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The Taino Culture Before Spanish Arrival, part 1
Natural scale reproduction of an aboriginal village
by
Caribbean 1490s
Taino culture was dominant throughout the Caribbean, a sea and island world that was in turn cradle of Taino civilization. In agriculture, seafaring and cosmology, Ciboney and Guanahatabey (western Cuba), Macorix and/or Ciguayo (Bohio) and even Carib (Lesser Antilles) all followed the material and much of the psycho-spiritual framework of the Taino. The original Caribbeans spoke Arawak. The people of the Arawak language family still comprise one of the more widespread American Indigenous cultures, with relatively large kinship nations in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America. Throughout the Caribbean, usually in remote mountain ranges and coastal promontories, remnant groups and communities of Taino-Arawak and Carib descendants survive to the present. Aspects of the animistic and material culture of the Taino-Arawak have been adopted by the mestizo populations of the Caribbean and are interwoven into the Euro-African fabric of the islands` folk universe.
The word Taino meant `men of the good,` and from most indications the Tainos were good. Coupled to the lush and hospitable islands over millennium, and a half, the indigenous people of `La Taina` developed a culture where the human personality was gentle. Among the Taino at the time of contact, by all accounts, generosity and kindness were dominant values. Among the Taino peoples, as with most indigenous lifeways, the physical culture was geared toward a sustainable interaction with the natural surroundings. The Taino`s culture has been designated as `primitive` by western scholarship, yet it prescribed a lifeway that strove to feed all the people, and a spirituality that respected, in ceremony most of their main animal and food sources, as well as the natural forces like climate, season and weather. The Taino lived respectfully in a bountiful place and so their nature was bountiful.

The naked people Columbus first sighted lived in an island world of rainforests and tropical weather, and adventure and fishing legends at sea. Theirs was a land of generous abundance by global terms. They could build a dwelling from a single tree (the Royal Palm) and from several others (gommier, ceiba), a canoe that could carry more than one hundred people.
The houses (bohios) were (and are today among Dominican and Cuban Cuajiros) made of palm tree, trunk and thatch lashed together in a rectangle or sometimes a circle pattern. The islands still have millions of royal and other useful palm trees, from which bohios by the hundreds of thousands could be built. The wood of the Royal Palm is still today considered the most resistant to tropical rot, lasting untreated as long as ninety years.
The Tainos lived in the shadows of a diverse forest so biologically remarkable as to be almost unimaginable to us, and, indeed, the biological transformation of their world was so complete in the intervening centuries that we may never again know how the land or the life of the land appeared in detail. What we do know is that their world would appear to us, as it did to the Spanish of the fifteenth century, as a tropical paradise. It was not heaven on earth, but it was one of those places that was reasonably close.

The Taino world, for the most part, had some of the appearance that modern imaginations ascribe to the South Pacific islands. The people lived in small, clean villages of neatly appointed thatch dwellings along rivers inland and on the coasts. They were a handsome people who had no need of clothing for warmth. They liked to bathe often, which prompted a Spanish royal law forbidding the practice; `for we are informed it does them much harm,` wrote Queen Isabella. Their general physical appearance was consistent with the appearance of other Indians of the Americas. They were rarely taller than five feet six inches which would make them rather small to modern North American eyes. They painted their bodies with earth dyes and adorned themselves with shells and metals. Men and women chiefs often wore gold in the ears and nose, or as pendants around the neck. Some had tattoos.
From all early descriptions the Tainos were a healthy people who showed no signs of distress from hunger or want.

by David Gimenez
Article ID 7
First Article 12 of 710 Last
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