Taíno: Indigenous Caribbeans

Completing this week with the largest indigenous Caribbean ethnic group, BHM365 sheds the light on another group who has changed the Americas.

The Taíno were an Arawak people who were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Puerto Rico.

In the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas, they were known as the Lucayans and spoke the Taíno language, a derivative of the the Arawakan languages.

The ancestors of the Taíno entered the Caribbean from South America. At the time of contact, the Taíno were divided into three broad groups, known as the Western Taíno (Jamaica, most of Cuba, and the Bahamas), the Classic Taíno (Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and the Eastern Taíno (northern Lesser Antilles). A fourth, lesser known group went on to travel to Florida and divided into tribes. At present, we know there are four named tribes; the Tequesta, Calusa, Jaega and Ais. Other tribes are known to have settled in Florida, but their names are not known.

At the time of Columbus’ arrival in 1492, there were five Taíno chiefdoms and territories on Hispaniola, each led by a principal Cacique (chieftain), to whom tribute was paid. Ayiti (“land of high mountains”) was the indigenous Taíno name for the mountainous side of the island of Hispaniola, which has retained its name as Haïti in French.

Cuba, the largest island of the Antilles, was originally divided into 29 chiefdoms. Most of the native settlements later became the site of Spanish colonial cities retaining the original Taíno names. For instance; Havana,Batabanó, Camagüey, Baracoa and Bayamo are still recognised by their Taino names.

Puerto Rico also was divided into chiefdoms. As the hereditary head chief of Taíno tribes, the cacique was paid significant tribute. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the largest Taíno population centers may have contained over 3,000 people each.

The Taíno were historically enemies of the neighbouring Carib tribes, another group with origins in South America, who lived principally in the Lesser Antilles. The relationship between the two groups has been the subject of much study. For much of the 15th century, the Taíno tribe was being driven to the northeast in the Caribbean and out of what is now South America, because of raids by the Carib, resulting in Women being taken in raids and many Carib women speaking Taíno.

The Spaniards, who first arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico, did not bring women in the first expeditions. They took Taíno women for their common-law wives, resulting in mestizo children. Sexual violence in Hispaniola with the Taíno women by the Spanish was also common. Scholars suggest there was substantial racial and cultural mixing in Cuba, as well, and several Indian pueblos survived into the 19th century.

The Taíno became nearly extinct as a culture following settlement by Spanish colonists, primarily due to infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. The first recorded smallpox outbreak in Hispaniola occurred in December 1518 or January 1519. The 1518 smallpox epidemic killed 90% of the natives who had not already perished. Warfare and harsh enslavement by the colonists had also caused many deaths. By 1548, the native population had declined to fewer than 500. Starting in about 1840, there have been attempts to create a quasi-indigenous Taino identity in rural areas of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. This trend accelerated among the Puerto Rican community in the United States in the 1960s.


The Taíno people, or Taíno culture, has been classified by some authorities as belonging to the Arawak, as their language was considered to belong to the Arawak language family, the languages of which were present throughout the Caribbean, and much of Central and South America.
The early ethnohistorian, Daniel Garrison Brinton, called the Taíno people the “Island Arawak”. Nevertheless, contemporary scholars have recognized that the Taíno had developed a distinct language and culture.

Modern historians, linguists and anthropologists now hold that the term Taíno should refer to all the Taíno/Arawak tribes except for the Caribs, who are not seen to belong to the same people. Linguists continue to debate whether the Carib language is an Arawakan dialect or creole language, or perhaps an individual language, with an Arawakan pidgin used for communication purposes.

Spaniards and Taíno

Columbus and his crew, landing on an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, were the first Europeans to encounter the Taíno people. Columbus described the Taínos as a physically tall, well-proportioned people, with a noble and kind personality.

Columbus wrote:

They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will…they took great delight in pleasing us…They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people…They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.

At this time, the neighbors of the Taíno were the Guanahatabeys in the western tip of Cuba, the Island-Caribs in the Lesser Antilles from Guadeloupe to Grenada, and the Timacua and Ais tribes of Florida. The Taíno called the island Guanahaní which Columbus renamed as San Salvador (Spanish for “Holy Savior”). Columbus called the Taíno “Indians”, a reference that has grown to encompass all the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. A group of Taíno people accompanied Columbus on his return voyage back to Spain.

On Columbus’ second voyage, he began to require tribute from the Taíno in Hispaniola. According to Kirkpatrick Sale, each adult over 14 years of age was expected to deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months, or when this was lacking, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton. If this tribute was not brought, the Spanish cut off the hands of the Taíno and left them to bleed to death. These cruel practices inspired many revolts by the Taíno and campaigns against the Spanish —some being successful, some not.

In 1511, several caciques in Puerto Rico, such as Agüeybaná II, Arasibo, Hayuya, Jumacao, Urayoán, Guarionex, and Orocobix, allied with the Carib and tried to oust the Spaniards. The revolt was suppressed by the Indio-Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León. Hatuey, a Taíno chieftain who had fled from Hispaniola to Cuba with 400 natives to unite the Cuban natives, was burned at the stake on February 2, 1512.

In Hispaniola, a Taíno chieftain named Enriquillo mobilized over 3,000 Taíno in a successful rebellion in the 1520s. These Taíno were accorded land and a charter from the royal administration. Despite the small Spanish military presence in the region, they often used diplomatic divisions and, with help from powerful native allies, controlled most of the region. In exchange for a seasonal salary, religious and language education, the Taíno were required to work for Spanish and Indian land owners. This system of labor was part of the ‘encomienda’- the strongest protecting the weak for the purpose of economic gain .

 Modern Taino Heritage

Groups of people currently identify as Taíno, most notably among the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, both on the islands and on United States mainland. The concept of the “living Taíno” has been proven in a census in 2002. Some scholars, such as Jalil Sued Badillo, an ethnohistorian at the University of Puerto Rico, assert that the official Spanish historical record speak of the disappearance of the Taínos, but survivors had descendants and intermarried with other ethnic groups. Recent research notes a high percentage of mixed or tri-racial ancestry among people in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with those claiming Taíno ancestry also having Spanish and African ancestry.



Arawak and Taino Indians have historically been from Venezuela and were some of the first inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago. Listen to them speak and compare their accents and words that they use to how Trinidadians speak today and you will hear the same notes, in their features you will see the resemblance more than any other island in the Caribbean. Why does this article does not mention Trinadad at all???

I hope there is no claim that these people were black! My mate made me research the Taino coz he is from Jamaica and claimed the blacks were alreay there when Columbys arrived. I told him no The blacks were brought from Africa as slaves.Where the indigenous South AericN TRIBES came from is subject to much speculation ie crosing over the top ver many many years.

The American indians were and still are originally black as the whole entire planet was originally black so Erico Crowther, I’m not sure why you would make such an ignorant statement. Do you fear “black” people? The “indians” shown in the movies are actually Mongoloid invaders from Siberians (Asia). Black people inhabited the Americas before Africans ever came over here. I have Taino ancestry yet thanks to white people, i’ve been separated from my culture and am now classified as “black.” I’m glad our true identity upsets you though. It’s hilarious.

All inhabitants on the planet can trace their roots back to Africa so if what you are saying is that the whole planet is from Africa then you would be correct, but the whole planet is not “Black” since that term and what it has come to embody is relatively new. Dominique, you seem slightly misguided.

It is truly sad how the so called white supremacist can not and will not recognize that the so called black race are the presidents of this planet!

Thank you Dominique, I would like to just add that BLACK is not a race, it is a connotation coined by europeans in order for the European to differentiate himself from other cultures and to divide and rule. The grouping of Black people is actually made up of a diverse and large number of indigenous peoples and tribes across the world, so no not all black people come from Africa and there were indigenous Black people living in the Americas, the Caribbean and Asia long before the European arrival. Further to which to speculate and say that black peoples existence in certain areas of the world was only due to the trans atlantic slave trade is absurd as; if you look at what is being told in many versions of history, it is apparent that no human could have survived being transported across the atlantic at sea in such conditions and virtually all would have died there are s many lies and mistruths throughout this part of history. Just thought i would add my 2 pence 😉

Yes.. Africans were apart of earlier expeditions around the world. Why is that so hard to believe? Sheesh! “Black History” does not begin with slavery. FYI: Read THEY CAME BEFORE COLUMBUS by Ivan Van Sertima

i would agree with denise african americans were already here before slavery do to trades and such

Taino dakia

I have been doing a lot of research my brothers and sister and the term black is a brand the european try to put on us just like”indians ” were put on my forefathers who where taino aboriginals . Yes you all have many key points , there where high pigment humans in northwest amexem and south west amexem aka”americas” and also in the islands around them . With this being said we can not blame the low pigment we must love them and understand what has happen in the past we must learn and build are communites and not be separated by blacks red yellow or white we are all living beings and we must all love each other .THERE IS ONLY ONE RACE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH AND THAT IS THE HUMAN RACE . I am a taino and i love my ancestors so we must learn and not hate .

All ppl r connectedd one way or another… Africa civilised 1st while us europeans were neandrothalds in caves sttill… Regarfdless some freaks breeded with the neandrothals and humans just spreqd around the world.. Fact is we are all connected brothers and sisterwls of thids planet and can all ttrace our roots back to only 1 start… Possibly also other humans from outter sspace could have also intervened lol… Forgive the mis spelling my screen is crqcked

To say that there was open ocean trade between Africa and the Americas is a extraordinary claim with no extraordinary evidence to back it up. With the exception of Northeast Africa and Egypt there is no evidence of a seafaring history. For the most part they didn’t even populate islands off their own coast. The Egyptian galleys that evolved into the various galleys used on the Mediterranean are fine for the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and coastal sailing but not for crossing oceans. Dhows would have been capable, but there is no evidence they were used for anything other than crossing back and forth across the Arabian Sea, never far from land. Chinese junks could have made the trip, but there isn’t any evidence they did. Though there is documentation a fleet of junks sailed from China through the Macala straight and followed the coast all the way around the Cape of Africa. In the Caribbean they did very impressive things with their dugout canoes, wide beam and added freeboard with somewhat of a keel. They were good at island hoping and coastal sailing, but doubtful they crossed oceans. There is no doubt there would have been accidental crossings of the Atlantic. If you get too far off the coast of West Africa the current and trade winds are going to take you to Brazil whether you like it or not. Even during the days of the great clipper races the route around Africa to Europe took them just off the coast of Brazil. And there is some evidence that before Columbus some people from the new world may have washed up on the shores of Ireland. But such accidental crossings would have been a one way trip. There is one oral tradition that an African King sent out a fleet of boats westbound from Africa, but they never returned and their fate is unknown. There is a theory that Chinese sailors were crossing the Pacific. Indeed it would be possible to day sail from island to island from Japan all the way to Alaska. So the theory isn’t implausible, but there is no known written history of it, and very weak physical evidence. There has been found several stone anchors off the west coast of North America, however there is no way to date them, and they could easily be 19th and 20th century anchors. Only Polynesian and Melanesian sailors had the technology and a system of navigation capable of early open ocean sailing. Their catamarans were stable enough and capable of carrying the supplies needed. They also had a system of navigation that didn’t require a compas or any other equipment. And it’s almost certain they did at least reach South America, only due to the fact that sweet potatoes were cultivated in South America, but are found throughout much of Oceania. But trade between Africa and the Americas, any evidence is subjective at best. A few years ago some got excited about toxicology test done on Egyptian mummies showing traces of cocain and nicotine, however nobody who has repeated those tests have been able to duplicate the results.

The Taino are a gorgeous shade of reddish brown like many other Native Americans. I know because my flatmate is one. She’s descended from the indigenous people of Jamaica who were driven there from Venezuela due to conflict with the Carib Indians. None of her family look at all African. They look more South East Asian or Maori.

@TIGGY you statement about shades are incorrect as the definition of American in Websters Dictionary 1865 states, “The various copper-colored people that Europeans encountered when they came” just look at a copper penny.

Gwiz Columbus and his unconscious racial bias hey . if only he had sensitivity training

@Tiggy Seriously? First off, the facts are solid that the very oldest American on record was very dark in complexion and shared DNA with those of the indigenous Australians, the Aborigines. Studies proved that they were killed and pushed further into South America once the Mongaloids (Native Americans with Asian descent) migrated here toward the end of the ice age. I’m sure your friend, just like all the rest, family had been apart of the intermixing and colonialism to give them the appearance that they now have.

Why is Taino history being represented on black history month? Tainos ARE NOT African wtf!!!

All of you should do a search on the Olmec head (civilization), which is known as the first civilized race in the Americas.
I visited a museum while in Veracruz, Mexico and saw a picture framed document that stated the Egyptian sailed to that area 1000 years before Columbus. There was also a large picture of the inhabitants that greeted the Spanish up on there first arrival in that area, which were African ancestry.
But of cause everyone knows that the world races are from Africa without any doubt, unless you believe in the fantasy land story of religions and not the facts of science (DNA and genealogy- bones – fossil).

@ CJ. I’m surprise that you think that when someone refer to black people they refer to Africa. I understand the stigma placed on Africa, but The ancient empires which were not in Africa were black empires: Assyria, Babylon, Medeo-Persia, partl of Greece, part of Rome, the Phoenicians, Israel and early British empire, all fully black. Let us stop riding the bull and get to the facts. How is that for a good history lesson. I love white people. But let’s face it; they are a product of the black man’s decadence. They are the children of the Blacks. Its all about the younger wants to rule the elder. All this is 100%historically and scientifically accurate. Just because the white Europeans have spread their white seed in the blacks and on their land does not prove that they were there first. Its all a divide and conquer strategy–smart.

Just like never-enslaved Africans and other indigenous peoples, ancient Caribbean peoples are not be considered “black”. The concept of “Black” stems from the early American age, when the colonists arrived to the land with their enslaved persons. Ancient Caribbean peoples were never enslaved on American soil and, thus, we are not apart of the formerly enslaved portion of humanity that inhabits the Earth as African-Americans, also known as “Black”. This article should not even be on this website.

Well said Ron Jean

What you were taught in school is false. Reverse it all and you’ll get the answer. There was an ancient Egyptian dwelling found in The Grand Canyon which predates Egypt as we know it and the great exodus originated in the Americas. Columbus knew who was here and had Hebrew translators. In his book “Book of prophecies” he spoke on needing to find MT.Zion and Jerusalem because he believed it to be in the Americas. Jerusalem is said to be the center or naval of the world, yet that location is somewhere in Turkey and what is known today as Jerusalem in the fraud country of Israel was originally supposed to be located in Saudi Arabia?(They completely mind fucked us y’all, but I’m serious). There is a city in Peru called Cuzco which literally means navel of the world and the compound located there matches the exact description as The Temple of David in scripture. Everything described is 100% per scripture. Natives have always called the Americas the promised land as well, so anything is possible. Also, DNA taken from a so called African American(hate that label) man from South Carolina revealed Aboriginal American DNA with no trace of African DNA and was dated further back than the first African DNA. There is also hidden and torn down pyramids throughout North America, containing burial mounds and mummified remains, that were up and down the Mississippi valley. Hebrew artifacts have been found all over the us, with a paleo Hebrew stone engraved with the 10 commandments. How Egypt is described is exactly the physical description of where Memphis Tennessee is in regards to the river “Nile” but accurate to this side, not over there. As crazy as it sounds, I don’t find it far fetched and with a ton of research have found plenty of evidence corroborating what I’ve said. I don’t believe anything I was taught in school and go by the “as above, so below” mantra because when they say up, you better look down, and if they say left, it’s right. The information is there, you just have to look. It would explain why the pyramids here and the Egyptian dwelling in the grand canyon are hidden or torn down. Natives also tell stories of being visited by Atlanteans and why there is a strong native American I fluency in Africa as well as corn being from here and records of it being o we there pre Colombian era. Just dig y’all. The only people who call the,selves “tribes” are here, which could explain the lost tribes of Israel. And plenty of documentation on European writers stating the absolute exact way of life israelites lived. Also, israelites were known as mystics or sprittual ppl as opposed to a religion, which correlates with natives. But it will never be known for obvious reasons. I have close friends and cousins who are so called African American who know of their indigenous roots, with no African ancestry, which makes sense, due to my own indigenous ancestry. It was almost impossible due to the currents of the Atlantic to sail from Africa to here, but the currents flow from the carribean, up the east coast, to nova Scotia, across to Europe and down to the west coast of Africa. They took the natives from here, sold us in Europe, traded and sold in Africa, then came back and told the ppl they were Africans. Those DNA ancestry places lie about the results. Don’t trust that. There’s a different agenda with that whole deal. Just research what I’ve said. Don’t take my word for it….

And, like it or not, every shade and race of people have been on earth since the beginning. The most High created diversity. Dogs are different, but the same species. White cats black cats. Same difference. White people are not new to the planet. There were so called white Sumerians.You can learn a lot from these native elders. They know a lot more than you think. Do the history. This planet has always been diverse….

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To the person who said Caribbean people were never enslaved. You are beyond incorrect. It even states in Columbus’ journal that he intended to enslave them. It’s also been proven that they actually were enslaved.

There is nothing like african ancestry in the West Indies and America. We Negas are Taino or Arawak. Other asiatic tribes claim of course to be Indians, so they could bound to the land. Indigenous people (most of them) think they are africans. You should think that, so they can kick you out in a Land, you have Tribal connections with, but that is not your land. There are Africans in America, promoting false knowledge and telling you, that you came from Africa.

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