Puerto Rico has a long, long, LONG history with the world. In these series of posts, we aim to help expand the knowledge of Puerto Rico’s history so that the world can have a better understanding of the Island and how it came to be what it is today.
We’ll start from the beginning, in Pre-colonial Puerto Rico, when the roots of what has become the beautiful, modern day culture of Puerto Ricans formed.
The settlement of Puerto Rico began with the rise of the Ortoiroid culture from the Orinoco region in South America and dates back 4000 years. An archeological dig on the island of Vieques in 1990, found the remains of what is believed to be an Ortoiroid man, who they named Puerto Ferro Man. He was dated back to around 2000 BC.
Between the 7th and 11th centuries, the Arawak were thought to have settled the island. Also during this time, the Taíno culture developed. By approximately 1000 AD, The Taíno tribe had become dominant in Puerto Rico. The Taíno culture has been traced back to the village of Saladero, on Orinoco River in Venezuela, with the Taíno migrating to Puerto Rico by crossing the Lesser Antilles.
At the time of Columbus’ arrival, an estimated 50 thousand Taíno led by their caciques (chief) inhabited the island. They called it “Borinquen,” meaning the “Great Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord.” The Taíno Indians lived in theocratic kingdoms and followed a hierarchically that was arranged by the caciques.
Taíno’s lived in small villages led by a cacique and thrived on hunting, fishing, and gathering of cassava root and fruit. In 1493, when the Spaniards arrived, the Taíno were already at war with the raiding Carib, who were moving through the Antilles chain and becoming a dominant tribe. The Taíno domination of the island was nearing its end, with the Spanish arrival marking the beginning of their extinction.
The Taíno culture has impressed both the Spanish and modern sociologists. Their achievements included the construction of ceremonial ballparks, development of a universal language, and creation of a complicated religious cosmology.
The Taíno believed there was a hierarchy of deities who inhabited the sky, with Yocahu as their supreme Creator. Another god, by the name of Jurakán, was perpetually angry and ruled the powers of the hurricane. There were also the gods Zemi and Maboya. The Zemis represented both sexes, were icons in the form of human and animal figures. They wore collars made of wood, stone, bones, and human remains. The Taíno Indians believed that being in the good graces of their Zemis protected them from disease, hurricanes, and war. They would serve cassava bread, indigenous beverages, and tobacco to their Zemis as offerings. Maboyas were the nocturnal deity who destroyed the crops and was feared by all the natives. Elaborate sacrifices were offered to please him.
Taíno myths and traditions were held through ceremonial dances or areytos, drumbeats, oral traditions, and a ceremonial ball game played between opposing teams. Similar to baseball, there could be 10 to 30 players per team, and they played with a ball. The winner of this game was thought to bring a successful harvest and strong, healthy children.
The Taíno Indians were bronze-colored and of average stature. They had dark, coarse hair, with large dark eyes. Men generally were naked or wore a breechcloth, called nagua. It was custom for single women to walk around naked, and married women wore an apron over their genitals. Their clothing was made of cotton or palm fibers. Both sexes painted themselves on special occasions. They were adorned in jewelry, typically wearing custom earrings, nose rings, and necklaces. The Taíno craftsmanship is scarce. There was some discovery very of pottery and baskets, along with stone, marble, and woodwork. They seemed to indulge in more physical activities involving dance and sport.
Taínos Indians were skilled in agriculture and hunting. Known best for good sailing, fishing, canoe making, and navigating. Their main crops were indigenous cassava roots, garlic, potatoes, yautías, mamey, guava, and anón. The Taínos had no calendar, numerical, or writing system. Recognizable personal possessions of the Taíno that we still see today are hammocks, wooden mixing bowls, and their most prized possessions- large canoes! Which they used for sailing, fishing, and water sports.
The caciques lived in rectangular huts, called caneyes, located in the center of the village, while the naborias lived in round huts, called bohios. Both homes were constructed the same: wooden frames, straw roofs, earthen floors, and scant interior furnishing. Interestingly, the buildings were strong enough to resist hurricanes.
Some ethnologists argue that the Taínos reign, already shaken by the attacks of the Caribs, was severely jeopardized by the time of the Spanish occupation. When the Spanish settlers first came in 1508, since there is no reliable documentation, anthropologists estimate their numbers to have been between 20,000 and 50,000. But things such as maltreatment, disease, and an unsuccessful rebellion had diminished their number to 4,000 by 1515. By 1544, a bishop counted only 60, but these too were soon lost.
It is essential to know the significant contributions that the Taínos made to Puerto Rico’s prehistoric era. The everyday life on the Island and the language that evolved during the Spanish occupation make Puerto Rico what it is today! Many Taíno names are still used for such towns as Utuado, Mayagüez, Caguas, and Humacao, among others. And the musical instruments, maracas and güiro, hammocks, canoes, and the word Huracán (Hurricane) are examples of the legacy left by the Taíno.
And since it has been documented that Taínos loved to play ball and water sports, well that could explain why Puerto Rican’s are inherently good at baseball and surfing!
Stayed tuned as we bring you the more awesome history of La Isla del Encanto!
We can’t wait for you to come down and experience the beauty here and keep coming back year after year.
We will see you soon.
Safe & fun travels!