Saturday, July 19, 2008


I saw this giant face carved into the mountainside while cruising along Route 2 in western Puerto Rico today, and decided to hop out of the car and take a picture. There was no sign associated with this carving, so I decided that it is a depiction of a Taíno, the indigenous people that inhabited Puerto Rico before Columbus came with his smallpox.

Prior to the Spanish arrival, the Taíno people were located in what is now called Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic/Haiti, Bahamas, Cuba, and Jamaica. They came to these islands after the fierce Carib tribes drove them out of South America.

The word taíno means "good" or "noble," and the Taínos used this word to distinguish themselves from the Caribs. The Taínos of Puerto Rico referred to their island as Borike'n (great land of the noble valient lord) and the people were known as Boricua (people of Borike'n).

Taínos lived in a matrilineal agrarian village society. Although they did not have a written language, English and Spanish have incorporated many words derived from their Maipurean language, including barbecue (barbacoa), hammock (hamaca), canoe (canoa), tobacco (tobaco), hurricane (huracan) and tattoo (tatuaje). The two main taíno gods were Yúcahu, god of the ocean and the cassava crop, and Atabey, goddess of fresh water and fertility. Other lesser gods were also worshiped.

In 1492, the Taíno people in San Salvador first met Christopher Columbus, and a few actually went back to Spain with him. And by "went back," I'm sure we can safely assume to mean "were forced to go back against their will." The Spaniards then instituted their favorite colonial game of "give me gold or I kill your people" for a few years until much of the Taíno people were killed, either in battle or by disease.

The Taíno heritage is today most strongly celebrated in Puerto Rico. Studies suggest that more than 60% of Puerto Ricans carry Taíno mitochondrial DNA. Some organizations and tourist attractions seek to celebrate Puerto Rico's Taíno heritage.

Here are a few websites with more information: (class syllabus, but what a cool class! Ideas for books/readings)
English-Taino dictionary
Taino Blog

While visiting Puerto Rico, be sure to check out:
Taíno petroglyphs in El Yunque
La Piedra Escrita in Jayuya
Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center in Ponce


Speaking Boricua said...

I know where that is... haha.

I was going to say though, for the whole 60% figure, take it with a grain of salt. I'm going to post on this at some point (as soon as I find time... eh) with lots of information. For whatever reason this is one of the topics I know the most about regarding PR. Should be interesting.

Next SUV said...

Thank you for an intelligent and informative post. I think I have some Taino blood and I live in Kentucky. Anyhow, gracia.

Donald H Sullivan said...

I'm not of Taino heritage, but I enjoyed your blog very much. I became interested in the Tainos when I was researching Columbus. I intended to write a historical fiction book about Columbus, but during research I became interested in the Taino and ended up writing a couple of historical novellas about them.