of Florida and the Caribbean"
The Taíno had complex, hierarchical religious, political and social systems. They were skilled agriculturists and navigators. They wrote music and poetry. Although their entire way of life drew on the diverse cultural and historical backgrounds of their predecessors, they fused these aspects of their heritage into something altogether new and unique.
The Taíno migrated to the Caribbean islands from the Amazon Basin in the sixth century. Their culture continued to evolve for nearly a thousand years. They were probably absorbed in ordinary activities, perhaps netting fish, making cassava cakes or writing poetry, when Christopher Columbus made his first landfall on their Bahamian Island of Guanahani in 1492. Within sixty years of that unfortunate introduction the Taíno ceased to exist. Never the less, their contributions to the biological, cultural and linguistic life of the Caribbean are felt today. Particularly in the Antilles, communities continue to adhere to certain Taíno practices in their world-views, religious belief language, music and food.
Taíno society shared some similarities with that of the Europeans, but there were also aspects without parallels. Like Europeans, the Taíno society was hierarchical. The highest-ranking cacique (chief) was similar in authority to a European king. He controlled lesser chiefs who governed individual communities on the island. The upper class of chiefs, warriors and artists, ruled over a lower class of farmers, fisherman and hunters, and was comparable to the European nobility. However, society and politics was matrilineal and complex, and the Taíno perished before these intricate systems could be fully understood.
Most of the time he wore little, perhaps just a cotton loincloth. A religious man, he took part in ceremonial events, and for those occasions he painted his body and wore decorative ornaments such as belts and necklaces. His ears and nose were pierced for the insertion of feathers and jewelry. The village chief, or cacique, wore more elaborate ornaments including feathered headdresses, gold and copper jewelry, and pendants in the form of carved human masks.
The Taíno grew cotton from which they made clothing. The higher the rank of an individual the more elaborate the apparel, especially for religious ceremonies. Caciques and Shamans wore mantles and vestments adorned with feathers. Married women wore small skirts called naguas. When Columbus sent letters back to Spain claiming the Indians he saw were "all naked as the day they were born," he must have been gazing upon the virgin girls, for they wore only a cotton belt.
The villager worked in the fields growing sweet potatoes and cassava, a starchy root crop also called manioc. Other common crops included squash, beans, peppers, peanuts and pineapple. A Taíno farmer we would call an environmentalist farmer. Instead of slashing and burning the forest to make a temporary clearing, as is common in the tropics, he heaped up mounds of earth in more permanent fields. This provided softer soil, retarded erosion, and improved drainage and irrigation. According to reports written by early European explorers, the Taíno also caught fish, turtles, iguanas and manatees. The meat was boiled or barbecued.
The Taíno created powerfully expressive objects for their religious rituals. Figurative sculptures called zemis, made of wood, stone, bone and other materials, represented two primary deities: Yúcahu, lord of cassava and the sea, and Atabey, his mother, goddess of fresh water and fertility. Lesser deities, including spirits of ancestors, were believed to live in trees, rocks and other features of the landscape. In their most important religious ceremony, the cohoba ritual, the Taínos in hallucinogenic trance communicated with their gods to ask for protection and help with the harvest. The cacique played a wooden drum as participants took their places before the zemi.
The arrival of Europeans brought the extinction of the Taíno people. By the middle of the 16th century, they had disappearedvictims of enslavement, disease, and starvation.
Taino Indian Culture in the Caribbean
Terms - Dictionary of Indigenous Caribbean Language