Caribbean History: Everything You Need to Know about the Taínos

Taíno Culture BELatina
Photo Credit jamaicaglobalonline.com

I’ve often noticed that people don’t give much importance to Taínos most of the times, but they should. See, Taino Indians were once the largest indigenous group of settlers in the Caribbean islands, until they weren’t. Though plenty of their lineage was lost, their influence is still ever-present in our society today. Now, where are my Caribeños at? Because this one is all for you.

Taino Indians roamed the earth during 1200 to 1500 A.D. They left their mark in the lands they inhabited of the Greater Antilles, which are today’s Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico

Taíno Indians or Taínos as they’re commonly referred to as, were a subgroup of the Arawaken Indians. The Arawaken were once a group of American Indians in northeastern South America. These people greatly influenced Taíno culture a lot. For instance, Taínos adopted some of the Arawakens creations such as their use off  ballparks as well using their developed universal language. The ballparks were similar to what we have nowadays except that the boundaries around the park were marked by stone upright dolmens. They played in two teams and their goal was to beat the opposing team. They even used a rubber ball! However, as opposed to the reasons we try to win nowadays (there’s too many if you ask me) winning for them was just thought as good luck to the families winning in the sense that it was meant to increase their harvesting production and longevity. As you can see, Caribbean people have been going hard at sports for quite some time now. 

Another thing that was important to Taínos was their formation of hierarchy. They had an intricate system that allowed them to be organized among each other. Taínos had three social classes. They had the naborias, nitaínos, and the caciques. The naborias were considered the working class, the nitaínos were the sub-chiefs and noblemen, which also included their priests and medicine men — the bohiques, and the caciques was the highest rank — the chiefs. Each village, named yucayeques in their native language, had one.  

Surprisingly, some democratic aspects were used to choose the members of the hierarchy. 

Usually, most indigenous tribes would choose their highest rank based on their war skills. This was not the case for the Taínos. Instead, they based their selection on how large their clan was. I suppose this could’ve meant that these individuals were great leaders and gaining a following was not a difficult task for them. But, the best part of their selection is that they didn’t discriminate in regards to genders. It was a fair game for everyone, including women. Imagine if we had that type of progress in today’s society, amirite? 

Taíno Communication
Taino carvings in Puerto Rico, Photo Credit ancient-origins.net

All I know is that the impact Taínos have had on the world should not be overlooked. They also were skilled crafters and farmers. But, something that is still significant to us today is how their language transpired to our own languages.  Have you ever used a hammock or used the word hurricane? Chances are you have and you have the Taínos to thank for that. They used to call it jurakan and jamaca. It’s incredible to know that their language trickled into the English language as well. English vocabulary derived from Taínos include iguana, guava, and cassava, to name a few. 

Sadly, Taínos were exposed to dangers that were outside of their power. That danger wore a full name: Christopher Columbus. Though in their time Columbus was celebrated for discovering America (or the blatant robbery of the Americas), he suppressed an entire group of people. 

Taíno BELatina
Photo Credit commdiginews.com

In a very Columbus-style, he let greed take over him when he encountered the beauties that were the Taínos and Taínas. He quickly took over their land and forced them to follow Spain’s regime. Though they tried to fight back, Columbus and his Spanish crew had more advantage over them with their revolvers and other varieties of weapons. Their attempts at rebellion often led to mass deaths, hence rapidly diminishing the presence of the Taínos in the world. Aside from mercilessly killing, the Taínos with their more advanced weapons, they also killed them with the diseases they brought into the islands. Unfortunately, the Taínos didn’t have the same immune system the Spanish had, so they were quickly wiped away when they contracted their diseases. All throughout that bloody mess, the Spanish were also marrying and many times raping the Tainas. This could be the cause of the mixed roots Caribbean people carry within themselves. 

There is no conclusive study on how much indigenous DNA lies within the people of the Caribbean today because the genomes constantly vary, but they are still working on it. Curious enough, throughout these studies, an average of 15 percent of Puerto Ricans are found to have some sort of indigenous DNA in them. I guess the Taínos are still among us after all in some way. 

Overall, Taínos should be regarded as a really special part of history. Whether people like it or not, Taínos indirectly lives within them and today’s society. This just goes to show you the strength and value history has. Yes, we are constantly moving forward, but it’s all thanks to the past. Ponder on that.