Who Were the Taínos?
The Dominican Republic is famous for its beautiful beaches, but there is more to it than its endless summer vibe. Before the island of Hispaniola became the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it was populated by the Taínos, an indigenous people with a fascinating culture. Read this blog post to learn about the Taíno traditions, religion, and food.
Who Were the Taínos?
The Taínos inhabited what are now Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Historians estimate that their population was between 2 to 3 million pre-Columbus, but this number is more of an educated guess than an exact estimate.
Literally, “Taíno” means “men of good,” and, according to Columbus’ diary, they lived up to their name. “They will give all that they do possess for anything that is given to them, exchanging things even for bits of broken crockery,” Columbus wrote. “They do not carry arms or know them.”
The Taínos spoke Arawakan, an indigenous language that lives on to this day through English and Spanish. “Hurricane”? That word came from Arawakan’s jurakán. Do you like barbecue? It would be called something different without the Arawakan barbacoa. And tobacco? You guessed it. The Taínos called it tobacco first.
Are you not much of a language learner? Learn how to communicate like a Dominican without saying a word.
The Taínos worshipped zemis, a term that included various gods, goddesses, spirits, and ancestors. Much of the knowledge about the religious practices of the Taínos has been lost, but the things that the historian do know are fascinating.
The main zemi of the Taínos was Atabey, the goddess of fertility, freshwater, and beauty. Atabey gave birth to herself, and the Taínos often depict her as a frog-like creature in the birthing position to emphasize her role as a powerful mother figure. Other important Taíno gods were Yocahu, the god of cassava, which was the main crop of the Taínos, and Guabancex, the goddess of storms.
Traditional Dominican food bears some similarities to the food of the Taínos. They had an efficient agriculture system and grew cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, squash, tobacco, peanuts, peppers, and other crops. The Taíno men also hunted small animals like birds and lizards and used canoes for fishing.
The Taíno society had a complicated hierarchy system with male chiefs, subchiefs, nobility, priests and healers, common people, and slaves. In the center of a Taíno settlement was a plaza where social gatherings, rituals, ceremonies, and games took place. During religious events, it was customary to induce vomit with a special swallowing stick. The Taínos saw it as a way to purge their bodies of impurities, both physically and spiritually.
If you’re looking to purge your body of impurities in a less intense way, visit one of Cabarete’s spas!
Taíno women had a surprising amount of power. Even though the Taíno chiefs were male, the society had a matrilineal system. The male chiefs inherited their noble position from their mother, not their father. Women and children also lived separately from men. This gave the Taíno women a certain level of control over their lives and bodies.
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