Taíno Indians in Puerto Rico
There were thousands of people in Puerto Rico before the Spaniards arrived. Taíno Indians in Puerto Rico occupied the Island and were excellent navigators and fishermen. Some accounts speak of 100 foot colorful canoes with 80 rowers made out of a hollowed out Kapok or Ceiba tree that they would use for crossings.
When the Europeans arrived there was an estimated 600,000 Taínos in Puerto Rico. Columbus described the inhabitants he encountered as “very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people … They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.” Part of this description can be used to describe today’s Puerto Ricans.
The disapearance myth
The popular belief, based on Spanish documents, is that there were no Taíno Indians in Puerto Rico shortly after conquest. There’s reason to believe the contrary. The Spaniards enslaved the locals and had to pay a tax to the Crown on every slave. They did a lot of self-reporting, so it was convenient to document that there were no Taínos left. It also allowed them to justify the need for more African slaves. However, up until the 1800’s there were pure Indian communities or “Indieras” in the isolated areas of the west.
Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of Taíno roots
Recent studies however show that 60% of Puerto Rico’s population shows traces of Taíno DNA and some physical features can still be seen in some locals, particularly in the southwest. There’s a good amount of archeological evidence of their presence on the Island, ceremonial ball courts, villages and petroglyphs carved in granite that are fascinating to discover. We’ve put together a list of the Top Places to Visit on your ethnographic adventure.
Top Places for Taíno Culture
Cueva del Indio, Arecibo – This seaside cave can be accessed on Route 10 and features ancient indian trails and a seaside cave with petroglyphs. Access is very difficult but the views on the trails are worth the trip.
Caguna Ceremonial Center, Utuado– this is one of the more important ceremonial center in the Caribbean. A ball court lined with petroglyphs of different Taíno deities and creatures. Route 111
Maboití Art and Cultural Center, Jayuya– includes the Cemi Museum, artifact exhibits, Indian ceremonial courts and more. Route 144
Tibes Ceremonial Center, Ponce – the largest and oldest ceremonial site uncovered in Puerto also believed to be an astronomical observation center. The site includes a reproduction of a Taíno village. Route 503
Cueva del Indio, Las Piedras – This smaller ceremonial center was used for the “cohoba” ritual that involved inhaling a hallucinogenic preparation made from the bark of a tree in a cave or cueva. Call 787-733-2160, ext 525 to coordinate a visit.
Take some time to discover this culture that had a deep influence on modern day Puerto Rico.