The "Arawak". Were they Jamaican?
© by Michael Auld,Jamaican-born writer/artist
(powhatanmuseum.com and anansistories.com)
© by Michael Auld,Jamaican-born writer/artist
(powhatanmuseum.com and anansistories.com)
Older blogs: http://yamaye-mike.blogspot.com/
Yamaye was a recorded name, at the time of Cristóbal Colón (Columbus), for the island of Jamaica. Frey Bartolomé de las Casas estimated that there were approximately six million Taino in the northern area of the Caribbean at the arrival of Columbus in the Americas in 1492. Generally, the islanders within the large Taino ethnic collective of Caribbean Amerindians called themselves by the names for their islands. They were, Yucayas or Lucayas (Bahamas), Caobana (Cuba), Kiskeya or Aytí (the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Boriken (Puerto Rico) and Yamaye (Jamaica).
There were earlier, pre-Taino inhabitants of
the Caribbean who may have come from Belize, the Yucatan, and Florida starting over 6,000 years ago. They were the true human discoverers since they may have come into a pristine area of their Western Hemisphere that the 15th century Spanish thought was the biblical Paradise. (Some Europeans also thought that the Caribbean was the fabled Greek "Atlantis", thus, the "Antilles"). This "D" shaped area contained a vast sea and hundreds of islands and small "cayos", a Taino word from which "cay" and " key" were derived. The agriculturalist ancestors of the Taíno began to arrive at around the time of the birth of Jesus the Christ, mainly from South America.
The British term "Arawak" for the Yamaye Taino people of Jamaica, has been incorrect and is still mistakenly used by some Jamaicans and writers 50 years after the island's independence, however, less frequently now. The Taino spoke a distinctly different Arawakan language of which the other major Caribbean branch, Cariban, is also a member. Technically, Arawaks are the neighbors of the Mainland Carib in northern South America. They are as distinctive on that continent as the Island Carib or Calinago of the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. The Island Carib are also different from their Carib relatives in the Guianas and Venezuela, especially since they intermarried with the earlier occupants of their islands, the Ortoiroid people. Although they have descendants in other islands, the Island Carib is the only indigenous group in the Caribbean to have a reservation, the Carib Territory, that elects chiefs and council members every four years.
Puerto Ricans, Dominicans (D.R.) and Cubans, for example, have continued to use the name Taino for their ancestors because Spanish speakers in the Caribbean acknowledged continued contact with that extensive, sophisticated and complex Precolumbian Caribbean society. Many of them exhibit strong Taino features and claim descent from their indigenous people. The Taino told the European intruders who they were. In 1493, they told Columbus that they were "Taino", meaning the "Good" or "Noble" people, differentiating themselves from their captors on St. Croix, the Canib or Carib (Strong Man), a warrior society dominated by men. The Taino, like some West African societies, were matrilineal, so, when Spanish or Africans intermarried with them, their children learned Taino cultural retentions from their mother's knees. This may be one of the reasons why we have incorporated many Taino gifts into Caribbean contemporary cultures. On land, they were the major work force and woodsmen with intimate knowledge of their territories. Intermarriage with the Taíno was encouraged by Spain, while Englishmen preferred to marry their own women and continued to have children with the women of the subjugated.
There are many Jamaican genetic descendants of the Yamaye Taino. Other additions to the Taino gene pool in Jamaica, survive in families who came to the island as Cuban and Haitian immigrants. So, Taino genetic retentions are more abundant than one may suspect. One example is of a prominent Jamaica-Welch athlete/sports caster whose DNA results, in a BBC survey, indicated 6% Taino ancestry. During Spanish occupation, the island was a destination point or refuge for many of the world's people, some fleeing the Inquisition. Typically, this influx included Mores and other Africans, Sephardi Jews, Celts, Portuguese and others. After the English capture of Jamaica in 1655 other Amerindians came to the island, although not in large numbers. For example, Miskito Indians of Nicaragua/Honduras were used by the British to track down Maroons. According to one source, Native Americans "from the Carolinas were sold into slavery by the English to plantations in the Caribbean". This was in addition to the deportation of the Pequot prisoners of war to Bermuda after their war in Connecticut/New England .
There are many Taino retentions on which Jamaica was built, from which the island continue to profit. Many of what one calls "Jamaican" foods, fruits, spices, medicines, etc., etc., are Amerindian in origin. Maroons still weave Taino hammocks from the bark of the medicinal Yamaye trumpet tree, jerk pork on a Taino barbecoa with Yamaye spices (pimento and Scotch bonnet peppers) while fishermen carve Taino canoas (canoes) out of that culture's sacred ceiba tree we call "cottonwood". Even this giant tree, also sacred to the Maya, has the same spiritual connotations with beings seen by Jamaicans as "duppies", probably from the Taino word, "opia", a spirit of the dead. Jamaican bush medicines are mostly made from endemic plants that the Yamaye introduced to the Spanish and their African or mulatto (i.e. European-Yamaye or European-African mixed) runaways. This escapee trend began with the indigenous Yamaye Taino who fled to the mountains to avoid Spanish work camps/ranches to become cimarrones, later called Maroons by the English. These independent groups, the Eastern and Western Maroons, survive in Jamaica on a smaller scale than they did in early Spanish and English-Jamaican histories. Maroon groups were increasingly made up of a variety of ethnic Africans with similar concepts of resistance.
Akan-speakers from Ghana, West Africa made a more dominant impact on African retentions in that group. So, it was also among the larger multi-African Jamaican society where the Akan folk hero, Anansi the spider-man dominated the island's folkloric tradition. One explanation for the Jamaican accent, linguists say, is "English spoken with Twi (Akan) intonation and not British English."
It took many years for the indigenous populations of the Americas to become the minority and in some areas they remained the majority. At least, their gene pool expanded to incorporate other ethnicities. There were just not that many arriving foreigners to match the teeming millions of indigenous Amerindians in a vast Western Hemisphere. Not every Amerindian or their cultural traits "died out" or became extinct. As it is with all epidemics, survivors become stronger. The re-population of North America with its growing numbers of "Hispanics" is proof that the indigenous Amerindian gene is rapidly multiplying in that part of the continent. Most of the people who illegally cross America's southern border have decidedly Amerindian genes. Chicanos are often proud of this genetic/cultural heritage. Salvadorians, Nicaraguans and South Americans make up the bulk of legal immigrants in some major eastern cities and suburbs.
Europeans, Africans and other Asians (the Taíno are an Asiatic people like the island's Chinese and "East" Indians) all arrived only within a short 500 years ago into a very ancient highly complex and technologically advanced Western Hemisphere. (Read the book "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" to get a better understanding of our hemisphere). Amerindian Empires rose and fell as they interacted via conquest, amalgamation or far flung trade routes. For example, archeologists found an ancient obsidian item in the Eastern Caribbean that was mined in the Mexican mountains. The obsidian, a volcanic glass, used in efficient tool-making or as ceremonial objects, also were used as scalpels for doing successful cranial surgery in Mesoamerica. Some of these surgeries were done to relieve life-threatening pressure sometimes caused by blunt trauma. These operations were yet to be successfully done in Europe hundreds of years later. This surgical tool, the obsidian scalpel, under an electron microscope, is sharper than its steel counterpart. The obsidian piece found in the Caribbean had followed the route of the hemispheric spread of maize (from another Taíno origin word, "maisi" the cereal crop seen by Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492).
Early indigenous Mexicans invented corn/maize from cross-pollinating wild grasses...
|Photo of Teosinte, the grass origin of maize/corn.|
... while Tropical Amerindians converted the poisonous cyanotic yuca/cassava into cazabe, the mold-resistant bread and the source of the word "cassava". Jamaica's popular bammy bread is reshaped cazabe since the Taino made large tortilla-shaped bread. The Spanish used Yamaye cazabe and their island for the staging of the invasion of the mainland Americas. This was after they "borrowed" the hammock and used woven Yamaye Taino cotton for sails on their ships. The Yamaye were reputed cotton weavers and bowmen. (See Jamaica's Coat of Arms). Columbus came from a wool-weaving family and Taino craftsmanship did not elude his eyes.
So, the next time you eat jerk, bammy, festival, anything cornmeal for that matter (porridge/pudding/dumplings/pone/blue drawers, i.e. dukanoo), naseberry, susumber, chaineyroot, makafat, strong back, Irish moss, sour/sweet sop, custard apple, genep, starapple, stinking toe, pumpkin, chocho, corn, cassava, yampie, callaloo, Indian kale, peanut, sweet potato, pepper pot, pineapple, beans/peas, pingwing; or smoke tobacco, play football (from the Taino rubber ball game called "batey"), bounce a rubber ball, use a latex glove, chew gum (from the sap of the naseberry or "chicle" tree-- the source of a major chewing gum brand) or use a rubber band, just think "Yamaye", "Taino" or "Amerindian". These are but a few of the hundreds of items indigenous to the Americas.
The Taino introduced Europeans to the Olmec civilization of the Yucatan's invention of rubber (made from the vulcanized sap/"blood" of a Tropical American tree), and the world's first team sport, the rubber ball game. In the Americas, the love for soccer, football, tennis, volleyball and especially basket ball has it roots in the ancient Amerindian sport, first seen by Europeans as "batu", played on Taino village "bateys" or clay-paved ball-courts. In the Caribbean, almost every village had one while in Central America huge, ornately carved stone stadia were the norm.
Taíno version was more social, however, with the same chance at gambling.
The Taino language and genetic markers are as "extinct" as English is in creole-speaking Jamaica, whose folks converse in a language made up of Amerindian, European, African, Asian and Middle Eastern words. "Maka", for thorn (related to the now extinct Caribbean "macaw" parrots and the thorny trunk "makafat" tree), like "barracuda" for a fish, are Taino and Cariban words. For example, "jerk" is from a Maya term used to describe drying out and preserving meat, the same practice applied on the Taíno berbecoa (for "barbecue"), a concrete platform that Jamaicans use to sun dry coffee or cacao (coco/chocolate) beans.
The Maroons, who learned jerk from the Yamaye Taino, call their wooden cooking platform a "caban", the word that came from the Spanish "cabin". In Boston Bay, Jamaica, jerk pork can be cooked on a pimento/allspice rack over a pimento log fire, an unbroken Taíno-Maroon (and Precolumbian) tradition from the 16th century.
The Yamaye, like their relatives in the other large Caribbean Islands, had intricate governmental institutions. Why not? They were seafaring expert agriculturalists whose islands were divided into villages, districts and larger collections of "cacigazos" governed by local and regional caciques and stratified governing groups of sub-caciques, nobles (Nitaino) and spiritual advisers (bohuti) with larger groups of "commoners" with a segment of people the Spanish called "slaves". For example, the female cacique, Anacaona of Haiti, had over 100 caciques under her in the early 16th century. She was famous for her traditional "areito" a historical Taino ballad or a saga presented in the form of a song. Unfortunately, the Spanish governor, Nicolas de Ovando who succeeded Columbus, hanged her after massacring most of her 100 caciques who were assembled in the governor's honor. One of her caciques, Hatuey, escaped to Cuba where he later became a martyred folk hero at the hands of the perusing Spanish. To discredit the notion of the "docile Arawak", two incidents stand out;
(1) Hatuey spoke against the Spanish and their worship of their god whom he perceived to be "guanin", a 14 k gold alloy. When he was about to be burned at the stake, a Spanish priest told Hatuey that if he became a Christian his soul would go to heaven. "Are there Cristianos in Heaven?" Hatuey asked. "Yes", said the priest. "Then, I do not want to go there", Hatuey replied. So, they burned him.
(2) According to the book 1493, between 1492-93 some of Columbus' men were left on Hispaniola after one of the three ships sank. The erected fort called La Navidad (Christmas, the day of the first landing on Hispaniola) was attacked and wiped out by a Taino group of warriors (as retribution for rape, murder, and food-stealing) using blinding teargas "grenades", gourd-filled burning ash with crushed peppers, lobbed among the Spanish to disorient and blind them while Taino warriors, faces covered with bandannas, charged the confused Spanish through blinding smoke. Here is the first record of teargas and blinding pepper spray. Both La Navidad, the first Spanish settlement in the Americas, and the nearby Taino village were destroyed in a scorched-earth strategy.
Cuban and Jamaican Taino before and after Spanish arrival, continued to interact with the Central American mainland empires of the Maya and the Mexica ("Aztec"). Cortez met a Yamaye Taino woman in the Yucatan in 1519 while Columbus described the Yamaye of Jamaica's Bahia de Vaca (Cow Bay) across the sea from the Gulf of Mexico in terms that portrayed cultural sophistication. Their belief system, similar to Spanish Catholicism, included a supreme being (Yucahu Bagua Marocoti, god of the sea, and the yuca/cassava, without grandfathers) and lesser, often twin gods similar to Christian saints. This belief in duality, i.e. the balance of positive/negative, or good/evil, or night/day, is as Asiatic as their practice of shamanism. As a Maya man spoke about Amerindian philosophy, "life cannot exist without this balance.They need each other." The Taino belief system was also based upon this ideal. Taino influences in the island are taken for granted and are so subtle that their contributions to Jamaicanisms are often not recognized.