The Taino Village

Tanio Village
Tainos Rebellion: The Taínos rebelled most notably in 1511, when several caciques (Indian leaders) conspired to oust the Spaniards. They were joined in this uprising by their traditional enemies, the Caribs. Their weapons, however, were no match against Spanish horses and firearms and the revolt was soon ended brutally by the Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León.
Taino Prehistoric Era: In order to understand Puerto Rico’s prehistoric era, it is important to know that the Taínos, far more than the Caribs, contributed greatly to the everyday life and language that evolved during the Spanish occupation. Taíno place names are still used for such towns as Utuado, Mayaguez, Caguas, and Humacao, among others.
Taino Contributions to the Culture: Many Taíno implements and techniques were copied directly by the Europeans, including the bohío (straw hut) and the hamaca (hammock), the musical instrument known as the maracas, and the method of making cassava bread. Many Taino words persist in the Puerto Rican vocabulary of today. Names of plants, trees and fruits includes: maní, leren, ají, yuca, mamey, pajuil, pitajaya, cupey, tabonuco and ceiba. Names of fish, animals and birds include: mucaro, guaraguao, iguana, cobo, carey, jicotea, guabina, manati, buruquena and juey. Other objects and instruments include: güiro, bohío, batey, caney, hamaca, nasa, petate, coy, barbacoa, batea, cabuya, casabe and canoa. Words were passed not only into Spanish, but also into English, such as huracan (hurricane) and hamaca (hammock). Also, many Taíno superstitions and legends were adopted and adapted by the Spanish and still influence the Puerto Rican imagination.
Taino Tribal History: The traditional Jatibonicu Taino tribal homeland is composed of one very large central mountain territory. This tribal land base or region in the past was divided into three smaller villages by the former regional Governor of Puerto Rico, Don Diego Colon, of the Spanish colonial Government of Spain. In the 1500’s the Jatibonicu tribal homeland consisted of three villages known as Yucayeques (villages). These villages are known today as the local municipalities of Orocovis, Morovis, Barranquitas and Aibonito. In Jatibonicu’s territorial history, the colonial Government of Spain would come to further geographically divide this region. They would establish or create a fourth village known as Morovis, from one of the barrios or boroughs of the village that was formerly known by the Taino name of “Barros.” The village of Barros was officially renamed to Orocovis to honor the memory of Principal Chief Orocobix in the year 1825. These pueblos or villages are located in the Central Mountain Range of what is known today as La Cordillera Central (the Central Mountain Range). Let us now depart on this enjoyable yet historical voyage of our beautiful island region of Borikén (the Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord) that is known today by its Spanish colonial name Puerto Rico.
Games: In many pre-Columbian cultures, teams of men and women participated in a competitive ball game similar to cultures where teams of men and women participated in a competitive ball game similar to soccer. The ball was hit with the head, arms, hips, and legs, but could not be touched with the hands except to put it into play. In the ancient Americas, there were different types of courts, and variations in rules and the sizes of teams, but the game was important to many cultures; it can be dated back to at least 3000 B.C. in Mexico. Among the Taíno, the ball game was played in the batey, a paved court often lined with carved stones. Taíno ball games were typically held during areytos, in which communities from several chiefdoms came together to recount their joint histories and legends, and to cement their social and political relationships with singing, dancing, and feasting. The bateys found by archaeologists tend to be located on the borders of cacicazgos, which indicates that areytos focused on diplomacy as much as on ceremony.
Potential Lethality of the Game: The pre-Columbian ball game was potentially lethal because the solid balls made from rubber, fiber, and cotton were heavy and extremely fast. Players wore protective belts and padded accessories on their arms and legs. Most depictions of ball players in pre-Columbian art suggest that belts were made from a combination of wood, fiber, and cloth. But the Taíno in Puerto Rico also created belts of stone, known as “collars,” in two forms: heavy and thick or slender and attenuated. Some scholars believe that these stone collars were actually worn during games; others interpret them as memorials that accompanied the dead to the otherworld. The corpus of Taíno art also includes stone objects known as codos, or “elbows,” which may be belt fragments to which wooden pieces were once attached.
Meaning of the Game: The ball game had both secular and sacred levels of meaning among pre-Columbian societies and the Taíno appear to have been no exception. To the Aztec and other Mesoamerican societies the ball symbolized the cyclic journey of the sun under the earth and up into the heavens. It served as a public reenactment of warfare, in which tortured captives were forced to play games that they invariably lost and for which they were sacrificed. Since Taíno bateys were located on the geographic borders of cacicazgos, ball games probably served to deflect hostilities over territorial disputes. It is also known that mock battles were staged during areytos, perhaps with the same purpose in mind.
Nakebari Men’s Circle Game: We seek to revive the ancient Taino game known as Makebari. In the game two men stand off and face each other in the center of a 9′ circle. Each opponent attempting to strike each other’s calves in a slapping motion with an open hand. Whoever succeeds in inflicting 9 strikes upon his opponent’s calf muscle is deemed the winner. If any of the opponents are knocked outside of the circle by their opponent they will automatically lose the Makebari game. This game was last played among the Jatibonicu Taino tribal Warriors some 35 years ago. This ancient Taino circle game on the island of Boriken (Puerto Rico) was revived back in the late 1960s.
The Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation hopes to establish inter-tribal competitions with official rules for interested participants. They would like to invite their fellow Lokono and other Arawak brothers from South America to take part in these Inter-Tribal Makebari games.
The Batey Ceremonial Ball Court Game: They are also seeking to revive the ancient Taino game known as Batey. Two teams of 12 men and/or women assemble in the center of a rectangular plaza or ball court. Each team has one goalie. The goalies try to stop the ball from passing or hitting their stone backrest or goal. Each team attempts to carry the ball from their side of the ball court to the opposing team’s goal. The rubber ball used in Batey is called the Batu. The batu cannot be touched with the hands. It can only be struck or kicked with the foot and/or bounced off of the thighs, legs and shoulders. The batu can also be bounced off of the surrounding stonewalls of the batey ball court. A stone Yoke or Ceremonial Stone Belt was also used in the game. The players would also bounce the Batu off of the ceremonial stone belts that they wore around their waists. The minimum number of players permitted in the game is 24. After that the number of players must be in multiples of 12. The Batey game was played by the Taino tribes of the Greater Antillies and was an important Inter-Tribal social gathering event for all the families who would come to take part in the annual games. It should be noted that there was an East team and a West team. The fathers and sons and cousins would play on the opposite teams.
The Guamajico Taino Children Circle Game: The game of Guamajico is better known by its Spanish name of Gallito. It is still played by some of the Taino children in the mountains. The children would squat around a 3′ circle with their Guamajicos. The Guamajico are made from the seeds of the Algarrobo and/or Guama trees. The seeds are tied to a cord called a jico. The Guamajicos are placed within the center of the playing circle and each of the children holds the cord attached to their seeds. One of the children is picked by the group to start the game off by removing his or her Guamajico seed from the circle. This child then swings his or her seed down into the circle attempting to strike and break the other player’s seeds. If the child’s seed breaks he or she is out of the game. The next child does the same as they move in a clockwise direction, until all the seeds are broken. The child that has the unbroken Guama seed is deemed the winner of the game.
Arawaks (Arucans): The first American aborigines met by Columbus are not to be confused with the Aroacas or Arhouaques, linguistically allied to the Chibohas of Columbia, an Indian stock widely distributed over South America. Tribes speaking dialects of the Arawak language are met within and between Indians of other linguistic stocks, from the sources of the Paraguay to the northwestern shores of Lake Maracaybo (Goajiros), and from the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia to the Atlantic coast in Guyana.
Arawaks and Columbus: The Arawaks were met by Columbus in 1492, on the Bahamas, and later on in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. In the fifteenth century and possibly for several centuries previous, Indians of Arawak stock occupied the Greater Antilles. It is not impossible that up to a certain time before Columbus they may have held all the West Indian Islands. Then an intrusive Indian element that of the Caribs, gradually encroached on the southern Antilles from the mainland of Venezuela and drove the Arawaks northward. The latter showed a decided fear of their aggressors, a feeling increased by the cannibalism of the Caribs.

Native American Presence: Columbus reached Cuba on his first voyage without realizing it was an island and discovered Ciboney, Guanahuatabey, and Taíno Arawak Indians. On other islands he found the Carib Indians, from whom the region takes its name. The recorded history of Puerto Rico began with the arrival of Columbus on November 19, 1493. Puerto Rico was inhabited by the aboriginal Indians named Taínos, who called their island Boriquén (or Borinquén). Since there is no reliable documentation, estimates regarding the number of Taínos have ranged from the unlikely figure of 8 million to the more realistic 30,000. The colonization of San Juan, the name given to the island by the Spanish, began in 1508 when Juan Ponce de León established the first settlement. The Taíno population decreased dramatically during the first period of colonization as a result of the spread of European diseases, various rebellions, and the encomiendas system, which was the regime of forced labor that distributed Taíno Indians among the settlers. Although the Taínos were legally exempt from slavery by royal decree in 1542, rebel Indians were enslaved and exploited by the colonists. By the end of the 16th century the Taínos were virtually extinct.

As throughout the Americas, the struggle for freedom dates back to the clash between two peoples and cultures, the European and the Indian, the latter ill equipped to match the economic and military strength of the former. Nonetheless, the Spaniards encountered strong resistance from the Taínos of eastern Cuba, led by an Indian chief who had been driven from the neighboring island of Hispaniola (comprising present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and who was killed at the stake in 1512. More resistance was encountered in the 1522-1533 rebellion led by Cacique Guama of Baracoa. Settlements established by runaways, called palenques, were refuge first to Indians fleeing their lands seized by the Spaniards and later to runaway slaves (see Maroonage in the Americas). The indigenous population was soon decimated. In 1526 the first shipment of African slaves was brought to Cuba, to labor primarily on the sugar and coffee plantations. The first slave uprising took place just four years later, and in 1533 there was a slave strike in the mines.

Arawaks Migration: Generally speaking, the Arawaks were in a condition between savagery and agriculture, and the status varied according to the environment. The Arawaks on the Bahamas were practically defenseless against the Caribs. The aborigines of Cuba and Haiti, enjoying superior material advantages, stood on a somewhat higher plane. The inhabitants of Jamaica and Puerto Rico, immediate neighbors of the Caribs, were almost as fierce as the latter, and probably as anthropophagous. Wedged in (after the discovery of Columbus ) between the Caribs on the South and the European, the former relentless destroyers, and the latter startling innovators, the northern Arawaks were doomed.

Colonization Effects on the Arawks: In the course of half a century they succumbed to the unwanted labor imposed upon them and epidemics doing their share towards extermination. Abuse has been heaped upon Spain for this inevitable result of first contact between races whose civilization was different and whose ideas were so incompatible. Colonization in its beginning on American soil had to go through a series of experiments, and the Indians naturally were the victims. Then the experimenters (as is always the case in newly discovered lands) did not at first belong to the most desirable class. Columbus himself (a brilliant navigator but a poor administrator) did much to contribute to the outcome by measures well-intended but impractical, on account of absolute lack of acquaintance with the nature of American aborigines.

Church Interest in the Indians: The Church took a deep interest in the fate of the Antillean Arawaks. The Hieronymites, and later, the Dominicans defended their cause and propagated Christianity among them. They also carefully studied their customs and religious beliefs.

Frey Roman Pane: Frey Roman Pane, a Hieronymite, has left us a very remarkable report on the lore and ceremonials of the Indians of Haiti (published in Italian in 1571, in Spanish in 1749, and in French in 1864); shorter descriptions, from anonymous, but surely ecclesiastical sources are contained in the “Documentos in editos de Indias.” The report of Frey Roman Pane antedates 1508, and it is the first purely ethnographic treatise on American Indians.

While lamenting the disappearance of the Indians of the Antilles, writers of the Columbian period have, for controversial effect, greatly exaggerated the numbers of these peoples; hence the number of victims charged to Spanish rule. It is not possible that Indians constantly warring with each other, and warred upon by an outside enemy like the Caribs, not given to agriculture except in as far as women worked the crops without domestic animals in an enervating climate, would have been nearly as numerous as, for instance, Las Casas asserts.

Extermination of the Arawaks: The extermination of the Antillean Arawaks under Spanish rule has not yet been impartially written. It is no worse a page in history than many filled with English atrocities, or those which tell how the North American aborigines have been disposed of in order to make room for the white man. The Spanish did not, and could not, yet know of the nature and the possibilities of the Indian. They could not understand that a while a race could be physically well endowed, the men had no conception of work, and could not be suddenly changed into hardy tillers of the soil and miners. And yet the Indian was forced to labor as the white population was entirely too small for developing the resources of the newfound lands. The Europeans attributed the inaptitude of the Indian for physical labor to obstinacy, and only too often vented his impatience with acts of cruelty. The Crown made the utmost efforts to mitigate, and to protect the aborigine, but ere the period of experiments was over, the latter had almost vanished.

Arawaks in the Antilles: As already stated, the Arawaks, presumably held the lesser Antilles also until, previous to the Columbian era, the Caribs expelled them, thus separating the northern branch from the main stock on the southern continent. Of the latter it has been surmised that their original homes were on the eastern slope of the Andes, where the Campas (Chunchos or Antis) represent the Arawak element, together with the Shipibos, Piros, Conibos and other tribes of the extensive Pano group. A Spanish officer, Perdro de Candia, first discovered them in 1538.

Jesuits Christianization Campaign: The earliest attempts at Christianization are due to the Jesuits. They made, previous to 1602, six distinct efforts to convert the Chunchos, from the side of Huanuco in Peru, and from northern Bolivia, but all these attempts were failures. There are also traces that a Jesuit had penetrated those regions in 1581, more as an explorer than as a missionary. Not withstanding the ill-success accompanying the first efforts, the Jesuits persevered and founded missions among the Moxos, one of the most southerly branches of the Arawaks, and also among the Baures. Those missions were, of course, abandoned after 1767. During the past century the Franciscans have taken up the field of which the Jesuits were deprived, especially the missions between the Pano, and Shipibo tribes of the Beni region of Bolivia.

The late Father Raphael Sanz was one of the first to devote himself to the difficult and dangerous task, and he was ably followed by Father Nicholas Armentia, who is now Bishop of La Paz. The latter has also done very good work in the field of linguistics. Missions among the Goajiros in Columbia, however, had little success. Of late, the tribe has become more approachable. The Arawaks of the upper Amazonian region were probably met by Alanso Mercadillo, in 1537, and may have been seen by Orellana in 1538-39. The Arawak tribes occupying almost exclusively the southern bank of the
Amazon, were reached by the missionaries later than the tribes of the north bank.

Missionaries accompanied Juan Salinas de Loyola (a relative of St. Ignatius) in 1564. But the results of these expeditions were not permanent. In the heart of the Andean region the Friars of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarios) were the first to establish permanent missions. Fray Francisco Ponce de Leon, “Commander of the convent of the city of Jaen de Bracacamoros,” and Diego Vaca de Vega, Governor of Jaen, organized in 1619 an expedition down the Marañon to the Maynas. In 1619 they founded the mission of San Francisco Borja, which still exists as a settlement. The first baptisms of Indians took place 22 March, 1620. The year following, Father Ponce made an expedition lower down the Amazon, beyond the mouth of the Rio Huallaga where he came in contact with the Arawak tribes, to whom he preached, and some of whom he baptized. The Franciscans entered from the direction of Juaja or Tarma, toward Chanchamayo 1631 and 1635. The first foundation was at Quimiri, where a chapel was built. Two years later the founders, Father Gerónimo Ximénez, and Cristóval Larios, died at the hands of the Campas on the Péréné River. Work was not interrupted, however, and three years later (1640) there were established about the salt-hill of Vitoc seven chapels, each with a settlement of Indian converts. But in 1742 the appearing of Juan Santos Atahualpa occasioned an almost general uprising of the aborigines. Until then the missions had progressed remarkably. Some of the most savage tribes, like the Canibos, became at least partially reduced to obedience, and led a more sedate, orderly life.

In 1725 the College of Ocopa was founded. All these gains (except the College of Ocopa and the regions around Tarma and Cajamarquilla) were lost until, after 1751, Franciscan missions again began to enter the lost territory, and even added more conquests among the fiercest Arawaks (Cashibos) on the Ucayali. Conversions in these regions have cost many martyrs, not less than sixty-four ecclesiastics having perished at the hands of the Indians of Arawak stock in the years between 1637 and 1766. Missionary work among the Arawaks of Guyana and on the banks of the Orinoco began in a systematic manner, in the second half of the seventeenth century, and was carried on, from the Spanish side, among the Maypures of the Orinoco, from the French side along the coast and the Essequibo River. Wars between France, England, and Holland, the indifferent, system less ways of French colonization, but chiefly the constant incursion of the Caribs, interrupted or at least greatly obstructed the progress of the missions.

Ethnologically the Arawaks Vary in Condition: Those of Guyana seem to be partly sedentary. They call themselves Loknono, and they are well built. Descent among them is in the female line, and they are polygamous. They are land-tillers and hunters. Their houses are sheds, open on the sides, and their weapons are bows, arrows, and wooden clubs. Their religious ideas are, locally varied, those of all Indians, animism or fetishism, with an army of shamans, or medicine men, to uphold it. Of the Campas and the tribes comprised within the Pano group, about the same may be stated, with the difference that several of the tribes composing it are fierce cannibals, (Cashibos and Canibos). It must be observed, however, that cannibalism is, under certain conditions, practiced by all the forest tribes of South America, as well as by the Aymara of Bolivia. It is mostly a ceremonial practice, and, at the bottom, closely related to the custom of scalping.

The Last Taino Indians, Baracoa, Guantanamo Province, Nowadays

In these eastern mountains of Cuba, region of Baracoa, Guatanamo Province, there are several enclaves of indigenous community cultures that have survived 500 years. This remote and yet culturally important area of Cuba has been characterized by its historically rural quality and its major historical import to the Cuban movement of liberation.

While the continued existence of several Native populations appears in the deep scientific record (Marti, Rousse, Arrom, Rivero de la Calle, Nuez) the assertion of complete extinction of the Taino Indians in the Caribbean became commonplace in the academy throughout the twentieth century. Recently, however, some of these isolated Native groups have begun to represent themselves within Cuba and to communicate with other Native groups around the hemisphere.

Cuban and international documentation was initiated, with several articles appearing in scientific journals. Most prominently, the Taino community at Caridad de Los Indios, near Guantanamo, has retained various Native dances and songs, as well as considerable oral history and understanding of ecological relationships. There are as well, Native populations near Bayamo, Santiago and Punta Maisi in this eastern-most triangle of Cuba. As a result of the indigenous revitalization now in process, the several Native-based community enclaves are now reaching out to each other to generate an awareness of the remaining Taino identity and culture in the area.

While the Taino-descendant population is not dominant, this is a region of Cuba that has maintained the most sustainable indigenous agricultural traditions (the conuco system) and features an “old Cuba” flavor. The agricultural base of the region is largely self-sufficient farming, with families maintaining gardens and small animals. The Baracoa-Guantanamo region is a great living microcosm of the Cuban ethnogensis, rooted in the tri-raciality of Indigenous (Taino), Spanish, and African peoples. The natural history of the region offers nature walks in tropical forests, cultural exchanges with Native communities, ocean fishing and snorkeling and cultural/historical tours tracing the route of Columbus. (By Dr. José Barreiro, American Indian Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, Article ID 134.)

SUMMARY: The Taino Indians inhabited Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1493. The first inhabitants of the Antilles were the Arawaks, but they were expelled by the Caribs in early 1000 AD. The Arawaks believed in eternal life for the virtuous. “Pre-Taino” is not any kind of ethnic name, merely a general label for a relative time period. Archaeological similarities indicate that the Virgin Islands shared a culture or ethnic identity with eastern Puerto Rico, and perhaps had connections to the Leeward Islands. The Arawaks were the first inhabitants of the Antilles but were expelled from the Lesser Antilles before 1000 AD. The Arawaks, due to their early arrival in the region, were by the time of Columbus’ arrival peaceful and sedentary, and played a game somewhat similar to soccer, except that the raw rubber ball had to be tossed with the head, shoulder, elbow or most professionally, by the knee.

The Arawaks were “animists” which means that they believed in the inner connection of the two worlds (the visible and the invisible one) and in the existence and survival of the soul in the environment (tree, rivers, etc.). The quiet and peaceful Arawaks have totally disappeared from the surface of the Earth. This was accomplished in a very short time after the arrival of the Europeans. The “Island Caribs” referenced people of the Lesser Antilles. The name “Taino” was recorded by the early Spanish but did not come into use as an ethnic label until much later. Taino culture was characterized by advanced political organization, elaborate ceremonial life, and well-developed arts. The Taíno Indians occupied and shared the places acquired by the Igneris who came from South America.
The Taínos, at approximately 800 years before the discovery of Puerto Rico, had constructed the “bateyes” or Ceremonial Parks. The Tainos reported that the Island Caribs attacked them in the Greater Antilles. The natives who fought against Columbus’ crew in 1493 at the island commonly identified as St. Croix are usually interpreted as Island Caribs. Taíno culture was the most highly developed in the Caribbean when Columbus reached Hispaniola in 1492. Pre-Columbian cultures perceived the world and everything in it as alive with supernatural power, including features of the landscape, mountains, caves, rivers, trees, and the sea as well as the souls of animals and people.

The Tainos believed they were descended from the primordial union of a male “culture hero” named Deminán and a female turtle. Similar creation stories persist among contemporary societies in Venezuela and the Guianas. Like other pre-Columbian cultures, the Taíno venerated their ancestors. The dead were usually buried under their houses, but caciques and other high-ranking nobles were given special funerary rites. The most important sacred substance for the Taíno was “cohoba,” a psychoactive powder ground from the seeds of trees native to South America and the Caribbean.

There was a hierarchy of deities who inhabited the sky; Yocahu was the supreme Creator. Another god, Jurakán, was perpetually angry and ruled the power of the hurricane. Other mythological figures were the gods Zemi and Maboya. The Taíno Indians lived in theocratic kingdoms and had hierarchically arranged chiefs or caciques. At the time Juan Ponce de León took possession of the Island, there were about twenty villages or yucayeques. Cacique Agüeybana was chief of the Taínos.

Skilled at agriculture and hunting, the Taínos were also good sailors, fishermen, canoe makers, and navigators. They had no calendar or writing system, and could count only up to twenty, using their hands and feet. Their ball game had both secular and sacred levels of meaning. Caciques lived in rectangular huts, called caneyes, located in the center of the village facing the batey. A dynamic tension between the Taínos and the Caribs certainly existed when Christopher Columbus landed on Puerto Rico. When the Spanish settlers first came in 1508, anthropologists estimate their numbers to have been between 20,000 and 50,000, but maltreatment, disease, flight, and unsuccessful rebellion had diminished their number to 4,000 by 1515. In 1544 a bishop counted only 60, but these too were soon lost.

The Taínos rebelled most notably in 1511, when several caciques (Indian leaders) conspired to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was soon ended brutally by the Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León who killed 6,000 Tainos. The extermination of the Antillean Arawaks under Spanish rule was the worst page in history. The Europeans attributed the inaptitude of the Indian for physical labor to obstinacy, and only too often vented his impatience in acts of cruelty. In closing, the early stage of Christiniazation was attributed to the Jesuits. The Bomba and Plena dances were created by the Africans, but the Tainos provided the music instrument.