We seek to capture your attention to our rich culture and history from the beginning, the Arawaks and the Tainos. Therefor, in this post we will give you some background on the the mythical way of life they had and provide information to better capture the beautiful meaning they gave the world. Also, we have created another post in which we give you a list of words, basic vocabulary, from the Tainos in order to provide you with better knowledge to experience the myths we will pass on to you in the nexts weeks posts. For the glossary on words click here.

Who were the natives of Puerto Rico

The natives of Puerto Rico have almost all the same background of the Caribbean’s natives, even though they have different nomenclatures and a bit different stories. The Arawaks, the Caribs, and the Tainos, all come from South America and have ties to the Incas from the Andean region. Basically, from the Incas come the Arawaks, who traveled to the Caribbean Islands. From the Arawaks, the ones that chose to stay put in Haiti, Puerto Rico and other islands of the northern Lesser Antilles, come the Tainos. Now, the ones that navigated around the islands were the Caribs. Each of the groups had their own subcultures and ways of life. Our purpose is to focus on the Tainos.

In the culture of the Tainos, they were a calm but well versed group. Unlike the Caribs, they did not venture out into the ocean. Staying inside the islands they were known for being great farmers and their main source of food was the cassava. A basic social structure was established, many villages around the island of Puerto Rico with the Caciques at the head of each. Behiques were the religious leaders and/or advisors of the Cacique, “chamans” for lack of a better analogy. Like all other cultures they had their own religious culture with myths and legends. From their mythology arise their rituals and views of the world around them, but another way to see this, as said in the PR Encyclopedia, “the myths of their origins come from their experiences from what is sacred and their lives”.

The rituals were performed in the same place that celebrations and sports took place, the Batey. Areitos, as they called the those celebrations, rituals and sports, had a special meaning for their society. It is in those moments that the Tainos shared their stories and myths on how the world was created, how they came to be, and it was imperative that all of the village participate of this mystical celebrations. And, now, we will pass them down to you in order to keep their history and mythology alive.

What is still alive from Taino culture

Unfortunately, Tainos have disappeared from Earth and only few stories and what archeologists and anthropologists have dug up is what is available to us. On the other hand, recent studies have supposedly found a link, nano-link for that matter, in DNA, to the Tainos’ genes, but few details have been found about this. Hopefully they can broaden the studies and provide more detail to the vast culture that is assumed.

Now, we still have influences from their culture alive in today’s modern world. If you have ever barbecued, played baseball, and used a hammock, you should thank Tainos for it.

Tainos were clean people, they did not like to stay dirty too long, and they protected themselves from the sun. They used achiote, annatto in english, to cover themselves and that protected them from getting sunburned. Also, they bathed regularly, even though not as much as we do now a days and as it is recommended, but they had a sense of hygiene and in the myth of creation you will be able to see this. Keeping this in mind, it is said that they did not like to sleep on the floor, hence, inside their bohíos they had hammocks to sleep in.

Last of the Tainos

In the end, after the Spanish Conquistadores arrived to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the Tainos were wiped out completely. But, they did not go down without a fight. On later posts we will tell you about the Legend of Salcedo, a Spanish Conquistador rumored to be the first Spaniard killed by the Tainos, but in truth the Tainos fought many times with the Spaniards. We leave you for now with a quote from Kelvin Durán Berríos in the Encyclopedia of Puerto Rico. The quote is taken from The Tainos: Mythology and Religious Beliefs and you can follow the link below to read more:

With the arrival of the Spaniards, Taino society was violently wiped out. However, just as they recreated their myths through religious ceremonies, those who read them carefully today can recover their ancient memories. Each time a myth is told, the universe is born again and its origin is revealed. This is how the ancestral sound of the areito, the holy breath of the behique and the mysterious power of the cemíes remain.

The Tainos: Mythology and Religious Beliefs – Kelvin Durán Berríos