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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Taíno or “Good People” of the Caribbean

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The Taíno people are the indigenous people of the Caribbean. They lived in Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola (today’s Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the Lesser Antilles.

The term Taíno is thought to mean “good people,” possibly a reflection of them being a welcoming group who built relationships with neighboring islands largely through travel over water via canoe. Talented canoe constructors, the early Taíno used tree trunks to create boats. The Taíno initially introduced the practice of horticulture to the Caribbean area, including in Antigua and Barbuda. Women were responsible for preparing the food, including cassava which was a staple in the diet.

The Taíno were animistic in their spirituality, believing that all things possessed souls or spirits that could be either benevolent or malevolent. Today, many Taíno people recognize how important it is to care for our planet and see this connection with the Earth and nature as an integral part of their spirituality. Valerie Nanaturey Vargas-Estevez makes presentations on and is a teacher of Taíno culture. “So, to me, Taíno spirituality takes a great hold of me on a daily basis, from the moment I open my eyes and look at the sun and I thank Creator for everything. I try my best to take care of our Mother Earth that to me is so paramount. I hope that people understand and start changing the way they live so as to protect our Earth, our stars, our planet, our universe, for our children and all others that live here.”

One particular study found that a large portion of Puerto Rican people are Taíno descendants. The findings have been embraced by the Taíno community. Taíno culture is becoming more renowned through the work of various people, such as Dr. Lesley-Gail Atkinson Swaby of Jamaica. Dr. Swaby studied Taíno culture for many years and was inspired to write a children’s book entitled “Boianani: A Taíno Girl’s First Adventure.”

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