“If you look far enough beyond your adversities you will always find something to believe in; something to be proud of.”~Taino Proverb~
“The good spirit Yocahú Bagua Maracoti reigned on the sacred mountain of Yuké, protecting the land of Borikén (Puerto Rico) and the Greater Antilles.” -Taino Belief-
Taino Dona Varin Cheverez, from the town Morovis in Puerto Rico.
The Taínos were pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. It is thought that the seafaring Taínos are relatives of the Arawak people of South America. The Taíno language is a member of the Arawakan language family, which ranges from South America across the Caribbean. At the time of Columbus’s arrival in 1492, there were five Taíno chiefdoms and territories on Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic), each led by a principal Cacique (chieftain), to whom tribute was paid.
Puerto Rico, also, was divided into chiefdoms. As the hereditary head chief of Taíno tribes, the cacique was paid significant tribute. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the largest Taíno population centers may have contained over 3,000 people each. The Taínos were historically enemies of the neighboring Carib tribes, another group with origins in South America who lived principally in the Lesser Antilles. The relationship between the two groups has been the subject of much study. For much of the 15th century, the Taíno tribe was being driven to the northeast in the Caribbean (out of what is now South America) because of raids by Caribs. Many Carib women spoke Taíno because of the large number of female Taíno captives among them. By the 18th century, Taíno society had been devastated by introduced diseases such as smallpox, as well as other problems like intermarriages and forced assimilation into the plantation economy that Spain imposed in its Caribbean colonies, with its subsequent importation of African slave workers.
The first recorded smallpox outbreak in Hispaniola occurred in December 1518 or January 1519. It is argued that there was substantial mestizaje (racial and cultural mixing) as well as several Indian pueblos that survived into the 19th century in Cuba. The Spaniards who first arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico, did not bring women. They took Taíno women for their wives, which resulted in mestizo children.
Taíno society was divided into two classes: naborias (commoners) and nitaínos (nobles). These were governed by chiefs known as caciques (who were either male or female), who were advised by priests/healers known as bohiques. Bohiques were extolled for their healing powers and ability to speak with gods and as a result, they granted Taínos permission to engage in important tasks. Taínos lived in a matrilineal society. When a male heir was not present the inheritance or succession would go to the eldest child (son or daughter) of the deceased’s sister.
The Taínos had avunculocal post-marital residence meaning a newly married couple lived in the household of the maternal uncle. The Taínos were very experienced in agriculture and lived 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 jewelry, paint, and/or shells. Taíno men sometimes wore short skirts. Taíno women wore a similar garment (nagua) after marriage. Some Taíno practiced polygamy. Men, and sometimes women, might have two or three spouses, and it was noted that some caciques would even marry as many as 30 wives.
Taínos lived in metropolises called yucayeques, which varied in size depending on the location; those in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola being the largest and those in the Bahamas being the smallest. In the center of a typical village was a plaza used for various social activities such as games, festivals, religious rituals, and public ceremonies. These plazas had many shapes including oval, rectangular, or narrow and elongated. Ceremonies where the deeds of the ancestors were celebrated, called areitos, were performed here. Often, the general population lived in large circular buildings (bohios), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses would surround the central plaza and could hold 10-15 families. The cacique 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.
Although some historians asserted that the Caribbean Taino-Arawak Indians were wholly extinct, victims of Spanish conquest, today, it is known that thousands of Taino descendants are alive and well, not only in Cuba but in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Florida, New York, California, Hawaii and even Spain. Frank Moya Pons, a Dominican historian documented that Spanish colonists intermarried with Taíno women, and, over time, these mestizo descendants intermarried with Africans, creating a tri-racial Creole culture.
Anthropologist and archaeologist Dr. Pedro J. Ferbel Azacarate writes that Taínos and Africans lived in isolated Maroon communities, evolving into a rural population with predominantly Taíno cultural influences. Ferbel documents that even contemporary rural Dominicans retain Taíno linguistic features, agricultural practices, foodways, medicine, fishing practices, technology, architecture, oral history, and religious views. “It’s surprising just how many Taino traditions, customs, and practices have been continued,” says David Cintron, who wrote his graduate thesis on the Taíno revitalization movement. “We simply take for granted that these are Puerto Rican or Cuban practices and never realize that they are Taino.”
A recent study conducted in Puerto Rico suggests that over 61% of the population possess Amerindian mtDNA Heritage groups, such as the Jatibonicu Taíno Tribal Nation of Boriken, Puerto Rico (1970), the Taíno Nation of the Antilles (1993), the United Confederation of Taíno People (1998) and El Pueblo Guatu Ma-Cu A Boriken Puerto Rico (2000), have been established to foster Taíno culture.
Taino Myth: The Rainbow
The forest dwarfs had caught Yobuenahuaboshka in an ambush and cut off his head. The head bumped its way back to the land of the Cashinahuas. Although it had learned to jump and balance gracefully, nobody wanted a head without a body.
“Mother, brothers, countrymen,” it said with a sigh, “Why do you reject me? Why are you ashamed of me?” To stop the complaints and get rid of the head, the mother proposed that it should change itself into something, but the head refused to change into what already existed. The head thought, dreamed, figured. The moon didn’t exist. The rainbow didn’t exist. It asked for seven little balls of thread of all colors. It took aim and threw the balls into the sky one after the other. The balls got hooked up beyond the clouds; the threads gently unraveled toward the earth.
Before going up, the head warned: “Whoever doesn’t recognize me will be punished. When you see me up there, say: ‘There’s the high and handsome Yobuenahuaboshka!’” Then it plaited the seven hanging threads together and climbed up the rope to the sky.
That night a white gash appeared for the first time among the stars. A girl raised her eyes and asked in astonishment: “What’s that?” Immediately a red parrot swooped upon her, gave a sudden twirl, and pricked her between the legs with his sharp-pointed tail. The girl bled. From that moment, women bleed when the moon says so.
Next morning the cord of seven colors blazed in the sky. A man pointed his finger at it. “Look, look! How extraordinary!” He said it and fell down. And that was the first time that someone died.
Words /phrases from the Reading.
- US Tribes
- A – L
- M – R
- S – Z