Origin and Ancient Culture of the Indigenous Taíno People


Two schools of thought have emerged regarding the origin of the indigenous people of the Caribbean.

One group of scholars disputes that the ancestors of the Taíno came from the center of the Amazon Basin, and are related to the Yanomama. This is indicated by linguistic, cultural, and ceramic evidence. They migrated to the Orinoco valley on the north coast. From there they entered the Caribbean by way of what is now Guyana and Venezuela into Trinidad, proceeding along with the Lesser Antilles to Cuba and the Bahamian archipelago. Proof that supports this theory includes the tracing of the ancestral cultures of these people to the Orinoco Valley and their languages to the Amazon Basin.

The other theory, known as the circum-Caribbean theory, contends that the ancestors of the Taíno diffused from the Colombian Andes. Julian H. Steward, who started this concept, suggests a migration from the Andes to the Caribbean and a parallel migration into Central America and the Guianas, Venezuela, and the Amazon Basin of South America.

Taíno account as documented is thought to have developed in the Caribbean. The Taíno origin story says that they emerged from caves in a sacred mountain on present-day Hispaniola. In Puerto Rico, 21st-century studies have shown a high proportion of people having Amerindian (The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.) MtDNA. Of the two major haplotypes found, one does not exist in the Taíno ancestral group, so other Native American people are also part of this genetic lineage.


The taíno community was divided into two classes: Naborias (commoners) and Nitaínos (nobles). These were administered by male chiefs known as caciques, who acquired their position through their mother’s noble line. The nitaínos operated as sub-caciques in villages, overseeing Naborias work. Caciques were advised by priests/healers known as Bohiques. Caciques experienced the privilege of wearing golden pendants called guanín, living in square bohíos, rather than the round ones of ordinary villagers, and resting on wooden stools to be above the guests they received. Bohiques were extolled for their healing powers and the ability to speak with gods. They were consulted and granted the Taíno permission to engage in critical tasks.

The Taíno had a matrilineal system of kinship, lineage, and inheritance. When a male heir was not present, the legacy or succession would go to the oldest male child of the sister of the deceased. The Taíno had an avunculocal post-marital home, meaning a newly married pair lived in the household of the maternal uncle. He was more influential in the lives of his niece’s children than their biological father; the uncle introduced the boys to men’s societies. Some Taíno exercised polygamy. Men, and sometimes women, might have two or three spouses. A few caciques had as many as 30 wives.

Taíno women were highly proficient in agriculture. The people depended on it, but the men also fished and hunted. They made fishing nets and ropes from cotton and palm. Their cave canoes (Kanoa) were made in various sizes, which could hold from 2 to 150 people. An average-sized canoe would hold about 15–20 people. They used bows and arrows for hunting and developed the use of poisons on their arrowheads.

Taíno women generally wore their hair with bangs in front and longer in back, and they occasionally wore gold jewelry, paint, and/or shells. Taíno men and unmarried women were usually naked. After marriage, women wore a small cotton apron, called a Nagua. The Taíno lived in villages called Yucayeques, which varied in size depending on the location. Those in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola were the most comprehensive, and those in the Bahamas were the most petite. In the center of a typical village was a central plaza, used for various social activities such as games, festivals, religious rituals, and public ceremonies. These plazas had many shapes, including oval, rectangular, narrow, and elongated. Ceremonies where the deeds of the fathers were celebrated, called Areitos, were performed here.

Often, the general population lived in large circular buildings (Bohios), constructed with wooden poles, woven straw, and palm leaves. These houses, built encompassing the central plaza, could hold 10–15 families each. The cacique and his family lived in rectangular buildings (Caney) of similar construction, with wooden porches. Taíno home furnishings included cotton hammocks (Hamaca), sleeping and sitting mats made of palms, wooden chairs (Dujo or Duho) with woven seats, platforms, and cradles for children.

The Taíno played a ceremonial ball game called Batey. Opposing teams had 10 to 30 players per team and used a solid rubber ball. Normally, the teams were composed of men, but seldom women played the game as well. The Classic Taíno played in the village’s center plaza or on especially designed rectangular ball courts called Batey. Games on the Batey are believed to have been used for conflict resolution between communities. The most elaborate ball courts are found at chiefdom boundaries. Often, chiefs made wagers on the possible outcome of a game.

Taíno spoke an Arawakan language and used an ancient form of writing Proto-writing in the form of the petroglyph.

Some words that they used, such as barbacoa (“barbecue”), hamaca (“hammock”), Kanoa (“canoe”), tabaco (“tobacco”), yuca, batata (“sweet potato”), and juracán (“hurricane”), have been included in Spanish and English.

For warfare, the men made wooden war clubs, which they called a macana. It was about one inch thick and was related to the coco macaque.

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