~~October 3, 2016~~
My ancestry, my heritage, my blood
By Robert M. Poole
If you have ever paddled a canoe, napped in a hammock, savored a barbecue, smoked tobacco or tracked a hurricane across Cuba, you have paid tribute to the Taíno, the Indians who invented those words long before they welcomed Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492.
Their world, which had its origins among the Arawak tribes of the Orinoco Delta, gradually spread from Venezuela across the Antilles in waves of voyaging and settlement begun around 400 B.C. Mingling with people already established in the Caribbean, they developed self-sufficient communities on the island of Hispaniola, in what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic; in Jamaica and eastern Cuba; in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.
They cultivated yuca, sweet potatoes, maize, beans and other crops as their culture flourished, reaching its peak by the time of European contact.
Some scholars estimate the Taíno population may have reached more than three million on Hispaniola alone as the 15th century drew to a close, with smaller settlements elsewhere in the Caribbean. Whatever the number, the Taíno towns described by Spanish chroniclers were densely settled, well organized and widely dispersed.
“Very few Indians were left after 50 years,” said Ricardo Alegría, a Puerto Rican historian and anthropologist I interviewed before his death in July 2011. He had combed through Spanish archives to track the eclipse of the Taíno.
“Their culture was interrupted by disease, marriage with Spanish and Africans, and so forth, but the main reason the Indians were exterminated as a group was sickness,” he told me.
He ran through the figures from his native island:
“By 1519, a third of the aboriginal population had died because of smallpox. You find documents very soon after that, in the 1530’s, in which the question came from Spain to the governor. ‘How many Indians are there? Who are the chiefs?’
The answer was none. They are gone.”
Alegría paused before adding: “Some remained probably … but it was not that many.”
“As it appears in … full read/full credit”
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