MYTHOLOGIES OF THE TAINO

The Taíno are an indigenous people of the Caribbean. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of what is now CubaDominican RepublicJamaicaHaitiPuerto RicoThe Bahamas, and the northern Lesser Antilles. The Taíno are the first New World peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage. They speak the Taíno language, a division of the Arawakan language group. Many Puerto RicansCubans, and Dominicans have Taíno mitochondrial DNA, showing that they are descendants through the direct female lines.

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.

Puerto Rican ceremonial sites stand as testament of a rich culture

An ancient ball court, a midden mound and about 400 burials that date back to before Europeans arrived in the Caribbean were found on the Portugues River in Puerto Rico several years ago. The site was considered so important that plans to build a dam there were called off and the historically important site has been preserved. It is one of last material vestiges of a Caribbean people who may have numbered in the millions until the Spanish arrived in the 15 th century. “The presence of apparently extra-local pottery made by many different potters, the presence of extra-local faunal resources (including marine shellfish), the presence and use of pine resin from an off-island source, the strong representation of medicinal and ceremonial plants, the presence of suspected highstatus foods, and the evidence for gathering and properly preparing porcupine fish are consistent with the expectations of public ceremonies rather than everyday domestic activities.”

Mythological Girls: Guabancex

Guabancex is the supreme storm deity of the ancient Taino people. They were located across Florida and much of the Carribbean on islands such as Puerto Rico. She is also known as the Lady of the Winds and was believed to be responsible for the onset of all violent storms. This also includes all natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanoes in the region. Guabancex was commonly depicted with an angry face in the centre of the image, with her arms flailing on either side in a S shape. She wasn’t believed to be a malevolent deity, rather a manifestation of the supreme goddess Atabey. 

“Taíno” = “good people”.

The Caribbean islands including Jamaica were inhabited by the Taino tribes prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1503. Early inhabitants of Jamaica named the land “Xaymaca”, meaning “Land of wood and water”. The Taíno are an indigenous people of the Caribbean islands also known as Arawak Indians. At the time of European contact in the late fifteenth century, they were the inhabitants of most of Cuba, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Jamaica, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and the northern Lesser Antilles. The Taíno were the first New World peoples to encounter Europeans, during the voyages of Christopher Columbus, starting in 1492. They spoke the Taíno language, an Arawakan language. Arawakan (Arahuacan), also known as Maipurean (Maipuran, Maipureano, Maipúre), is a language family that developed among ancient indigenous peoples in South America which were carried into various parts of  Central America and the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, including what is now the Bahamas.  

Atebeyra – Arawak Fertility Goddess

Arawak or Taino fertility goddess – The mother of Yucaha – god of the cassava – she is the goddess of fresh water and fertility and thus connected to childbirth and the moon. Atebeyra is also known as Mujer de Caguana or Mother of Creation. She has many functional names in Taino religion and culture and these include Atabei, Atabex, Guimazoa and Guabancex the goddess of hurricanes. As an ‘Earth Mother’ and ‘Mother of the Waters’ she is also known as Attabeira, Atabey, and Atabei, as well as being a supreme goddess. Bahamas Tainos are known as the Lucayan. Seafaring Taino are related to the South American Arawaks. Columbus called the islanders of the north the Taino after the Arawakan word for ‘friendly people’, differentiating them from the hostile Carib from the mainland South American populations.

Yúkiyu Bagua Maórokoti

Yúcahu —also written as Yukajú, Yocajú, Yokahu or Yukiyú— was the masculine spirit of fertility in Taínomythology. He was the supreme deity or zemi of the Pre-Columbian Taíno people along with his mother Atabey who was his feminine counterpart. Yúcahu was the supreme deity of the Taíno people. “They call him Yúcahu Bagua Maórocoti” and is the earliest mention of the zemí. As the Taíno did not possess a written language, the name is the phonetic spelling as recorded by the Spanish missionaries, Ramón Pané, and Bartolomé de las Casas. 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 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. 

TAÍNO WORDS IN SPANISH

agutíajíauyamabatatacaciquecaobaguanabanaguaraguaojaibaloromanímaguey (also rendered magüey), múcaroniguaquerequequétiburón, 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’

The Zemis [Taíno mythology, Caribbean mythology]

Among the Taíno people in the Caribbean, Zemis are a kind of ancestor spirits. They held an important place in Taíno religion and culture, and ancestral remains would sometimes be housed in shrines to appease their Zemis. The Zemis could also be consulted for medical advice and asked to heal patients. A Zemi could be housed in an object. The most commonly used motif is the ‘three-point Zemi’ as shown in the second image. It featured the face of a deity on one side, an ear in the middle, and a simple leg on the other side. Though this is a simple recurring motif, individual Zemi artifacts or statuettes with the three-point design could be very elaborate. Zemi weren’t always housed in simple talismans, quite a few of them inhabited humanlike statuettes

Taino in Dominican Republic

The Taino, first original settlers of Hispaniola Island, now Dominican Republic. When Christopher Columbus found the American continent back in October 12, 1492 he was under the impression of being at or close to India, in his quest for a quicker trade route. What he found were the Taino, an indigenous culture that populated many of the Caribbean islands. Columbus anchored in La Isabela, Puerto Plata and built the first Spanish settlement in the New World. Throughout the years to follow, the Tainos were killed by the conquerors either by disease or battle, and their culture was almost completely wiped out. Most Dominicans nowadays rarely resemble what the Taino looked like, and only a few families have some Taino blood in their generations. Preserved in time, still many artifacts and stone pottery can be found in the island, and their simple art they left behind in caves.  The Dominican Republic Tainos were the most peaceful of these indigenous groups.

Taino Artifacts - Smithsonian Repository Consultation

Before the Tainos : The Archaics “Archaics” were the first people in the Caribbean. They were hunter and gatherers who used stone tools. They came from both Central and South America into the Caribbean and met around Puerto Rico or Hispaniola by 2000 BC. The Saladoids The next group to arrive was the Saladoids, who had pottery and were farmers. They migrated from South America starting around 4000 BC and had reached as far as Puerto Rico by 200 BC. The Tainos These two groups mixed and changed culturally to become what archaeologists call “Ostionoid” people by 600- 900AD. They became the Tainos the Europeans encountered by 1200 AD. ( The Tainos were still evolving and changing when Columbus arrived). The Tainos Taino means good people. – Tai = good – no is a pluralizing suffix used for people Dominated the island boriken (Spanish boriquen), (Puerto Rico)“the land of the brave lord”. Taino Society They were divided into two classes. – Natainos = noble upper class – Naborias= commoners Communities were ruled by chiefs or caciques, and the large island of Puerto Rico or Hispaniola, had between 5 and 20 chiefs or caciques (chiefdoms).

Taino Mythology

The Origin of the Sun and the Moon – The Sun and the Moon emerged from a cave (BoiNayeL) in the land of cacique MauTiaTiHueLMauTiaTiHueL means “Son of Alba” or “Lord of the Dawn” making the cave into a cosmic den from which the Sun emerges to illuminate the earth and to which it returns to hide as the moon emerges.” The Quadruplets – There was a man named Yaya (supreme spirit), his son Yayael, that translates as the son of Yaya, wanted to kill him; Yaya banished him for four moons, but, on his return, he still felt the same, so Yaya killed him and hung his bones in a gourd, where they remained for some time. One day the mother wanted to see her son’s bone, and lowering the gourd they saw that the bones had transformed into fish so they decided to eat them.

TAINO GODS

Trigonolito – Yocahu Vaguada Maorocoti: God of fertility. “Spirit of the Yucca and the sea. Mr yucador. ” He was buried in the conucos cassava; main food of the native Taino, to fertilize the soil.

God of Labour Recreation brothers Guillen, based on Taino art. The potiza carrying on his back, representing the hard work you were subjected aboriginal Americans as a result of conquest

Itiva Tahuvava Goddess Mother Earth. Mother of twins representing the four cardinal points or “the four winds.”

Behique “Witch Doctor”, Shaman. It represents the wisest character in the Taino tribe, knowing all the plants and medicinal substances responsible for curing diseases, director of the rite of cohoba. If left to a dying patient, the relatives of the dead killed clobbered.

Cemi Boinayel God of Rain. Large tears emerging from their eyes as a sign of water that will govern the field to fertilize the cultivation of cassava.

Moon Goddess Sale of a cave of the country chieftain Mautiatibuel (son of dawn) or “Lord of the Dawn”, which returns to hide, while the sun rises from there.

Sun God Sale of a cave of the country’s chief Mautiatibuel (son of dawn) or “Lord of the Dawn”, which returns to hide, while the moon comes out of there.

God of force Recreation brothers Guillen, based on Taino art. The trunk that rose, represents the willpower of the people for being free.

God of Cohoba Main deity Taíno. The plate of his head was used to move the dust that was inhaled hallucinogen in ceremonies regligiosas (rite of cohoba).

Taino Indian Culture

The Taíno culture impressed both the Spanish (who observed it) and modern sociologists. The Arawakan achievements included construction of ceremonial ball parks whose boundaries were marked by upright stone dolmens, development of a universal language, and creation of a complicated religious cosmology. There was a hierarchy of deities who inhabited the sky; Yocahu was the supreme Creator. Another god, Jurakán, was perpetually angry and ruled the power of the hurricane. Other mythological figures were the gods Zemi and Maboya. The zemis, a god of both sexes, were represented by icons in the form of human and animal figures, and collars made of wood, stone, bones, and human remains. Taíno Indians believed that being in the good graces of their zemis protected them from disease, hurricanes, or disaster in war. They therefore served cassava (manioc) bread as well as beverages and tobacco to their zemis as propitiatory offerings. Maboyas, on the other hand, was a nocturnal deity who destroyed the crops and was feared by all the natives, to the extent that elaborate sacrifices were offered to placate him. Myths and traditions were perpetuated through ceremonial dances (areytos), drumbeats, oral traditions, and a ceremonial ball game played between opposing teams (of 10 to 30 players per team) with a rubber ball; winning this game was thought to bring a good harvest and strong, healthy children.

Caciques lived in larger and rectangular huts, called caneyes, located in the center of the village facing the batey. The naborias lived in round huts, called bohios. The construction of both types of building was the same: wooden frames, topped by straw, with dirt floors, no partitions between families and scant interior furnishing. Buildings were strong enough to resist hurricanes. Its believed that Taíno settlements ranged from single families to groups of 3,000 people. Several related families lived together in the same house.

TAINO SYMBOLS

Taino Symbols and Meanings

 TAINO GODS

Opposing Columbus - The WBAI Radio Interview

BEYOND – Contemporary Native American Basketry at AICH – New York City

BEYOND - Contemporary Native American Basketry at AICH - New York City

Taino Artifacts – Smithsonian Repository Consultation

Festival Nacional Indigena Jayuya 35th Anniversary

Festival Nacional Indigena Jayuya 35th Anniversary

La Rancheria Cuba Taina

La Rancheria Cuba Taina

Surf Rakuno Achiano La Selva

Surf Rakuno Achiano La Selva

Taino Revival Part 1

Taino Revival Part 1

PresenciaTaina.TV offers videos on the ancestral Caribbean Indigenous Cultural Heritage.

This project was developed by Roger Hernandez Jr. to provide educational resources to the public on issues and exhibitions that compliment this genre.

For additional documentation you may visit the website of the United Confederation of Taino People at:

PRESENCIATAINA TV

http://www.uctp.org

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