Tainos

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Who are the Taino?

The Taino (pronounced Tah-EE-no) were the first "American" Indigenous Peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus and other Europeans in the Caribbean Islands in 1492. The Taino are also the first Indigenous Peoples to be referred to as "Indians" (Indios) in the Western Hemisphere. The traditional territories of the Taino extended throughout the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and even the Southern tip of Florida. The word "Taino" means "good people" in their ancient language. A major part of their ancestral lineage comes from South America. These ancestors traveled up the islands of the Lesser Antilles and settled eventually in the islands of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. Another part of the ancestral Taino lineage comes from Central America and or Mexico. Taino culture was not entirely homogeneous but some of the most elaborate expressions of the culture was found in the Dominican Republic/Haiti and in Puerto Rico. While Taino people could generally communicate in a common language across the islands, there were some dialect differences. Descendants of these peoples still live throughout the Caribbean and beyond.

What was the environment like?

The Caribbean island homelands of the Taino were formed by volcanoes and the movement of tectonic plates. Numerous mountains resulted in rivers which the Taino depended on to sustain life. Caves were also common land structures. The majority of these islands were covered by tropical rain forests. The islands were devoid of large mammals but iguana and other small animals were transported to the islands by floating bogs from the mainlands or by human intervention. Many varieties of birds, reptiles, small mammals, and insects are found on the islands, some unique to certain islands. The Koki, a small tree frog, is very common in Boriken (Puerto Rico) for example and has a very distinctive chirp.

How did the Taino live?

Taino communities varied greatly in size. It was estimated that the iukaieke (villages) could range from a few hundred to a several thousand. Generally, villages were laid out around a central plaza or ball court called a batei (pronounced bah-teh-ee). Festivals, dances, and ball games were held here. On one end of the batei was the chief or kasike's house called a kanei. The kanei was a large rectangular shaped structure with a large reception area in the front and a living area in the back. It was often the largest dwelling place in the village. The villagers lived in round or oval structures called bohio (pronounced bow-hee-oh). The bohio were placed on either side of the kanei around the plaza and varied greatly in size. Multiple families, often related, lived in a single bohio. Hammocks were strung from the center pole to the walls of the bohio like spokes on a wheel with supplies hung in baskets on the walls or in the rafters. The structures were composed of vertically placed palm tree logs and thatched roofs, had earthen floors, and were said to be so well-built, many could resist hurricanes.

Did the Taino stay in one place?

The Taino had permanent and semi-permanent villages. Sometimes, when resources in one area became scarce from over harvesting, the community would be forced to relocate. Fisherman would sometimes leave the village for periods of time and harvest shellfish, fish, etc on another island, then return. Sometimes, when a smaller village population grew to the point that it could no longer support the population, tribal fissure would occur, and a group of males and their families would relocate to an unpopulated area.

What was daily life like for the Taino?

By any standard, the historical records reveal that Taino people generally led very peaceful, non-violent lives. There was very little crime. The villages were well organized and crops were grown in a very effective mound system called konuko, which required very minimal maintenance. In some communities, the day started very early with...
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