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Taino Islanders portrayed in 1493 Letter of Columbus


After reading the journals of Marco Polo, Columbus was prepared to reach Japan and other islands of the China Sea. Instead he reached the Bahamas, and met its inhabitants, the Arawakan-speaking Taino. In Columbus's Letter describing his first voyage, written to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, he says on October 13, 1492, "I found many islands inhabited by men without number... " The Taino arrived with cotton, parrots, and spears to trade with the Spaniards: " They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one young girl. All I saw were young men, none more than 30 years of age. They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse... down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. Some paint themselves white, others red, and others of what color they find. Some paint their faces, others the whole body, some only round the eyes, others only on the nose."

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[Fig.1: Drawing of Taino Islanders coming to meet the Spanish caravels, from Columbus' Letter, 1493.]

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