Taíno - indigenous inhabitants of Haiti
The seafaring Taíno are relatives of the Arawakan peoples of South America. Their language is a member of the Arawakan linguistic family, also found in South America.
The Taíno culture was nearly destroyed in the 16th century, decimated by genocide, introduced disease, and forced assimilation into the plantation economy that Spain imposed in its Caribbean colonies, with its subsequent importation of African slave workers. There was substantial mestizage as well as several Indian pueblos that survived into the 19th Century (Cuba). The Spaniards who first arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispaniola in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico in 1508, did not bring women. They took Taino wives in civil marriages, and had children with them.
From the very beginning of European colonization, the Taíno fell victim to countless massacres and efforts to reduce their numbers through the destruction of crops and other genocidal warfare saw their numbers drop rapidly. Although they intensely fought the savageness and cruelty of the early settlers, since they had lived in relative peace without armies, the Taíno were not able to withstand the assaults.
At the time of Columbus's arrival in 1492, there were five Taíno "kingdoms" or territories on Hispaniola, each led by a principal Cacique (chieftain), to whom tribute was paid. Another indigenous group called the Carib lived in the islands. This group is said to be another Arawakan related people originally from South America. The Tainos and the Carib would sometimes battle each other but otherwise lived in rather peaceful societies.
At the time of the Spanish Conquest, the largest Taíno population centers may have contained around 3,000 people or more.
Culture and Lifestyle
In the center of a typical Taíno village (yucayeque) was a flat court (batey) used for various social activities such as games, various festivals and public ceremonies. Houses would surround this court. The Taíno played a ceremonial ball game called "Batu" between opposing teams (of 10 to 30 players per team) using a solid rubber ball. Batu was also used for conflict resolution between communities.
Taíno society was divided into four main sections:
- naboria (common people)
- nitaíno (sub-chiefs)
- bohique (priests/healers)
- cacique (chieftains)
Often, the general population lived in large circular buildings (bohio), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses could hold 10-15 families. The caciques and his family would live in rectangular buildings (caney) of similar construction, with wooden porches.
Taíno home furnishings included cotton hammocks (hamaca), mats made of palms, wooden chairs (dujo) with woven seats, platforms, and cradles for children.
The Taíno practised a mainly agrarian lifestyle but also fished and hunted. A frequently worn hair style featured bangs in front and longer hair in back. They sometimes wore gold jewellery, paint, and/or, shells. Taíno men sometimes wore short skirts. Taino women wore a similar garment (nagua) after marriage.
Some Taíno practiced polygamy. Men, and sometimes women, might have 2 or 3 spouses, and the caciques would marry as many as 30.
The Taíno indians originally came from what is today Venezuela and moved through the Caribbean and into parts of Florida.
Influence on Saint-Domingue and Haitian culture
The Taíno left a rich legacy. For example the cooking and religious customs of the original inhabitants of Kiskeya are still mayor influences on contemporary culture on the island. Many geographical names are derived from the original Arawak names and famous Taíno such as the queen Anacaona are revered as national heroes by many in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The Taíno spoke a form of Arawak and used the words: barbacoa (barbecue), hamaca (hammock), canoa (canoe), tabaco (tobacco), yuca (yucca) and Huracan (hurricane) which have been incorporated into the Spanish and English languages.
- Anacaona - Taíno queen executed on orders of Spanish Governor Nicolás de Ovando.
- Nicolás de Ovando - Spanish Governor responsible for many massacres of Taíno, introduced African slaves to the Americas.
- Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink: The Taíno and their Use of Caves - Article with photographs.
- El Museo Del Barrio: Taíno World - Text and images covering Taíno society and culture.
- Wikipedia: Taíno