LIFESTYLE OF THE ARAWAK/TAINO
The Arawak/Taino society was basically a very gentle culture. It was characterized by happiness, friendliness and a highly organized hierarchical, paternal society, and a lack of guile.
Each society was a small kingdom and the leader was called a cacique. The cacique’s function was to keep the welfare of the village by assigning daily work and making sure everyone got an equal share. The relatives of the caciques lived together in large houses in the center of the village. These houses reflect the warmth of the climate and simply used mud, straw and palm leaves. The houses did not contain much furniture. People slept in cotton hammocks or simply on mats of banana leaves. The general population lived in large circular buildings called bohios, constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves.
At the time of Columbus there were five different kingdoms on the island of Hispaniola. The Indians practiced polygamy. Most men had 2 or 3 wives, but the caciques had as many as 30. It was a great honor for a woman to be married to a cacique. Not only did she enjoy a materially superior lifestyle, but her children were held in high esteem.
HOUSING AND DRESS
The Arawak/Taino used two primary architectural styles for their homes. The general population lived in circular buildings with poles providing the primary support and these were covered with woven straw and palm leaves. They were somewhat like North American teepees except rather than being covered with skins they needed to reflect the warmth of the climate and simply used straw and palm leaves.
The caciques were singled out for unique housing. Their house were rectangular and even featured a small porch. Despite the difference in shape, and the considerably larger buildings, the same materials were used. When the Africans came beginning in 1507 they introduced mud and wattle as primary building materials. However, there is no record of the Arawak/Tainos having used these materials.
The house of the cacique contained only his own family. However, given the number of wives he might have, this constituted a huge family. The round houses of the common people were also large. Each one had about 10-15 men and their whole families. Thus any Arawak/Taino home might house a hundred people.
The houses did not contain much furniture. People slept in cotton hammocks or simply on mats of banana leaves. They also made wooden chairs with woven seats, couches and built cradles for their children.
In addition to houses the typical Arawak/Taino village contained a flat court in the center of the village which was used for ball games and various festivals, both religious and secular. Houses were around this court. This was a hierarchical society, and while there was only one cacique who was paid a tribute (tax) to oversee the village, there were other levels of sub-caciques, who were not paid, but did hold positions of honor. They were liable for various services to the village and cacique.
Stone making was especially developed among the Arawak/Tainos, but they seem not to have used it at all in building houses. It was primarily used for tools and especially religious artifacts.
The men were generally naked, but the women sometimes wore short skirts. Men and women alike adorned their bodies with paint and shells and other decorations.
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
The Arawak/Taino diet, like ours, centered around meat or fish as the primary source of protein. There never were many wild animals to hunt on Hispaniola, but there were some small mammals which were hunted and enjoyed. They also ate snakes, various rodents, bats, worms, birds, in general any living things they could find with the exception of humans. They were able to hunt ducks and turtles in the lakes and sea. The costal natives relied heavily on fishing, and tended to eat their fish either raw or only partially cooked. Since they did...
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