Update: This post was originally published on November 24, 2017, and updated on April 22, 2021, due to a 2018 finding that the Taíno indigenous are not extinct. A recent DNA study determined that the Taínos assimilated but were never completely gone. You can read more about it here, and here. You can also read stories of modern Taíno descendants here.
1. The Taínos are a subgroup of the Arawak Indians. The modern-day descendants of the Taínos inhabit the Greater Antilles (comprising Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola [Haiti and the Dominican Republic], and Puerto Rico) in the Caribbean Sea.
2. On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus on his second trip discovered the island of Puerto Rico. He called the aboriginal tribe “indians” because he thought he had discovered India.
3. The language is also very much alive. We use words commonly used in both the English and Spanish languages such as barbacoa/barbecue, canoas/canoes, jamaca/hammock, and jurakan/hurricane are words invented by the Taínos. So next time you hop on a canoe and have a barbecue remember where the words come from.
4. They had three very organized social classes: the naborias (working class), the nitaínos or sub-chiefs, and noblemen which includes the bohiques or priests and medicine men and the caciques or chiefs. Each village or yucayeque had one.
5. The Taíno people are medium height, with a bronze skin tone, and long straight black hair. Facial features were high cheekbones and dark brown eyes. The majority of them didn’t use clothing except for married women who would wear a “short apron” called nagua. The Taino Indians painted their bodies. The earrings, nose rings, and necklaces which were sometimes made of gold.
6. Taíno rituals occurred in the batey (picture below). Sacred dances known as areytos along with music, games, trades, storytelling, and ceremonies were held in the batey. These dances usually took place in the center of the village surrounded by the bohíos (huts). You can make a Taíno sensory village with your kids, and have them learn about the yucayeque (Taíno village).
7. The Taínos written language was in the form of petroglyphs or symbols carved in stones. The symbols of the sun, pregnant woman, snail, and the coquí can be found in different areas in Puerto Rico. A great activity for kids to learn about the Taíno rock art can be found here.
Fun and Games
8. The Taínos had fun in many different ways. and a ball game called batú. They would play batú in an area called the batey (pictured below). They played the game with a ball made of tree gum, leaves, and roots. The game has two teams with up to 30 players including men and women. To play they had to keep the ball in the air with their shoulders, elbows, hips, and any other part of their body except for their hands.
9. Of the 78 municipalities (cities and towns) in Puerto Rico 16 of them honor the Taíno (15) Caciques (male leader) and (1) Cacica (female leader) by being named after them:
- Arecibo (Arasibo)
- Bayamón (Bayamongo)
- Caguas (Caguax)
- Canóvanas (Canovanax)
- Coamo (Coamex)
- Humacao (Macao)
- Luquillo (Yuquibo)
- Orocovis (Orocovix)
- Naguabo (Daguao)
- Utuado (Otoao)
- Mayagüez (Yagüex)
- Loíza (Yuiza)
Twenty more municipalities also have Taíno names. Meaning that at least 46.15% of the island has an indigenous name. This shows that our Taíno heritage is present in our everyday life even after more than 500+ years later.
10. The Taínos, as very religious people, and believed in many deities. The cemí is a spiritual object housing a spirit and it is a fundamental symbol in the Taíno religion. It is a stone with three cardinal points. Did you know that you can visit a museum in the shape of the cemí in Puerto Rico? Read more here.
Just for fun here’s a video of a Taíno calling song:
Here I am with my son visiting the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center (Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes).
Welcome to our fourth annual celebration of Native American Heritage Month! All month long we’ll be sharing posts about sharing these rich cultures with kids. Find our full schedule of posts below, and don’t forget to link up your own as well! We’re also having a giveaway (details coming soon!) Don’t miss our series from last year, 2015, and 2014, plus you can find even more ideas on our Native/Indigenous Cultures Pinterest board:
Tiny Tapping Toes on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Jingle Dress Dancing
Crafty Moms Share on Multicultural Kid Blogs: 10 Fun Facts about the Wopânâak (Wampanoag) Nation
Crafty Moms Share: Sacagawea and the Shoshone
Creative World of Varya
Native American Heritage Month Giveaway
From MotherTongues: Himdag T-shirt, women’s or unisex, S-XL, US/Canada Shipping Only
From Abrams Books: Puritan Girl, Mohawk Girl, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bird Girl, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, and The Star People, US/Canada Shipping Only
From Wisdom Tales Press: Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, Indian Boyhood: The True Story of an Indian Upbringing, Whispers of the Wolf, Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior, US Shipping Only
From Penguin Kids: I Am Sacagawea, US Shipping Only
From Quarto: Path to the Pacific, US Shipping Only
From Kid World Citizen: Machu Pichu Lesson Plan (English and Spanish versions)
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