For the Taíno, the paucity of the lands are no impediment to a thriving agriculture, much to the envy of their neighbors.
Descendants of the Arawakan-speaking peoples who moved into the Caribbean from the Orinoco Valley in the third century BCE, the Taíno were one of the Greater Antilles’ dominant cultures between the seventh and 15th centuries. Highly adaptable, they were able to extract the most out of relatively resource-poor ecosystems to ensure their population’s prosperity. During this period they created and maintained an extremely rich ritual artistic tradition, supported by exceptional skills in wood and stone carving.Find out more:
The Taíno were a people of the Ostionoid culture who largely settled in the islands of the Greater Antilles. As representatives of a culture also called “Central Ostionoid” or “Chican-Ostionoid”, they differed from the rest of their cultural and linguistic family by the size of their communities, the complexity of their social system, and the diversity of their material productions. The Taíno were organized into small territorial communities regrouping a dozen or so villages headed by chiefs (caciques), in which the social roles were not gender-specific.
Their agricultural production largely featured crops such as cassava and corn, but also included potatoes, beans, peanuts, peppers, and fruit trees grown on little earthen mounds known as conucos. Generally settled on islands poor in natural resources, the Taíno obtained a significant part of their diet from the sea. They harvested from it a large variety of fish, shellfish and crustaceans, mammals such as seals and manatees, and even turtles.
Prolific and skilled sculptors, the Taíno produced many objects related to their religious rites. They worshipped cemis, anthropomorphic statuettes encapsulating the spirits of their ancestors or deities. This cult was led by behiques, shamans who contacted the cemis after performing purification rituals and consuming hallucinogenic drinks.
To this day, the Great Antilles’ central island that was the heart of Taíno culture goes by several different names. Usually referred to as Hispaniola, the name given to it by Christopher Columbus, it is also called Haiti, derived from the Taíno term Ayiti meaning “land of the high mountains”.