History of Taínos and Arawak
Our eco resort helps preserve Jamaica’s stunning natural beauty for tourists to enjoy. Jamaica’s wonderful culture is also a great reason to visit the island. Understanding the history of Taínos and Arawak is important for travelers interested in learning about the cultural origins of Jamaican society. The Taínos and Arawak are indigenous tribes of Jamaica and “First People” making them and their history a significant part of Jamaica’s history. The fingerprints of Taínos and Arawak culture, language, food and lifestyle still influence Jamaican today. The word ‘Jamaica’ has it’s origin in the Arawak word ‘xaymaca’ which translates directly as the ‘land of wood and water.’
Jamaica Before the Taínos and Arawak
Jamaica’s prehistory consisted 3 separate waves of settlement by Amerindian people. The first people, known as Ciboney (Guanahatabey) inhabited the region between 5,000 BC – 4,000 BC. The Ciboney (stone people) were caves dwelling stone carvers that migrated from the Yucatan peninsula. The Taínos migrated from the same region and enslaved the native tribes when they arrived in Jamaica — that’s right the Taínos subjugated their then modern day ancestors. When the Spanish arrived in 1492 they observed society was divided into two groups: the nobles (nitaínos) and the enslaved commoners (naborias).
Origins of Taínos & Arawak
Taínos also came from South America, which is why there are some close ties to their culture and that of the Mesoamericans. Taínos spread across the Greater Antilles and Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti today) The Western Taínos were the group that was settled in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Cuba.
When Colón (Christopher Columbus) landed in 1492 there were estimated to be 200 tribal groups in Jamaica. The groups were ruled by male chiefs who were given advice by shaman priests. The women of the culture would tend to the agriculture while the men were primarily tasked with fishing and some hunting. Cassava and fish were the major component of the Taínos diet. Cassava was dried and ground into flour. Recently the Jamaican government in cooperation with the United Nations helped to encourage cassava production in Jamaica. Cassava flour is the key ingredient in Bammy, a traditional gluten free flatbread.
The Arawak Tribe
The Arawak tribe shares a lot of similarities with the Taino, especially since they both came from South America. Also known as the “Lokono”, this group settled on the coastal areas of various islands including Jamaica. Arawaks eventually intermixed with the Taínos. The Arawak’s language, Lokono Dian, became the dominant tongue, with Taínos culture remaining preeminent. Words like hammock, tobacco and barbecue are all derived from Lokono Dian, the now extinct language of the Arawak.
The Spanish brutally enslaved the Taínos and also brought diseases like smallpox that ravaged the population. Close to 3 million Taínos people were killed or died of disease over a 20 year period. In the past it was thought that the Taínos population was completely annihilated by the Spanish Colonists. Anthropological finds discovered subsequently prove that some escaped doom. Some of the Tainos lived and cooperated with the Maroons. The Maroons were key figures in an insurgent resistance to English conquest, who colonized Jamaica after Spain.
The Jamaican National Trust has continued to task itself as they want to learn more history of Taínos and Arawak that played such a significant part of Jamaican prehistory. Documenting the history of the Central and South American people that were the dominant culture of the entire Caribbean region is an important endeavor. While these groups of people are not part of a distinct ethnic group these days, there are still people who identify with these tribes.
Sustainable Travel’s Responsibility Preserve Culture
Our role as an eco lodge and eco resort is not only to safeguard the environment but also help to preserve Jamaican culture. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between enjoying Jamaica’s natural wonders and immersing yourself in Jamaican culture – Camp Cabarita offers the best of both. Teaching our guests about the history of Taínos and Arawak lends critical perspective to how we understand modern culture and both the opportunities and challenges of modern times. If you are interested learning more about this place and time in history we recommend “1491: New Revelations about the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles Mann. Hopefully sharing this piece of Jamaica’s past will help you appreciate this breathtaking island and it’s people today!
Did you enjoy reading this? Did we miss something that you think is important? Please take a moment tell us what you think below.