel.edu/LASP/Vol1-2MartinezC.html). Newark, Delaware: Delaware Review of Latin American Studies. August 15, 2000.

Template:Na-lang-stubes:Taíno et:Tainod

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