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Latin America Essay Research Paper Taino culture

Latin America Essay, Research Paper

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 western Cuba, Macorix and/or Bohio and even Lesser Antilles all followed the material structure 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 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 eople 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. The Taino were a sea-going people and took pride in their courage on the high ocean as well as their skill in finding their way around their world. They visited one another constantly. Columbus was often astonished at finding lone Indian fishermen sailing in the open ocean as he made his way among the islands. Once, a canoe of Taino men followed him from island to island until one of their relatives, held captive on Columbus’s flagship, jumped over the side to be spirited away. Father Bartolom de las Casas, the Spanish friar who arrived on Columbus’s heels and lived to denounce the Spanish cruelty toward Indians into the next century, wrote (exaggeratedly but impressively) about “vineyards that ran for three hundred leagues,” game birds taken by the tens of thousands,” great circular fields of yucca and greater stores of cassava bread, dried fish, corn fields and vast gardens of sweet yams. Tainos along the coasts of Espa ola and southern Cuba kept large circular corrals made of reeds which they filled with fish and turtles by the thousands. In parts of Puerto Rico and Cuba, Jivaro and Cuajiro fishermen used this method into the 1950s. The early Taino and Ciboney of Cuba were observed catching fish and turtles by way of a remora (suction fish) tied by the tail. Bohio was the Taino name for Espa iola, now Santo Domingo/Haiti. It means “home” in Taino, was in fact home to two main confederated peoples: the Taino, as predominant group, with three cacicasgos, and the Macorixes, with two cacicasgos. There was also one small cacicasgo of Ciqueyo Indians on the island when Columbus arrived. The three main Taino caciques were named Bohequio of Jaragua; Guacanagari of Marien, and Guarionex of La Vega. The two Macorix caciques were Caonabo, of Maguana, at the center of the island and his ally, Coyacoa of Higuey. Mayabanex, also a good friend of Caonabo, was cacique of the Ciguayo country. The three Taino caciques were relatives and allies and had good relations. The Taino of Jaragua had a particularly good agriculture, with efficient irrigation systems that regularly watered thousands of acres of all manner of tubers, vegetables and grains. The Macorixes and Ciguayos were strong warriors, known for a fierce dexterity at archery. They balanced the scale with the peaceful Tainos, who often fed them, and for whom in turn the Macorixes and Ciguayos fought against the more southern Carib. Caonabo, a Marorixe cacique was married to Anacaona, a Taino and sister of Behechio. A telling event occurred when the Spanish were pressing against Guaironex’s Indians in Santo Domingo. Guarionex was one of the main five caciques of La Espa ola. His territory in the Valley of La Vega was highly esteemed for its agricultural productivity. In 1494-95, after Columbus imposed a tribute of gold to be paid by every Taino man, woman or child, Guarionex went to the first colonizer with a counter offer. Ctiaironex’s main chiefs gathered over one thousand men with coas (planting sticks) in hand. They offered, if Columbus would drop the gold tribute, to plant all the food the Spanish would ever want to eat. But of course, the colonizers wanted gold, slaves and precious woods. This documented event where chiefs offer men with planting sticks to appease Spanish hunger focuses the value of land as equalizer, with the provision of basic sustenance as fundamental right of everyone. Like all American indigenous peoples, the Taino had an involved economic life. They could trade throughout the Caribbean and had systems of governance and beliefs that maintained harmony between human and natural environments. The Tainos enjoyed a peaceful way of life that modern anthropologists now call “ecosystemic.” In the wake of recent scientific revelations about the cost of high impact technologies upon the natural world, a culture such as the Taino, that could feed several million people without permanently wearing down its surroundings, might command higher respect. As can be seen throughout the Americas, American indigenous peoples and their systems of life have been denigrated and misperceived. Most persistent of European ethnocentrisms toward Indians is the concept of the primitive, always buttressed with the rule of least advanced to most advanced imposed by the prism of Western Civilization-the more “primitive” a people, the lower the place they are assigned in the scale of civilization. The anti-nature attitude inherent in this idea came over with the Iberians of the time, some of whom even died rather than perform manual labor, particularly tilling of the soil. The production and harvesting of food from sea, land and forests were esteemed human activities among Tainos. As with other indigenous cultures, the sophistication and sustainability of agricultural and natural harvesting systems was an important value and possibly the most grievous loss caused by the conquest of the Americas. The contrast is direct with the Spanish value that to work with land or nature directly, as a farmer and/or harvester, is a lowly activity, thus relegated to lesser humans and lower classes. In the Spanish annals, Espa ola is described as the most “advanced” of the greater Antilles. Tainos in Espanola were known for their good communications and productive agriculture. Espanola was the center of Taino culture, which appears to have traveled from there to Cuba and the outer islands. Gardens, ballcourts, and huge areitos (roundances) with speaking forums and poets characterized that lush island, which was confederated into five main cacicasgos or kinship nations. “It was a general rule among our Spaniards to be extraordinarily cruel to the Indians,” Las Casas wrote. The Spanish men relished working their steel swords on the Taino flesh, often cutting hands off at the slightest offense. They would test their swords and manly strength on captured Indians and place bets on the slicing off of heads or the cutting of bodies in half with one blow,” Las Casas told. There were many pitched battles where Indians routed the Spanish soldiers, and organized resistance persisted for fifty years, but Spanish cannon, steel swords, horses and dogs overwhelmed the Indians. One by one, Spanish captains approached the ruling nucleus of the tribal leadership. The techniques used to lure and trap the sincere Taino were strictly Machiavellian. The Spanish would sue for peace and start negotiations at which the caciques would put on large feasts. Then the Spanish would attack. One Spanish governor, Ovando, did this to destroy the powerful woman cacique, Anacaona, whose people he sought to “encommend” to new Spanish arrivals. He chose Christmas day, after three days of generous feasting, dancing, storytelling, and games. Anacaona had arranged a large areito, where her councilors were singing of the ancestors. At a signal from Ovando, Spanish soldiers seized Anacaona and all her nobles. The nobles were burned in a pile. Anacaona, the Taino queen, was hung. One by one, the caciques of Espa ola fell and their peo4ples were given over to Spanish masters, or “encomendados,” who literally worked the majority of them to death. Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica followed. In Puerto Rico, Caribs and Tainos joined battle against the Spanish and later migrated together to the islands in the Lower Antilles. In Cuba, the Tainos allied with the Ciboneys to mount several major rebellions. They were aided by the warnings of Hatuey, a cacique from Espaflola, who had seen the Spanish system in his own land. Hatuey was joined by a Cubano cacique, Guamax, to initiate a general warrior resistance that would carry on to the 1530s. Hatuey, who warned other Indians that gold was the only god of the Spanish, was captured and ordered burned alive. The story of Hatuey’s execution, recorded by Las Casas, is still told to children in eastern Cuba. The Greater Antilles region was settled slowly over the next two hundred years. Smallpox decimated large numbers of Tainos, and malaria, brought in by African slaves, also played a role. Many Indians fled west and south. During the conquest, many of the Taino ceremonial materials were transferred to western Cuba, hidden and found decades later. Small veins of gold were finally found in Cuba, but the discoveries coincided with Cortez’s expedition to Yucatan and his “discovery” of the Aztec and Mayan mainland. The great quantities of the precious yellow metal in meso-America obviated the urgency to settle Cuba, as Espa ola turned to sugar cane, and Havana became a port of call for African slavery and the shipment of gold and other treasure from the Spanish Main. Many Puerto Rican Tainos or Boriquas, among a total number of perhaps 50,000-100,000, with a dozen caciques, and of indistinct religion and customs from the Cubeflos or from Espa ola Tainos, appear to have migrated to-the islands of Lesser Antilles and possibly back to the South American mainland. Several Carib settlements to the east of them had been traditional enemies, but helped organize withdrawal of many Tainos to the Lesser Antilles. The Spanish never penetrated the wall of Carib resistance beyond the Taino territories. As many as a third of Borinquen Tainos fled into the mountains and disappeared and much the same can be said for Indians in Cuba and Santo Domingo. Among the first conquistadors and among the new Spanish arrivals, particularly the men from the Canary Islands and Galicia, many were known to take one or more wives among the Indian villages. There were noted alliances and nuclei of mestizajes stemming from these early intermarriage’s. In Santo Domingo, they settled along the Yaque River and into the Marien region. This “nascent, native feudalism . . . claimed hegemony over whole tribes. and was a subtle breakaway from Columbus’s factoria system.” The concubinage system set up by the old chiefs and some new Spanish men, both in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and theguatiao in Santo Domingo created a few somewhat ordained mestizajes, one that would sustain a core of indigenous traditions to modern times. There were incidents of sympathetic individual Spanish men marrying Indian women and thus removing the cacicas and their particular tribes from the encomienda system. The Spanish did this mostly to gain labor and advantage and at times as a way to remove themselves from the central authority all together. For the remaining indian caciques, it was a way to marry their remaining people and take status as one of the new people, neither white nor pure Indian Taino, but with at least the ability to establish families and hold land. The comendadores took after this practice when they could. One Cristobal Rodriguez a well-known Spanish-Indian interpreter was exiled for arranging the marriage of a cacica to a Juan Garces, “probably with the intent to remove her tribe from the encomienda system. A very few Indian communities, deep in the highest mountain valleys, did manage to survive in isolation in cuba for nearly five hundred years. These are the communities of Caridad de los Indios and others in the Rio Toa region. Porcallo and his fellow conquistadores provided no gentle model of “pater familias.” Powallo’s rule was so brutal that many Taino families in the region committed suicide rather than submit to his encomienda. Near Baracoa, Cuba, at a coastal village named Yumuri, a promontory stands in mute tribute to the many Taino families who, according to local oral history, jumped to their deaths off its cliffs while taunting their Spanish pursuers.



The History of Latin America Text Book

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