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About Tainos and their myths

Some Taino stories have different versions. The reason: this group has had to face numerous difficulties along their way.

There are discrepancies in their narratives about the origin of men and women, for instance. However, all stories do coincide on the impact of the arrival of the first European colonizers to the Caribbean. Their cruelty and the diseases they brought and spread to the Indians were the main cause of the disappearance of many tribes.

Life in insular settlings might have been another important cause of the disparities in their myths. Regardless of these geographical and historical conflicts, consistent information about their origins, beliefs, and history could be collected. And I have been and will keep sharing any findings here.

The settlements of the Taino people

The Antilles are known as passages along the way between North and South America. On those long and dangerous voyages, the Caribbean islands offered a warm and uplifting rest. Each stop left its aftermath, making a beautiful mosaic in these towns.

The Tainos were the main ethnic group in Hispaniola by the arrival of the Europeans. At that time, the Tainos had already reduced or integrated the oldest settlers, the Ciguayos. But they conflicted with the Caribs.

The Ciguayos were established in the region near the Samaná peninsula, by the Cordillera Septentrional. They were described as semi-savage Indians, fierce and rough, and intolerant of instructions; warriors dressed in masks and arrows. Allegeable, they must have been fewer in number not to oppose this Indian group of South American origin that ended up peacefully conquering their lands.

A group of dark, strong and ferocious men, with bold eyes and big noses, burst onto the island decades before the Spanish arrival. They were the Macorix (also called de Macorís or Macoriges), aborigines similar to the Ciguayos. They belonged to the great family of the Caribs and mainly work on fishing, hunting, and fruit harvesting.

They managed to take possession of Taino lands that today are two provinces of Macorís: a portion of Samaná and a portion of Santo Domingo.

For Catholic conquerors, these three races could be group with a single word: heretics.

Their language and habits

The Tainos were gentle and serene people, farmers par excellence. They accommodated themselves to the blessing of the Caribbean weather to continue practicing agriculture, softening some of the harsh habits they brought from the South. They built two types of housings: the hut, made of Yaguas and a round shape; and the Caney, larger and more rectangular housing, home for the chief and his family. Both are made of hinea leaves and wood from local trees. They slept in cotton hammocks woven by themselves.

Like all other ethnic groups in the area, they had their dialect: Taíno, an indigenous language of the Arawak family. It was the main language in the Antilles at the arrival of the Europeans. It also spread throughout the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, and several small islands in the eastern margin of the Caribbean Sea.

English And Spanish Words We Get From Taino People

Taíno is an extinct Arawakan language that was spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean. But curiously, some of their words are still alive in our languages.

English words derived from Taíno

canoecassavamarooncaycaimanguavahutiahammockhurricaneiguanamacanamaize, manatee, potato, mangrove, tobacco, and savanna.

Taíno words in Spanish

agutíajíauyamabatatacaciquecaobaguanabanaguaraguaojaibaloromanímaguey (also rendered magüey), múcaro, nigua, querequequétiburón, and tuna, as well as the previous English words in their Spanish form: caimán, canoa, casabe (although in Dominican Spanish it is the name of a fish), cayo, cimarrón, guayaba, hamaca, iguana, juracán, jutía, macanamaíz, manatí, manglar, patata, tabaco and sabana.

Place names

  • Haiti: ha-yi-ti ‘land of mountains’
  • Quisqueya (Hispaniola): kis-ke-ya ‘great thing’ or ‘native land’
  • Bahamas: ba-ha-ma ‘large-upper-middle’
  • Bimini: bimini ‘twins’
  • Inagua: i-na-wa ‘small eastern land’
  • Caicos: ka-i-ko ‘near-northern-outlier’
  • Boriquén (Puerto Rico, also rendered BorikénBorinquen): borīkēborī (“native”) -kē (“land”) ‘native land’
  • Jamaica: Ya-mah-ye-ka ‘great spirit of the land of man’
  • Cayman Islands: cai-man ‘crocodile’ or ‘alligator’
  • Cuba: cu-bao ‘great fertile land’

Taino Hierarchy and Distribution of Power

The chiefdoms were an independent and hereditary form of government. People owed total obedience and submission to their leader, the chief. Chiefdoms had clear boundaries, separating the land into 5 chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Higüey, and Jaragua.   

The cacique was the great chief, lord of war and peace. Tasks related to his government were more than what a single person can handle, reason why he would delegate his authority on the mayitainos, representatives of the highest power. Mayotanos are hierarchized as follows: the Matunheri in the highest level, followed by the Bahari and the Guaoxeri.

The second most important social class is the Nitaínos, relatives of the chief. They were considered to be aristocrats and acted like warriors. The behiques, in the following stratus, were the priests who represented religious beliefs. Lastly, there were the working residents, the naborias.

Some deities of the Tainos

The Tainos believed in the existence of several gods. Their main religious concept is two supernatural beings known as the cemies, who were the progenitors of the others. they used this name to refer to a deity or ancestral spirits, certain sculptural objects that house these spirits, Tainos’ ancestors, or even some natural phenomena.   

Despite being gods of the Taino religion, the existence and history of the Cemíes are linked to their myths. Taino families worshiped these Gods, and their representations remained in a temple inside the chief’s house. 

Ramón Pané was a friar who lived among the Tainos during the European arrival to Hispaniola. He describes half-divine, half-human deities with various family roles to each other. He speaks of Yocahú, father, and king of the gods.

This immortal and invisible being lives in heaven and has no paternal component. It is unknown who were the first men created by this God. But three characters are involved in the formation of the sea. One of them is Yaya, the Taino equivalent of Adam and Cain, with his wife and children, comparable to Eva and Abel.

The goddess and mother of God for the Tainos is known by several names: Atabex, Yermaoguacar, Apito, and Zuimaco.

Los tainos y Mitos. Por Marcos Marte
Taínos de La Española
El mito de origen según los taínos
Idioma taíno
Taíno language

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