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Learning Arawak-The Language of the Indigenous People of Puerto Rico

Updated: Mar 23


Arawak was the dominant indigenous language of many tribes in the Caribbean and the mainland from Bimini (Florida) to Sabanna (Georgia) and trade villages scattered throughout Amikekia (America). Language defines the culture and world view of a people group. It can recite ancient oral tradition or reveal the understanding of the spiritual realm. The language also reveals the connection between the people and their ancestral land.

Tribal Chairman Porrata-Descendants of PR First Nations

Remnant Words of the Boricua Indians is authored by Dr. Richard Morrow Porrata Ph.D. Dr. Porrata is a Retired Associate Professor. The University of Puerto Rico at Multi-lingual & Cultural Division, Language Instructor. Retired US Army Colonel.


His Highest Degree obtained: Ph.D.

Plus an additional 120 hours of Native American linguistics from the University of Oregon. He served as the former President of the Native American and Alaskan Native Association, FamilyTreeDNA.com Administer for Taino Descendants of Puerto Rico, He is currently the Tribal Chairman of the Descendants of Puerto Rico’s First Nation.


Dr. Porrata is also the author of a few other books about Taino culture, stories, and genealogy that can be purchased on Amazon. Those books are:

1) Taino Genealogy and Revitalization.

2) Chin-korí: "A Taino fairytale written in the Taino language"

A flood of nostalgic sounds brought the words of my ancestors and family to my ears once again. I was reading words in my people's language that I had not heard since I was a child and it was like soothing honey on a tired singer's throat. I was also surprised to find out a word I was called as a kid that I thought meant one thing, was actually quite the opposite.


I got a laugh out of it and another rush of memories of swinging on behuco's, sweeping my grandmother's batey, eating fresh guaiaba from the lush rainforest and hearing everyone call my dad, including me at times Nino, which I now know means Elder or Ancestors.


A few years before my father passed away we sat down and he recited every Arawak Taino word that he could remember. I must find this notebook so that we can contribute the words that we spoke in our family. I would encourage anyone to help by writing words down and sending them as a gift to the collective whole of our people's language preservation and restoration.


In the following video, my dad shares some of his memories of Arawak Taino culture and traditions from his years as a child growing up in the mountains of Boriken in the 20th century.

My father on the far left-Hibaro's preparing for the Areito

It was conversations with my grandfather that made me realize that we spoke a different language in our home than when we went into town, San Juan or Bayamon. I found myself quizzing him on words as if I was testing his knowledge, but I was merely trying to figure out what was going on. In my young brain, I was beginning to realize there was something different about our family. One day I was fishing with my grandfather and began asking him questions. I pointed at a turtle sunning on a log and asked him,


My Grandparents

"How do you say this? He responded immediately with "Hicotea". (I thought it was tortuga?). Ok, how do you that? as I pointed to the sun. "Guey" (Not sol?). Then I pointed at the moon. "Karaya" (Not luna?). I pointed at myself, "Guaili"


I asked him several other questions and it finally settles in my mind that my grandfather spoke more than just Spanish. I don't know why my natural assumption was to ask this next question but I will never forget his answer.


I asked him, "Abuelo, somos Indio's?" He looked at me and responded; "Hee, Arawaka, Taino. Somos Hibaros de las montanas de Hayuya. Boricua de sangre."

Those memories are precious to me, which makes me so thankful for the work that Dr. Porrata has put into releasing this volume and many more yet to come. When it comes to restoring a language please consult a trained linguist, or if possible a fluent speaker. That day is coming as many more of our people are relearning the language of our ancient homeland. The language survived in isolated communities into the 20th century and it is being restored thanks to the efforts of many Boricua scholars.


It is with testimonies from the elders, scholarly works like Remnant Words of the Boricua Indians, and the continued resurgence of our Arawak Taino people that we can anticipate more knowledge about our hidden indigenous past coming out of communities throughout the Caribbean. My family was specifically called Hibaro which means People of the Mountains/Forest. This was made to be a derogatory name akin to being called a hillbilly or uneducated farm worker.

Our language has survived through colonialism and its attempts to wipe out indigenous identity. We still walk on our beloved islands beaches and mountain lagoons. We know where we are and who we are as Arawak Taino people and as Boricua. Bomatum Yah Yah, guakia Taino Yahabo. (With great thanks to Yah Yah, our Taino people are still here).


ATTENTION BORICUA!! 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 authentic Arawak Taino Tribal Organization seeking federal recognition under the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990”

I am an enrolled member of the DPFN and look forward to hearing YOUR stories on our member's FB page. In the meanwhile purchase Tribal Chairman Porratta's book Remnant Words of the Boricua Indians and start learning the language of your people.


To find out more about membership requirements you can visit the website Yukibo, on the DPFN Facebook page or email the enrollment officer at www.dpfn@gmail.com




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