The Taíno are the pre-Hispanic Amerindian inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The Taíno are the seafaring relations of the Arawakan peoples of South America. Those 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 nearly ceased to exist in the 16th century, wiped out by genocide, introduced disease, and assimilation into the plantation economy that Spain imposed in its Caribbean colonies, with its subsequent importation of African slave workers. It is well documented that 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 would come to take Taino women as wives in civil marriages, having many mestizo Taino children in the process. Tainos had been noted in Puerto Rico's island census of 1771 and 1778.  (http://www.taino-tribe.org/tainos.htm). In Hispanola, a Taino Chieftain named Enriquillo also mobilized over 3000 remaining Taino in a rebellion on that island in the 1530s.
At the time of Columbus' 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 sometimes battle each other but there were many instances of mutual respect and cooperation recorded in the pre and post-colonial contact periods.
At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the largest Taíno population centers are said to have contained around 3,000 people or more.
Culture and Lifestyle
In the typical Taíno village (yucayeque) one would find a flat court (batey) in the center which was used for various social activities such as games, various festivals and public ceremonies. Houses would surround this court. The Taíno would play a sometimes ceremonial ball game called "Batu". This game was played between opposing teams (of 10 to 30 players per team) with a rubber ball. Batu was also used for conflict resolution between communites.
Taíno society was divided into 4 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 would often 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 with woven seats, platforms, and cradles for children.
The Taíno practised a mainly agrarian lifestyle but also fished and hunted as well. A hair style often worn was with bangs in front and long in back. They sometimes wore gold jewellery, paint, and/or, shells. Taíno men and women sometimes wore short skirts.
The Taíno spoke a form of Arawak and used the words: barbecue, "hammock", canoe, and tabaco which have been incorporated into the English and Spanish languages.
Some Taíno practiced polygamy. Man and even sometimes woman had 2 or 3 spouses, and the caciques would marry as many as 30.
The Taino indians came from Venezuela and move through the Caribbean and 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 there were some small animals such as rodents, bats, worms, ducks, turtles, and birds.
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.
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.
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.
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 once upon a time 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. This is also confirmed by many Haitian Vodun practicioners as well.
Columbus and the Taíno
Columbus and his crew, landing in the Bahamas on October 12th, 1492 were the first Europeans to encouter 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. Of the Taino he stated , "In all the world there are no better people...". Columbus was also the first person to take Taino as slaves, and this action was the precursser to the trans-Atlantic slave trade of Africans.
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 thought by many 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. 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.
The Revolt of 1511
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.
Taíno Heritage in Modern Times
The general scholarly opinion is that Taíno culture, but not by any measure genetic lineage, became extinct in the 16th century, wiped out by genocide and introduced disease; however many people still identify as Taíno, most notably among Puerto Ricans, both on the island and US mainland. Those who claim to be Taino people have been increasingly active in asserting the call for the recognition of their human rights on a local, national and international level throughout the Caribbean and the U.S., and particularly for their treatment as a recognized tribe. Over recent years a number of contemporary Taino organizations, such as The United Confederation of Taíno People  (http://www.uctp.org/) and The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken (Puerto Rico)  (http://www.taino-tribe.org), have been established to put forth these claims.
- United Confederation of Taino People http://www.uctp.org/
- The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Band of New Jersey (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/Taino/jatibonuco.html) (A Tribal Government Affairs website)
- The Jatibonicù Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken (http://www.taino-tribe.org/index.html) (Puerto Rico Tribal Government website)
- 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.