Updated: Dec 8, 2022
The Tribe of First Contact
The Island Arawaks were made up of many different tribes that inhabited the Greater and Lesser Antilles. These indigenous people are the tribe of first contact and the ones who "discovered" Columbus wandering lost in the ocean in 1492. This is the year when he landed on the island of Guanahani. One year later, Columbus landed on Boriken aka Puerto Rico for the first time on November 11th, 1493. The Taino are also the first to be called "Indian". Puerto Rico is currently a commonwealth of the United States and is one of many islands where Arawak "Taino" Native American Indians have survived. It is important to understand that Puerto Rican is not a race, it is a nationality. Our island has a diverse ethnic makeup of people from many nations that make up the fabric of daily Puerto Rican life.
Many of our ancestors took refuge from the Spanish in the deep mountain rain forests of our homeland of Boriken and from there have flourished. The town nestled highest in our rainforest mountains is called Hayuya - officially named "The Indigenous Capital of Puerto Rico" and is a place that you don't want to miss when you visit our homeland. Every year there is a gathering of Taino natives celebrating our living culture, songs, and dances that are open to the public. Let us take a look at how far our Arawak territory encompassed according to archaeologists.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS DISCOVER TAINO SETTLEMENTS IN GEORGIA
Our ancestors were masters of the sea, trading, and warfare. We are related to almost all of the original, Arawak speaking, tribes located in Bimini (The Land of Many Lakes) also known as Florida. A few years ago archaeologists in the State of Georgia were baffled when they discovered rock carvings with strange symbols and images. Theses carvings did not match the iconography of other tribes in the region such as the Cherokee, Muscogee, Hitchiti, Uchee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw.
They decided to go public with their finds in hopes that someone would recognize where these carvings came from. Experts in Caribbean archaeology immediately recognized the carvings as being almost identical to the carvings found in Puerto Rico. Further archaeological digs turned up evidence of Arawak Taino villages throughout Florida, as far north as Sweetwater near present-day Atlanta, Ga and also Ocmulgee Mound Complex in Macon, Ga. Ocmulgee was the largest trade center in the southeast.
Over 100 years after its accidental discovery during the Civil War Ocmulgee is now under the watchful eye of the Muskogee Creek Nation overseeing the preservation of the still intact 40ft tall temple mound, funeral, and ceremonial mounds, trading post, and a few other ancient structures. Studies estimate that approximately 40,000 indigenous people were living and trading with other tribes who would come from the four directions to gather news, trade, shop, discuss politics, business, and the latest news.
Nestled within this large ceremonial living complex was a small community of Taino identified by the archaeological remains of the Bohio, the thatched roof dwellings that the Arawak Taino were known for constructing. In the Muscogee Creek language, they called us Toasi-The People of the Toa. Toa is what our Taino people used to grind cassava and that is how we were identified by our Muscogee brothers and sisters.
Genocide By Paper Cuts
Each year brings new discoveries to the studious descendants of the Taino. There are many scholars of our history, language, and cultural traditions. Focusing on preserving aspects of our First Nations heritage but the road has been long and bumpy in the efforts to be heard as indigenous people. Fighting decades of education that have written our tribe out of existence the evidence continues to be found that our people were not decimated by the Spaniards.
Shortly before the Spanish American War in 1898 Spain did a census that counted 40,000 pure-blooded Taino Indians in Puerto Rico and Vieques island! That was not that long ago yet where did all those natives go?
When Puerto Rico was handed over to the United States Government a new census was taken with one difference. The ability to choose "Indio" was removed from the census and you could only choose Mulatto (mixed African) and in some rare cases Mestizo (mixed Native). Although the attempt to write us out of existence took place there were many who still identified as "Indio".
United States Government records and documents from the 19th through the 20th century clearly reveal that the Taino still existed in modern-day times. Above is a picture of my Great Uncle Francisco Delgado's WWII Draft Card where his race is listed as INDIO (Indian)
Another deep wound in the collective history of Native America is the forced assimilation boarding schools. These schools were designed to completely strip away the culture, traditions, and language of indigenous children that were torn from their families and forced into these institutions where many died. Children were rounded up from every tribe which included Taino Indian children. That's right! There were Puerto Rican children in the infamous Carlisle Indian School.
About 60 young Puerto Rican Indians were sent to Carlisle Indian School and suffered the same hardships alongside children from many other First Nations tribes. The Carlisle Indian School was an educational institution created by General Richard Henry Pratt and backed by the U.S. government with a brutal history of abuse, murder, and cultural genocide against First Nations children. The following images are enrollment cards for two of the children and you will notice under the category of Degree of Indian Blood it says FULL.
The sign above the door the children would walk through blatantly proclaimed "Kill the Indian, Save the Man." In operation from 1879 to 1912, the school was a social experiment and its main purpose was to assimilate and acculturate young Native Americans away from their home reservations.
Most of the 10,000 students who attended Carlisle could not read or write in English and were forbidden to speak their own languages which, if caught, would suffer severe consequences. After the Spanish American War in 1898 and the annexation of Puerto Rico as a U.S. colony, similar tactics were used against Puerto Ricans.
THE TAINO TODAY
According to an article in Indian Country Today, a pivotal time of cultural acceleration occurred when the U.S. Nations Science Foundation funded a genetic study of the people of Puerto Rico in 2010. While many results showed the DNA of African, Spaniard, and Indigenous there were some shocking results. 67% of all Puerto Ricans have Taino Native American DNA but the surprising results were the closer you got to the isolated mountain region of the island the higher the blood quantum results. The first image that you see above is my DNA results from CRI Genetics.
My family is mostly from the mountain regions of the island. Hayuya is where the sacred fire of my family sits and this town is still called The Indigenous Capitol of Puerto Rico where an annual native gathering still takes place. My family regularly attended these Areito (gatherings) in El Yunque with other Boricua families in the 20th century. The following are personal pictures of my Hibaro (People of the Mountains) family and extended family of the Muscogee Creek/Seminole people by marriage.
My father was a Teacher with a Master's Degree in Education who loved his island and his people. This education legacy passed along to me and I have been teaching and dismantling the myth of our supposed extinction since the 1990's.
Many Taino cultural organizations have been operating for decades educating and preserving the culture and traditions of our Arawak Taino ancestors. As recognized First Nations people by leaders, councils, and members of federally and state-recognized tribes, projects have been undertaken with the collaborative efforts of our Taino people and other tribal nations.
Our people are also recognized by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As Arawak Taino, we now have a seat of representation and a voice.
Arawak Taino Kacike Areito Making of a Kacike Ceremony (July 26, 2014)
This was a beautiful day for family, friends, and the extended Arawak Taino community. We set up a booth to share and educate our Arawak Taino people from the island of Boriken (Puerto Rico) and other islands about their indigenous history. The day was filled with music, laughter, and joy. The smells of the indigenous food of the islands like pasteles and tostones lingered in the air while Jibaro music from the mountains permeated the air.
There were booths with artisans selling handmade items like guiros, Jibaro straw hats, and almost anything that a Puerto Rican flag can be printed onto. In the afternoon we prepared for the public ceremony for the making of a Kacike. Kacike in the Arawak Taino language means Chief. On this day I was appointed "Kacike" and Laralyn a "Tekina" (Chief and Ambassador) by the Principal Chief and Head Clan Mother.
Kacike (Chief) is an appointed position by the Clan Mothers and Principal Chief of our tribal nation and the ceremony is done in public for the community to witness and approve as well. Once appointed, not self-proclaimed, the title remains for life as well as the duties and responsibilities that go with it.
In accordance with the traditional ways of our people, a Kacike is a servant of the people. My duties included taking care of veterans and their families within our communities. Making sure that our warriors are not in need and that they know what services are available to them, as well as assisting, in going over paperwork for benefits or other veteran services.
We also represent one of many voices of the Taino people who are diverse in every spectrum of beliefs and political associations. We are unique people who have survived to this day and are no longer hiding who we are and who our ancestors were.
We try to walk a sacred path according to Yah Yah's guidance in our lives. No matter the path; we are all guake-teke in this journey. Although Ma'Oconuco Yucayeke is no longer active we honor the leaders and elders who have worked hard in blessing the next generation with their wisdom, dedication, and love.
Revitalizing the Arawak Taino Language
The video below is from the Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI) revitalization program for Native American languages at the University of Oregon. Dr. Richard Morrow Porrata, Tribal Chairman of the Descendants of Puerto Rico's First Nations, gives a narrative on the Taino language and sacramental records at the San German de Auxerre Church in Puerto Rico, which holds records identifying parishioners from the 1700s as Taino.
Efforts are underway by the Descendants of Puerto Rico's First Nations for being officially recognized. This is an uphill battle because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States, not a state, but we believe that we can prevail because of the overwhelming, unbroken history of documentation and proof of our existence as the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. We are the only Taino group that requires DNA and official documentation of Taino Indian heritage as noted on government, church, or official records.
Our Arawak language is being completely restored as relationships have been re-established with our Arawak relatives in South America in an effort to fill in the gaps in our culture, language, and traditions that we were unable to retain over the centuries or augmenting what our grandparents and their grandparents were able to preserve. We are living in exciting times for our indigenous people of Puerto Rico. Our Arawak Taino people have survived over 500 years and continue to thrive. Seneco kakona guakia Taino yahabo!
ATTENTION BORICUA!! TRIBAL ENROLLMENT IS OPEN!!
Puerto Rican is a nationality, not a race. If you are Puerto Rican it is highly likely that you have Taino Indian heritage. If you are an Arawak Taino descendant from Puerto Rico or Vieques Island and can prove it with DNA, Government Documentation, or Church Records you might qualify to join the society of the Descendants of Puerto Rico’s First Nation.
DPFN is the only Arawak Taino Tribal Organization seeking federal recognition under the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990”. To enroll you must submit DNA and official documented proof of your indigenous Taino lineage. There are other Yucayekes that are not as strict about their enrollment requirements but DPFN adheres to the same federal recognition standards as our northern tribal relatives in the states.