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Athena Review  Vol.1, no.3

Taino culture in the Caribbean Antilles

The Taino were a group of related tribes speaking Arawak languages who lived in large farming communities throughout the Antilles, including the larger islands (Greater Antilles) of Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Cuba. They were the first people encountered by Columbus in his initial landfall in the Bahamas in 1492.

Recent archaeology  has uncovered the remains of these highly complex Pre-Columbian societies in the Antilles. Among the most important sources of evidence on Taino cultures are pottery traditions in the Caribbean, which show that Taino culture originated in South America around mouth of the Rio Orinco, reaching the Antilles by AD 600. Also important is the study of religious sculptures called zemis that were placed in temples and houses. Many examples have been found in Puerto Rico, which had many Taino villages in the period 1300 to 1500 AD. An important contact period study was made by Ramón Pane.

Largest of the Greater Antilles was the fertile island of Cuba, populated by both Taino and Ciboney tribes when Columbus first landed in 1492. The agricultural towns of the Taino were concentrated in the eastern half of the island. The more primitive Ciboney, who also settled Florida and the Bahamas, lived on the west end of Cuba, some inhabiting caves and rock shelters.

The Lesser Antilles were mainly settled by Caribs who were more recent migrants from the Orinoco region. The Carib were feared by the Taino as warlike groups who raided Taino settlements for slaves, and sometimes practiced cannibalism.

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

Another resource for contemporary Taino activities is the website of the United Confederation of Taino People.

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