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Athena Review, Vol.1, no.3

Fray Ramón Pané: Recording the Taino Customs and Beliefs

Fray Ramón Pané was commissioned by Columbus to record descriptions of the recently encountered Taino culture. Accompanying the second voyage, Pané lived for four years with the Taino on Hispaniola, learning the language, legends, and customs of the people. In about 1498 he compiled and presented to Columbus his Relación acerca de las antigüedades de los indios ("Report about the antiquities of the Indians"). This acount was known to have contained accurate and unbiased descriptions, and was used by Peter Martyr, las Casas, and Ferdinand Columbus.

Pané's report provided information on Taino social structure which included nobles (nitaíno) living in large rectangular houses (bohío) alongside the plazas, and commoners (naboría) in round houses (caney). While gathering much data on Taino religion, Pané reported on the widespread worship of zemi deities, the foremost of which was named Yúcahu Bagua Maórocoti (Giver of cassava and master of the sea), whom José Juan Arrom (1988) has connected with typical three-pointed statues (fig.1) which began in Saladoid times. Pané also documented Taino songs and origin myths, including a belief that their ancestors had originated in a sacred cave on a mountain of Hispaniola.

[Fig.1: Three-pointed zemi figurine from Puerto Rico (photo: Athena Review).]

In 1571, an incomplete Italian translation of the report was published, but the original was lost. Pané's writings have since been reconstructed by Arrom (1988), who re-translated the work to Spanish and corrected it using the references in Martyr, las Casas, and Ferdinand Columbus.

Recent Taino Tribal activities are described at the Official Jatibonicu' Taino Tribal Government web site at Boriken, Puerto Rico.

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