It’s 1492, and you live amongst a nation of people that will go down in history as the Taino tribe. Scattered across the island of what is now known as Haiti and Dominican Republic, your people have established their home and culture here for centuries. Here, your village is united under one cacique, or chief, out of the many chieftains that exist within the Taino tribe. You’d like to think that you have a pretty organized, civilized life going on – you wake up, tend to the crops that your tribe routinely cultivated – usually crops along the lines of potatoes and maize – go fishing, hunting, worship Yocahu (known to your people as the supreme creator), listen to the stories and legends that have been passed down amongst your people through a variety of storytelling, dances, and music.
Yeah, your life was going along pretty well. Your people spent centuries building up the peaceful, serene culture that it was known for, with the exception of violent skirmishes between your tribe and other rival tribes (the most notable being the long-lasting feud between the Taino tribe and the Carib tribe). Despite this brutal feud that shook up the Taino nation, the Taino people were a generally gentle, friendly nation, even reacting kindly to three entire ships worth of strange white-skinned foreigners who landed on the shores of their island in 1492.
Fast forward a couple of centuries later, and the same generous, kind, indigenous people, known as the Taino Indians today, are extinct. How did a civilization that was believed to number in the tens of thousands get wiped out like they were nothing? The answer to that question is… you guessed it, good ol’ Christopher Columbus.
Contrary to what Columbus and what the rest of the world believed, the Taino Indians (and other groups of indigenous peoples) were not a group of uncivilized, red-skinned, yowling people (nor were they Indians living in India, but the Old World eventually figured that out). Being one of the most culturally advanced and populous out of all the Caribbean tribes, the Taino were actually a scattered group of peoples organized into sections of chiefdoms run under a theocratic kingdom in several Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Jamaica, and the island of Haiti and Dominican Republic. They were separated into little villages, which were centered around the chief’s house. Social order, religion, and traditional rituals dominated Taino life – there was no such thing as slavery, either. The Taino Indians were, well, people.
This was something that Columbus failed to recognize when he landed on the land that he later deemed as Hispaniola. When Columbus first landed in Hispaniola, the Taino people received him and his men kindly – showering them with gifts and hostility, which unfortunately led to the natives’ downfall. Columbus, seeing the Taino as a weak, cowardly nation, saw them fit to be slaves and, noting that, “… they were very well-built… they should be good servants.” . While Columbus and the Taino Indians coexisted in Hispaniola in feign peacefulness, soon enough, Columbus sent the men off to mine for gold (surprise!) and to do forced labor for the Spaniards. He then went on to torture, kill, and capture a great majority of the Taino people, resulting in major (major) decimation of a once great nation. In fact, just fifty years after Columbus’s expedition, the Taino population was believed to have dwindled down to a mere four thousand. Many fell due to the massacres that Columbus and his men executed, but others died because of Old World diseases such as smallpox. The Taino people did attempt to save their land and throw out the Spanish – but sadly, we all know that their spears and arrows were no match for Spanish arms and gunpowder.
And now here we are today, in 2013. What remains of the Taino bloodline remains in their mixed Spanish and African descendants, after the few Taino Indians remaining intermarried with their Spanish conquerors. The Indians who greeted Columbus are now long gone, their nation wiped out, just to be replaced by the New World. But through the power of the Internet and our old social studies textbooks, their stories live on!