Taino History and Culture


The Taínos, whose name literally translates to good people, were the seafaring people indigenous to the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. The Taínos were considered one of the Arawak peoples of South America, and their language was a member of the Arawakan family of language in the northern areas of South America. When Christopher Columbus arrived to the New World in 1492, he became one of the first (and only) outsiders to witness the Taíno culture.

At that time, the Taínos had five chiefdoms and territories spanning the Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti of today). Each of these were headed by a principal chief referred to as the Cacique, who could be male or female. It was to this chief that tribute was paid. The name given by the Taínos to the island of Hispaniola was Ayiti (meaning land of high mountains) is still very much in use today. It is the Haitian Creole form of the name Haiti used by its people till today. The Hispaniola was not the only center of the Taíno civilization. In Cuba, the Taínos had over 29 chiefdoms. Cuba itself is a name derived from the Taíno language, however its meaning is not today known. Some Taíno land which later became Spanish colonial cities retained their Taíno name and those names are still in use today for example; Havana, Camagüey, Batabanó, Bayamo and Baracoa. Modern Puerto Rico was also home to the Taínos. Records indicate that at the time of the Spanish conquest, there were large Taíno centers with population of 3,000 people each.