traveling latin america
Travel and tourism throughout Latin America. The Taino Tribe in Puerto Rico

When Christopher Columbus’ expedition landed on the island of Puerto Rico in November of 1493, it was met by a thriving community of Native Americans called Tainos. Within 50 years, most of the Tainos were gone, killed by disease and the rigors of forced labor.
Tibes dwelling
Tibes Indigenous Center, Puerto Rico

For many years it was believed that the Taino tribe in Puerto Rico had completely died off by the end of the 16th century, but a recent study at the University of Puerto Rico showed that more than half of Puerto Ricans tested carry Native American DNA.

The Taino’s origins can be found in the South American Arawak tribe. The Arawaks first migrated to Trinidad, near the coast of Venezuela, and gradually moved from island to island until they reached Puerto Rico, probably around 500 AD.

The Tainos preferred peace, but were willing to fight to defend themselves. They lived in huts called “bohios” in villages known as “yucayeques.” A “cacique” or chief led each village. The social hierarchy included noblemen (“nitainos”), priests and doctors(“bohiques”), and commoners (“naboris”). They created tools and weapons from stone, as well as religious figures called “cemis,” which represented their gods. Their primary occupation was farming, though they also fished and hunted.

Even though there are no known pureblooded Tainos today, they have had an important influence on Puerto Rican culture. Taino words such as “hurricane” and “barbeque” are commonly used, and we eat the pineapples that were once cultivated by the Tainos. Puerto Rican cities bear Taino names, such as “Yabucoa” and “Arecibo.” And even though 500 years have passed, the Taino name for the island, Borinquen, is used interchangeably with the official name, Puerto Rico.

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