Taíno History Puerto Rico
First and foremost I’m not a “history expert.” I have many great friends that come to mind that can occupy this space much better than me. But I have read the history. I’ve researched the stories. I’ve imagined what it must have been like to be “on the other side of history.”
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This is a super-long post, and those that know me know that I tend to be long-winded but eventually absolutely nail the point (as I’ve been told). I recently was blessed with a newborn son who is Puerto Rican – and whenever the day comes when he asks me to tell him the story of where he’s from, this is what I would say so you know where you have come from and decide for yourself where you are going…
I have a feel for places, and this is what I see regarding Puerto Rico’s story through my travels (through my eyes of course). As mentioned, this is not my land. I’m not from here. I’m from Miami, Florida. I have Cuban Roots. This is what I understand about Puerto Rico from traveling this island past 6 years which really feels like the roots of who I am as I write this (for more on this read the book). There is a connection that’s hard to merely explain in words. It’s what has propelled me for some strange reason to take such a huge portion of my life and write down this story. It is what has lead me to you.
The Birth of the Taínos – Who The 1st Puerto Ricans Are
They are a part of this world from the Caribbean and live in land of “paradise.” The rivers and mountains and caves are friends in their beliefs and sacred world view. The wind a song in their ears. The visions in the mind’s eye a reality revealed in time. They are the silver cloud’s light shining, while breathing in the beautiful world around. They are a people that gave back to the land with as much patience and virtue that they embody. They are both light and dark and millions of colors in between, and yet they are whirling and still becoming and living within or so it seems (modern DNA tests confirm Taino blood still exists in a % of the population today). They are humble and thankful and blessed to share this story of what’s been, come to be, and yet to be in Puerto Rico’s ongoing story…
Much of what we know about the Taínos is through the eyes of Columbus and the history that was written by the “victors” of Spanish conquest, and later on and in modern times via the United States occupation of the land.
It is not “their story” as history has revealed. The truth of their story is that the Taínos were the people who greeted Columbus and this ¨new world¨ with open arms, only to have been violently decimated in such a fast period of time that it took a quick 30 years from the Spanish first arrival in the 1490´s till the 1520´s where they were virtually wiped away. In two words, it was mass genocide.
It is coming to light many of the truths of that time period with books such as “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” by Bartolome De Las Casas – a Spanish priest who accompanied Columbus to this new world and spent the remainder of his life writing about the injustices the natives endured at the hands of these new Spanish “conquistadores.”
De Las Casas on first hand witness and through many years of personal experience described the Taínos as: “open and as innocent as can be imagined. The simple people in the world – they are without malice or guile, and are utterly faithful and obedient both to their own native lords and towards any other humans they encounter. Never quarrelsome, they harbor no grudges and do not seek to settle old scores. They own next to nothing and have no urge to acquire material possessions. They are neither ambitious our greedy, and are totally uninterested in worldly power. They are innocent and pure in mind and have a lively intelligence, and a natural goodness that shines through these people that that even some Spanish laymen exclaim that Taínos are “the most blessed people on earth.”
The Taíno people never did the Spanish any harm; on the contrary, they believed them to have descended from the heavens, at least until they or their fellow citizens had tasted, at the hands of these oppressors, a diet of robbery, murder, violence, and all other manner of trials and tribulations.
The Taíno Story – Puerto Rico Revealed
Puerto Rico’s true story of how it all began was with her first indigenous Taíno ancestor people that populated the island from either Mexico or South America over 6,000 years ago. The timeline shows that the Casimiroid People first came about 4000 B.C through 400 B.C. which developed culturally into the Ortoiroid People around 2000 B.C. through 400 B.C. into the Saladoid Peoples from 2000 B.C. till 600 A.D – which evolved into the most recent Classic Taíno period from 600-1500 prior to the Spanish conquest.
In terms of time that the island of Puerto Rico knows people on it, you can see that modern history of Spain and the United States occupies a mere 8% of time (as we understand it) to give some perspective just how dominant the Taíno culture on the land truly is. The timeline shown and theories show that El Caribe (Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, etc) were populated from the south islands in the Orinoco River in South America, or from Yucatan in Mexico from west.
Puerto Rico: The Spiritual Center From the Past
Even though archeological evidence suggests either of the aforementioned migration routes and makes logical sense if you look at a map, there were many generations of Taínos who believed they had originally came from caves in a sacred mountain on the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic/Haiti) (Alegria 1978 – see sources in our book). Because historically as seen on the timeline they lived on the land for thousands of years, the Taínos had no recollection of coming from any mainland and maintained in their culture and their beliefs that they emerged from these sacred caves. They expressed these beliefs mythologically as evidenced in many petroglyphs and artwork in sacred caves and landmarks that can still be seen today.
All of the archeological finds and evidence suggests that Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico were originally settled by small bands of people during the Lithic Age. In 1990 a computer simulation was run to simulate the possible routes of Lithic-age migration, using winds, currents, and other conditions. The conclusions seemed to say that migration from South America would have been the easiest, and traveling from Central America from the Mid-Caribbean islands the most difficult. The route from Yucatan in Mexico to Cuba, which seems to fit archeological evidence, falls between the two extremes.
However it was commonly known around this part of the world from evidence of Taíno beliefs from markings in Yucatan, Cuba, and Hispaniola that Puerto Rico was indeed the spiritual center of all the islands – as it was the balance between the lesser and greater Antilles chain of islands that make up the Caribbean mountain(s) that resides under our oceans.
It seems Puerto Rico was the top of the underwater mountain that lay in the waters from underneath these chain of islands, and thus sacred to many Taínos from the West and East islands – which is why many of them made spiritual pilgrimages to the land from their respective Caribbean islands and freely traded with each other.
Tibes in the south side of Ponce, Puerto Rico seems to suggest this was a meeting place for these travelers who came long distances.
The natives who crossed the oceans towards new lands were brave as it was over 1,500 miles long and at least 350 miles wide at it’s furthest traveling points. It wasn’t easy for the Taínos to get around as they lacked ships, sails, and traveled by hand made canoes.
The chain of islands is divided into 2 parts: The Lesser Antilles in the Southeast form the arc from Trinidad and Tobago to the Virgin Islands.
The Greater Antilles that stretches from the center of the chain of islands of Puerto Rico towards the west with Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic), Cuba, as well as South Florida and the Bahamas.
Trade was widespread and friendly, as residents of eastern Hispaniola and western Puerto Rico are said to have exchanged daily visits across the Mona Passage (Rouse) and met there daily for exchanges.
Classic Taínos VS Island Caribs
For the most part, Classic Taínos were in peace with neighboring islands. While we’re not implying that the Taínos were perfect (polygyny was prevalent, fought amongst themselves when a rare murder happened, disputes over fishing/hunting rights), they were always on the “defensive” and at war with the Island Caribs – the neighboring islands in the leeward side of the Lesser Antilles (modern day Barbados). They had difficulties fending off attacks from the Island Caribs who came to raid communities with violence with intents of trying to obtain additional wives.
The Island Caribs to the east were the only known skirmishes and battles and fighting against each other that the Taínos encountered prior to the Spanish arrival.
The surrounding islands had different groups or subsets of “Taínos” – all in varying degrees of civilization evolution.
The 5 types of Taínos in the Caribbean are:
Guana-Hatabey in the western portion of Cuba.
The Western Taínos of Cuba and Jamaica.
The Classic Taínos of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.
The Eastern Taínos of the Lesser Antilles islands.
The Island Caribs in the South Side of the Lesser Antilles.
Of the 5 types, the Classic Taínos were the most advanced culturally and were considered to be on the cusp of advancing their society into an advanced civilization – if by advanced you mean having a “written history” that is – as they were advanced in many other facets of living a human life.
Classic Taíno culture has been termed Formative because it was on the verge of civilization. By contrast, the Eastern and Western Taínos were on a somewhat lower level of cultural development (Rouse – see book source notes).
Cuba had “Western Taínos” and another subset called the Guana-Hatabey. Clearly these islands were linked and united through a huge majority of history.
Life As A Taíno
The Cacique (The Chief / The King)
The cacique was was the chief of the tribe and oversaw an average of 1-2 thousand people that ranged in size from 20-50 houses that were made of wood and thatch.
Both men and women (see Loiza a town in north shore of Puerto Rico) were eligible to serve as chiefs. They organized daily activities, responsible for commodities, acted as hosts when visitors arrived, and owned the most powerful zemis and supervised their worship. They organized public feasts and dances, and sang and and danced with their people. Individuals traced their lineage through their mothers rather than their fathers and a man resided in the village of his mother’s lineage. If he chose a wife from another village, he brought her to his own (Rouse).
The houses were arranged around a central plaza, with the Cacique holding the larger and better made house near the plaza. The Caciques had homes with dirt floors and no partitions between families, but did have wooden platforms or hammocks to sleep on. Their goods were stored in wooden baskets and the chiefs were greeted by guests while they sat on wooden stools, which reminded the Spaniards of a similar greeting towards their King.
The men were physical specimens in incredible shape and were usually naked or covered their privates with small cotton loincloths.
Unmarried women wore headbands, while married women wore skirts.
The Chiefs adorned themselves with gold and feathers, and yet were remembered as having a warrior’s way about their leadership. The lived lives with honor and valor, and their word is gold.
Nature’s Deities – Zemis
The mountains known today in Puerto Rico were known as deities, and some of the more supreme deities were Yucahu which was the spirit of food cassava and the sea, and his mother Atabey – who was the Goddess of fresh water and human fertility.
The worship of deities were known as zemis. Owners kept zemis in their homes and caves and were considered sacred.
The Classic Taínos used pottery, ornaments, and nature’s artifacts with the figures of zemis and to have painted and tattooed them on their bodies.
They also carved and “painted” outlines of the natural spirits in places where they believed them to live, especially in caves and rocks along streams of rivers or oceans.
Villagers would gather around and sang in praises of zemis, and worked in the presence of priests (shamans) who cured the sick and healed emotional and physical wounds in communion with the zemis and the “other world.”
The petroglyphs at the central courts in Caguana, Puerto Rico identify Yucahu and Atabey.
Life was filled with dances and ceremonies around the central plaza. The dance courts were filled with rocks of embankments of earth and stone slabs were decorated with engravings of zemis. They were placed symmetrically on the grounds.
Events held there ranged from not only dances, but other rituals such as before and after battles, birth celebrations, the marriage of somebody, or the death of a chief. The dancers were usually joined by singers, drumming, and fires.
A sport where the teams were separated into teams of 10-30 players each on opposite ends (like tennis), and alternated serving the ball was called batey.
Players had to keep it in motion by bouncing it back and forth from their bodies and were not allowed to use their hands or feet.
The elasticity of the ball and rubber substance allowed the game to be played in significant and elaborate courts.
The most elaborate ball and dance courts has been found at the Caguana, Puerto Rico site in the mountains in the central/west portion of the islands. The site has revealed Ostionan and Chican pottery dating from lithic ages. This site was originally excavated in 1941 by J. Alden Mason, and was helped to be restored by Ricardo E. Alegria for the Instituto de Cultura Puertoriqueña.
Research indicates that Arawakan-speech communities came into the Greater Antilles and gave rise to the Taíno language. Research indicates that these Taíno languages were born around the time of Christ. (Rouse). Words today such as hurricane, hammock, and barbecue take their roots from the Taíno language for example.
Imagining The Taíno World With Modern Times – Did We Evolve?
I would imagine a world that was much more connected and happier to ours (in real moments) than in 2016 with our technology, iPads, phones, and distractions and misdirected chases. A world of tranquility, of abundance, of food, of fires and conversations and above all love and respect for each other. The irony is noted if you’re reading this on an iPad or mobile phone.
I would imagine the people living on the land prior the the 1490’s (500 short years ago – a blink of an eye in historical time) were loving, spiritual, kind, and a benevolent people that lived in peace and harmony (for the most part) for a much longer period of time than what we know of than during our Spanish & American culture today.
It was a naked world. A world showing it who it was. It was a world with nothing to hide. Today’s world offers that opportunity in a digital world, yet the technology is masked. We are masked. Our true selves are behind anonymous user names and masks society asks us to wear.
It is a world of nature, a world of simplicity, a world of sunshine, it is a world taking flight; yet it was a world with its struggles as well. The great wouldn’t be great without the struggle. The triumph not as sweet without the tragedy. Puerto Rico’s story flies both ways:
I mean, I do find it weird that as I think of what life was like prior to the chaos with today’s modern buildings and roads, and traffic and “work, work, work” and government corruption and financial scandals (debt, Wall Street, money that takes care of the few and not the many), constant judgments and #hashtag hate that life still was such a contrast that it begs to ask the question: Have we really evolved?
Yes and no is my answer (as you’ll see further in the book), it’s just harder to see at the fast pace we live today. Life in Puerto Rico in 2016 has these beautiful moments and places if you seek it, although obscured by a cascade of interrupting thoughts, status updates, twitter and information overload, and a blurry of emails to read and write (and oh yeah the house is a mess and we have to cook dinner!). In fact, I guarantee about 97% of the people reading this post will not get this far (I get it, it’s long, it’s so far in the past nobody relates to it, and who has the time?). As I mentioned at the start, this is me simply writing to my Puerto Rican son Dylan – as well as the other 3% of people actively trying to make a change and impact for what’s best for this country as a “greater whole.” You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Puerto Rico’s story is and was an island with a story filled with soul, peace, paradise, and love…yet with blood and darkness in it’s path that must be overcome in generational time for the island to truly take flight and reach her destiny.
The blood came in the form when the Spanish came to Boriken in 1492…”Los Españoles” that is and changed an important aspect of who the people of this island essentially “are.”
Columbus´ Arrival – A Clash Of Worlds, Morals, Values & Ethics
You know, coming from their point of view I would imagine what the Taínos would think upon seeing the sight of practically a new set of human “aliens” of people they had ever seen. A thousand thoughts must have sprung up. Perhaps these thoughts?
“Is this a vision? Are these Gods? Do they have our best interests? What’s happened to our world? Who are these people?”
In modern day times that we live in, we have a complete tendency to regard events in history as not important because neither ourselves nor our parents or even ancestors participated in them. We have as a culture historical short term memory if you think of a timeline on a much broader scale.
The story of Columbus is celebrated by people to honor the discovery of the “New World” when it was clearly the “Taínos” who were the original stewards of this precious land and were the first to find it.
Columbus 1st Voyage – 1492-1493
Columbus and his spanish men first encountered a land with people greeting them with moral characters of “good” or “noble,” as that is what the word “Taíno” means.
Columbus confronted the Taínos with his men with what history is now saying as greeting the natives with cruel intentions and horrible violence on her people with unfathomable violence.
The first Columbus voyage was poorly documented to determine its exact course, but thanks to the priest Bartolome de Las Casas a letter was unearthed in which he reported this first voyage to the King and Queen.
The voyage began in Spain in August of 1492 with the famous 3 ships (Santa Maria, Pinta, Niña). Columbus (which means dove), saw two birds while out at sea and followed them assuming correctly they were heading for land. This course lead him first to an island in the Bahamas in October of 1492. The Taínos called his island Guanahani, and when Columbus landed he took “possession” of it in the name of the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and renamed it San Salvador. The inadequacy of the documentation make it hard to learn exactly where he landed. (Rouse).
Columbus is said to have landed in a Taíno village on a beach called Long Bay, where excavations later showed artifacts supporting this theory of first landfall.
Columbus was greeted by Taínos, and somehow or other took on board six Taínos intending to teach them Spanish so that they could interpret for him and carry them to Spain so that the Queen and King could see for themselves.
The Taínos then directed Columbus with their knowledge of how to arrive to the bigger island of Cuba, in which he arrived two weeks later. He supposedly landed near the present town of Gibara, where he sent his men inland to investigate reports that the natives possessed gold.
Even though Columbus thought he was in an area of Japan and that he would be able to head westward towards China, he briefly headed that way until the Taíno guides told him that gold was available on Hispaniola to the east.
In Hispaniola, Columbus was greeted by the local cacique/chief Guacanagari and he was happy to see he had gold artifacts on him. (Rouse).
He was unable to do a proper search for the gold because two of his ships were not in working order and was only left with the Niña.
Columbus instructed the men that he couldn’t take them all back to Spain because the Niña would be crowded, and supplied them with a year’s worth of provisions and left them under the care of Guacanagari.
Columbus arrived in Spain in March of 1493 and reported to the king and queen what he had seen and the people he encountered that were not as “civilized as the Japanese and Chinese.” He mentioned the people became more developed as he proceeded through Cuba and Hispaniola, recognizing distinctions between Western and Classic Taínos. (Rouse).
He presented the 6 Taíno indians to the king and queen, who had them baptized. One of the indians remained in the court where he died 2 years later, the rest went back with Columbus on the 2nd voyage back. Another who was renamed Diego Colon served as Columbus’ interpreter during the second voyage.
Columbus 2nd Voyage – 1493-1496
Columbus 2nd voyage was longer and yet he had his objectives to rescue the people he left behind in Hispaniola and to keep exploring the islands of the Greater Antilles region.
He was also under the order of the king and queen to establish gold mines and install settlers to develop trade with the Taínos, and also to try to convert them to Christianity.
This time he had 1,500 men, 17 ships, abundant supplies, and absolutely no women on board. You can only imagine what they were like when they saw beautiful naked Taíno women after being out at sea for 2-3 months, but that’s another discussion altogether. What’s important to know about Columbus 2nd voyage is that this is when he learned about the Island-Caribs attacks on the Taínos and the violence they went through to capture women as brides when they met other Taínos when first visiting Puerto Rico. Some people believe he landed at Boqueron Bay on the southern coast, yet others say he landed further north in Aguadilla. Archeology has been unable to give a concrete answer.
Finally, Columbus arrived at the Hispaniola spot where he had left his men the year before. He found his fort in ruins and his men dead. The Chief Guacanagari told him the massacre had been ordered by the chief from across the mountains in Southern Hispaniola (Caonabo) because these men had mistreated with violence his people. The men that Columbus had left behind were known to be adventurers and petty criminals rather than professional sailors.
While he had been away the garrison of the fort began to exploit the local Taíno Indians by stealing their possessions and raping the women.
While he accepted this explanation, Columbus proceeded with his plans for colonization and built a town near the Cibao goldfield in the east coast of Hispaniola and named it Isabela after the queen. The Taínos obviously did not like this and rebellions were born.
Caonabo was the chief of the areas south of the Cordillera Central in Hispaniola and Columbus wanted to have justice served. He sent an emissary to visit Caonabo to stall a possible rebellion. He was captured by being lured out of his town with gifts and offers of a horseback ride. Columbus shipped Caonabo to Spain where he died of unknown causes during his fatal trip.
The revolt did take place a few months later that was led by Caonabo’s brothers and tribe that was helped to be thwarted with the help of Guacanagari – the cacique who had rightfully blamed Caonabo for the destruction of the men of Columbus garrison left behind.
In a sign of the many disloyalties to come from the Spanish, both chiefs were killed as well as a number of followers from both tribes as a signal to the natives of the land of who was now in charge. Four months after this ordeal, Columbus resumed his exploration of the Greater Antilles. He sailed west towards Cuba looking for gold. He turned back around thinking Cuba was a peninsula of China.
Columbus then returned his attention to his mines in Hispaniola hoping to get gold. The mines produced much less gold than was expected, the seeds he had brought for food had proved to be unsuitable in the tropics, and the livestock brought was consumed as these new colonists were unable to grow sufficient food or obtain from the Taínos.
When the king and queen complained about a lack of income from the colony, Columbus sent shiploads of Taíno captives to Spain to be sold as slaves. The slaves were unable to resist European diseases and many died. Other servant Taínos were distributed among the colonists and put into hard and unjust working conditions.
The king and queen were upset they were losing money and had to send additional supplies and demanded Columbus back to Spain in 1496 to answer complaints about his leadership.
Columbus 3rd Voyage – 1498-1500
Two years later Columbus returned to the region of Hispaniola and spent the next few years trying unsuccessfully to govern the colony. He authorized new measures of the seizing of Taíno Indians and divide them amongst his men to be used as forced laborers – an action that was known as repartimiento.
The mines still weren’t producing enough gold, men rebelled against his rule, there were many killings of Taíno Indians under his command, and the king and queen were forced to send a new administrator to take over the government. They were so shocked to find what they saw in such disarray that they sent Columbus back to Spain unceremoniously and he was actually jailed. Columbus’ grant of the colony for him and his family was revoked.
His interests in exploring South America were thwarted, and when that region produced new revenues later on in the “New World” – Columbus did not have his name added for his finds. Another navigator called Amerigo Vespucci was the man who took those “honors.”
Columbus 4th Voyage + Death – 1502-1504
Columbus was released from prison and was allowed to make one more voyage of exploration as long as he did not return to the colony of Hispaniola.
Columbus sailed through coasts of Jamaica and Cuba and crossed the Caribbean Sea to Central America and explored the coast from Honduras to Panama. Two of his ships sank in this journey, and was forced to beach a ship in northern Jamaica on his voyage back.
Columbus was marooned there for an entire year, living in the stranded ships and on food supplied to him by the local Taíno indians. Columbus was rescued in 1504 and sent back to Spain where he was severely ill. Columbus died two years later.
Columbus Successors + The Violent Genocide That Followed
Francisco de Bobadilla took over in 1500 from Columbus and was instructed to increase the gold output while also freeing the Indians. He maintained the repartimiento.
Under the watch of Nicolas de Ovando who succeeded de Bobadilla in 1502 is when it truly took a turn for the worse for the Taíno Indians. The violent genocide that followed can be greatly attributed while under his watch and command.
The brutality and force ordered by Ovando and his 2,500 colonists that he brought along is beyond violence and genocide. His plan was to eliminate the principal caciques/chiefs in the region and was successful.
In 1502 the Taíno Indians rebelled to avenge the killing of one of these caciques who was killed by a Spanish attack dog. Ovando rounded up about seven hundred Taínos, put them in the very chief’s bohio or house, and had them all knifed to death. Their bodies were then dragged into the plaza and publicly burned.
In 1503, he paid a visit to a Chief Anacaona who convened a meeting of about 80 district chiefs in the area. Ovando ordered his soldiers to block the door and burn them alive. Anacaona was hanged, and the last independent chiefdoms in Hispaniola were destroyed. (Rouse).
Bartolome De Las Casas described such scenes as thus: “It all began with the Spanish taking for themselves food. Then taking the native women to satisfy their base appetites. Then the children as servants.”
“Since the newcomers began to subject the locals to assaults, the people began to realize that these men could not, in truth, have descended from the heavens.”
“They slaughtered everyone found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes.”
“They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. They strung victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burn them alive thirteen at a time, in honor of their Savior and the twelve Apostles. Some they chose to keep alive and merely cut their wrists, leaving their hands dangling saying to them: “Take this letter” – meaning their condition would serve as a warning to those Tainos hiding in the hills.
“The way they normally dealt with the native leaders and nobles was to tie them to a kind of griddle consisting of sticks resting on pitchforks driving into the ground and then grill them over a slow fire, with the result that they howled in agony and despair as they died a lingering death. It once happened that I myself witnessed their grilling of four or five local leaders in this fashion.”
“These mortal enemies of human kind trained hunting dogs to track Tainos down – wild dogs who would savage a native to death as soon as looked at him, tearing him to shreds and devouring his flesh as though he were a pig.”
“As happened on the odd occasion that the locals did kill a Spanish, as, given the enormity of the crimes committed against them, they were in all justice fully entitled to the Spanish came to an unofficial agreement among themselves that for every Spanish killed one hundred natives would be executed.”
These are just a few graphic examples De Las Casas describes in his book. Remember, this is the priest who came with Columbus and later spent many years in the Caribbean under Ovando and De Leon and he saw first hand what really happened.
Historical Implications – History is Written By The Victors Which Shapes Culture
The written word gives a course of history a powerful story arc, and yet I’m hoping the same very instrument will reveal to future generations in my own small way the real story that shapes our Puerto Rico and the Caribbean culturally. Perhaps that’s a major reason I wrote the book from my outsider’s perspective.
The Columbus story would be more accurate to humanity as to say he basically discovered a new route from Europe to the Americas and brought with him a wrath of men & successors with bents on destruction that cannot be believed even when you really think about it and read accounts of the true stories (Casals).
Columbus came thinking he had found a new route to Asia. He found a newer world indeed, that can be argued was more advanced than the world he lived in. A world without violence, hatred, and a world that celebrated the human soul and the Earth around it. One world was spiritually wealthy, but materialistically poor. While the other world was materialistically rich, and spiritually poor.
It was literally the old world meeting the new world. The moment in time when two destinies changed. My personal theory I propose is the New World was heading towards higher evolution (spiritually) than what the Old World has to offer (essentially the world we live in today as The New World “lost the battle so to speak”).
While it is true that the Casimiroid and Ortoiroid Indians discovered and populated this island, and were later replaced by the Saladoid people, who evolved into the Taínos- it is their legacy that must not be forgotten and to be celebrated. Their “New World” still holds values and truths that can help modern day era today if truly considered with qualities they personified as human beings with intrinsic attributes we strive for.
I say history re-writes itself in an interesting way, because as we grew up as kids learning in our public school system that Columbus was the Hero of History – which is clearly not true if you know the story and destinies of the lands he touched.
The word is simply genocide. History most recently uses that word with the likes of Adolf Hitler from the 1940’s.
Rarely do we connect it with the story of Puerto Rico and Cuba. But it’s what happened.
Estimates say there were over 1,000,000 Classic Taínos on the island of Hispaniola, and as many as 600,000 in Puerto Rico and Jamaica before the Spanish came in 1490’s.
By 1524 (30 years later), the Taíno population had basically broken down into small, isolated communities struggling to survive with the dominant Spanish population and were basically slaughtered, and decimated (mostly men, as 40% of Spanish men had about Taino wives by the 1520’s). In summary, the year 1511 brought a revelation to De Las Casas purpose for the rest of his life which brought him from “a colonizing priest into Indian apostle.”
That Christmas a man named Antonio Montesinos delivered a sermon in the church of Santo Domingo that drew analogies from the texts of St. John. De Las Casas was in attendance when Montesinos turned to the Spanish colonists and asked them:
“With what right and with what justice do you keep these poor Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? By what authority have you made such detestable wars against these people who lived peacefully and gently on their own lands? Are these not men? Do they not have rational souls? One could not in good conscience possess Indians’ and still claim to be a Christian.
“Are you not obliged to love them as yourselves?”
Las Casas heard this sermon and it impacted his life as he was taken by this sermon and this text from Ecclesiasticus 34: 21-2: “The bread of the needy is their life. He that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbor’s living slayeth him, and he that defraudeth the laborer of his hire is a bloodshedder.”
It was this that led him to “consider the misery and slavery that those peoples suffered,” and which drew his mind to Montesinos sermon and changed the path of his life. Las Casas spent many days thinking about this issue and determined within himself of the same truth, that everything which had been done to the Taíno Indians was unjust and tyrannical. His life was spent bringing this truth to the light of day for future generations to know.
Rest Of Taíno Story + Modern History Timeline
1508 – Juan Ponce De Leon is made to be in charge of the Puerto Rico island. (Known for discovering Florida, participating in Taíno massacres, and established methods to keep searching for gold. Established Spanish settlements near principal goldfields at San German in the southwest of Puerto Rico, and at Caparra in the northeast.
The unfair Encomienda slave system of the Taínos were established during these times.
One encomienda site was found in Hacienda Grande east of San Juan. The Taíno Indians were assigned to Ponce De Leon who put them to work searching for gold in the nearby valley. Hacienda Grande was also inhabited by the first Black Slaves imported from Africa.
Island is known as San Juan Bautista.
First black person recognized to step foot in the island of Puerto Rico is Juan Garrido. Traveled with Ponce De Leon and Cortes on expeditions around North and South America.
1509 – The first repartimiento in Puerto Rico is established, allowing colonists fixed numbers of Taínos for wage-free and forced labor in the gold mines as slaves.
1511 – Taíno Resistance. Taínos revolt in an uprising against the Spanish. Ponce De Leon orders and commands about 6,000 to be shot. Survivors flee to the mountains and spend remainder of their lives in hiding.
1513 – African slaves exported to the New World to replace the dwindling Taíno population.
1514 – King Ferdinand gives permission to the colonists to lawfully marry the remaining Taíno women in the island.
1516 – Sugar becomes main economic generator for island. First factory “ingenio” built.
1519 – Capital moved to present day Old San Juan from Caparra (near Bayamon).
1520’s – Island is officially called Puerto Rico (rich port), and the port is now called San Juan. Renaming is rumored to have been a clerical error that the two names were transposed.
1521- Ponce De Leon dies in an encounter with Florida Indians in Cuba.
1522 – San Juan Church is founded. Oldest church still in use in America.
1533 – La Fortaleza begins construction – oldest executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere.
1539 – El Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) begins construction.
1580’s – Sugar industry collapses affecting Puerto Rico’s economy.
1585 War breaks out between England and Spain. England defeats the Spanish Armada in w1588 leaving Spain disabled as a naval power.
1595 – English Attack. Sir Frances Drake defeated.
1598 – British Attack.
1625 – The Dutch attack.
1630’s-1640’s – The entire city is fortified. Seven fortresses were linked by a line of stone walls.
1650’s – Underground economy emerges. Coastal towns of Aguada, Arecibo, Cabo Rojo, Fajardo grow into busy centers of illicit international trade circumventing Spanish mercantilist policies.
1736 – Coffee production and exports arrive on the island.
1797 – British attack. See Page 229
1812 – Spain grants conditional citizenship to island residents with the Cadiz Constitution.
1813-1818 – Trade with the United States permitted and trade expanded 8x its previous level improving the economy and making its economic path clear to expand trade with other countries, not just Spain.
1824 – Puerto Rico becomes a haven for smugglers and pirates – with one of the more famous pirates being Roberto Cofresi.
1825 – Cofresi captured and killed on the fields of El Morro castle.
1830 – Plantation economy emerges based on sugarcane and coffee.
1843 – First lighthouse constructed atop the El Morro castle.
1850’s – Military dictators governed the island that oppressed policies from the Spanish government. Cholera epidemic sweeps across the island, killing 30,000 people.
1862 – Separatist fervor grows in Puerto Rico and Cuba after the Dominican Revolution in 1862.
1870’s – Exiled Puerto Ricans and Cubans go to New York to direct the independence movement under the name of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee.
1863 – The Pilgrimage of Bayoán by Eugenio Maria de Hostos is published and the book is outlawed by the Spanish government. The book attempts to illuminate the motivating forces at work behind Hostos’ personal struggles and sacrifices for humanity through consideration as a quintessential quest-myth which mirrors Hostos’ own quest for value, for purpose, for meaning in life within a nebulous and transitory existence of living in oppressive conditions.
1868 – El Grito De Lares – A story for Puerto Rican independence that still lasts today. A major revolt against Spanish rule in the town of Lares. Frustrated by the lack of political and economic freedom and the continuing repression on the island, activists led by Ramon Emeterio Betances and between 600-1000 men launched an offensive that ultimately led to the revolt failing, but years later having Spain grant Puerto Rico autonomy by bringing many issues to light. Many were arrested and many died for this cause.
1873 – Slavery is abolished in Puerto Rico giving freedom to over 32,000 people.
1897 – A year before Spain loses control Puerto Rico to the United States, Spain grants the island autonomy. Puerto Rico is free to establish its own import duties and foreign trade relations.
1898 – From May till August the United States engaged Puerto Rico in war. 12 U.S. ships bombard San Cristobal Fort and battle commences. In July, General Miles of the United States lands in the southern coast of Guanica with over 16,000 men ready to take the island and by August the whole island is invaded. The war only lasted two weeks before Spain surrendered in the Treaty of Paris.
1898 – Spanish/American War; Treaty of Paris brings Puerto Rico under American jurisdiction. The brief Spanish-American War, in which the United States wins Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and other colonial possessions from Spain under the Treaty of Paris, prevents Puerto Ricans from implementing their new government. At the moment the US acquired Puerto Rico, only an eighth of the population was literate, and only one in 14 children attended school.
1899 – Massive hurricane hits Puerto Rico resulting in 3,000 people dying and massive property damage to the island. The hurricane devastated the sugar and coffee crops and 25% of the people were without homes. The U.S. only awarded $200,000 to the island in relief payments. Because there was a shortage of sugar, about 5,000 Puerto Ricans made their way to Hawaii to work the sugar plantations there.
1900 – Small farmers in Puerto Rico begin losing their lands to United States agricultural business interests. Population of Puerto Rico hits 1 million people.
1915’s – Labor movements and antagonism between Puerto Rico and the United States was strong. While employment and production on the island rose, big American corporations made the most profits from this growth period and that money flowed out of the country into the United States economy. At this time, the average Puerto Rican family earned $150-$250 per year. The small jibaros farmers mostly sold their farms to farm estates and United States factories.
1917 – Reluctantly, President Wilson approves the Jones Act granting U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. This Act affronted many Puerto Rico statesmen who for years pressed for a break from Spain and U.S. rule and was a way to draw Puerto Rico in even more towards the United States and not have Puerto Rico autonomous and free. Luis Munoz Rivera organized a new party to reach a compromise between pure separatists and the US government. He urged Congress not to pass this act in the best interests of Puerto Rico’s future.
1928, 1932 – Two hurricanes accompanied the collapse of the economy as well as the beginning of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Poverty, starvation, and deprivation emerged.
1936 – The emergence of Pedro Albizu Campos – a leader of militant revolutionaries. He claimed that United States claims on Puerto Rico were in fact illegal, since Puerto Rico was actually autonomous at the time of occupation. Campos was a former US Army officer, graduate of Harvard Law School, and emerged from the generation of children at the time the United States took over Puerto Rico.
1937 – The massacre of Ponce. At the beginning of a parade for the National Puerto Rico parade 20 people are killed and over 100 wounded in skirmishes involving police officers who clashed with the citizens.
1938 – Luis Munoz Marin founded the Partido Democratico Popular (PDP) with the aid of United States business interests.
1941 – United States began to establish military bases in the islands of Culebra and Vieques.
1942 – Hiram Bithorn (Cubs) becomes first Puerto Rican to play in the Major Leagues.
1945 – A wave of Puerto Ricans emigrate to the United States looking for better jobs and to improve their economic situation.
1946 – Jesus T. Pinero first native governor in the island’s history with the aid of United States business interests as he was appointed by Harry S. Truman.
1947 – Tourism begins increasing on the island as airlines open up routes from Miami and New York.
1948 – Luis Munoz Marin takes office as the first popularly elected governor. He wanted Puerto Rico to be an “associated free state.” Because the newly independent and autonomous Philippines had their social progress and economy stalled after occupation, the United States delayed this plan. Operation Bootstrap industrializes and urbanizes the island through low wages and tax concessions to U.S. investors. While the program also promotes migration to the mainland to provide labor for U.S. industry especially into New York.
1950 – Public Law 600 (Puerto Rico Commonwealth Bill) provided a plebiscite in which voters would decide whether to remain a colony or assume status as a commonwealth.
1952 – Puerto Ricans vote 3 to 1 in favor of commonwealth status, giving Puerto Rico the right to draft its own constitution although the U.S. Congress would still retain paramount power.
1955 – Institute of Puerto Rico Culture is founded.
1959 – Following Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba, Puerto Ricans become concerned with regional security and ideology and the fate of their country since both historically Puerto Rico and Cuba have always been tied together. The island absorbs an influx of Cuban exiles.
1960’s – Vietnam. Proportionately, more Puerto Ricans die in Vietnam than Americans. Soldiers sent there by the President of the United States can die for him and the country, but not vote for him or the leader of the country.
1963 – Arecibo Observatory opens to search for extraterrestrial life and other scientific research.
1972 – Roberto Clemente reaches 3,000 hits in a Hall of Fame career. Months after the season ended, he dies in a plane crash off the north shore coast of San Juan while taking help and aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
1975 – Pre-Taino ruins discovered in Tibes near Ponce after a flood and eventual drying of the land revealed this sacred indigenous site.
1983 – El Morro Castle is declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
1991 – Puerto Rico declares Spanish the only official language of the island.
1993 – Voters reaffirm Commonwealth status by a slim margin. English and Spanish are designated as the island’s official languages.
1996 – In a non-binding referendum, voters reject statehood once again, marking the third time in three decades that statehood has been rebuffed by Puerto Rican voters.
1998 – One hundred years after the United States occupation in Puerto Rico, a plebiscite saw 51% voting for the alternative of “None of the Above” to the 46% of those opting for statehood over independence and commonwealth. Less than 3% now favored pure independence, but it was clear the mandate is requiring a new answer for Puerto Rico’s future.
1999 – Two US Marine training jets dropping bombs over the island of Vieques miss their targets, killing David Sanes Rodriguez and injuring four other civilians. Protesters subsequently prevent the Navy from carrying out its maneuvers, and Puerto Rican officials lobby for an end to military exercises there. The Navy, which owns two-thirds of Vieques, began military maneuvers there in the mid-1900s.
2000 – 1st female governor of Puerto Rico Sila M. Calderón is elected.
2001 – The U.S. government announces plans for a gradual cessation of maneuvers in Vieques
2006 – After the island’s government has an economic collapse, the “Taxpayer Justice Act” increases the general excise tax on the citizens. 5.5% to the central government; 1.5% to the municipalities; an additional 1% to the central government in the event the governor and their business “needs it.”
2009 – Sonia Sotomayor is nominated by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court Justice position in the United States. Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent.
2012 – Voters support statehood in a non-binding referendum with 54%.
2014 – Population from the island fell from 3.7 million in 2010 to 3.6 million in 2013 and Puerto Rico is still in transition of whether there is more economic opportunity in the United States or on the island.
2015 – Literacy rate in Puerto Rico is now over 95%. One hundred years earlier only an eighth of the population was literate. Cuba takes first steps to open up system with talks between Obama and Raul Castro – who has taken over for the ill Fidel Castro.
2016 – Puerto Rico makes national headlines for being on the brink of bankruptcy because of government fraud/ineptitude. Default on loan payments owed to Wall Street (who really run the United States as following the money trail of truth will tell you.) Cuba hosts President Barack Obama with indications that it will soon open up to American financial interests again.
2016 & Beyond – The next century… ? or ! Who are Puerto Ricans? Where are they going? Does the question mark linger or is there an exclamation point in her future?
Puerto Rico’s Future Destiny
If you look at the broad scope of Puerto Rico’s history you will notice that the story is still unfolding and there is a richer history to draw from with her native roots, spanish, african, and american branches and leaves, and it’s own new path to forge and grow her own identity in the global world we live in today and beyond tomorrow.
Where is Puerto Rico heading? For that matter since I’m also American and of Cuban descent, I’m also curious where is Cuba heading? As they say, are the two birds of the same feather so to speak?
Culture Identity for Puerto Rico’s Future People
The spanish-speaking and all of the people of Puerto Rico are currently in a state of flux. Does the culture go the way and opt for statehood (like Haiti under French possession) with the United States and risk that Anglo-American culture will become dominant over their Spanish, Taíno, and African heritage in the hundreds of years to come?
Does it promote cultural independence and keep the status quo as it is today in 2016 as a commonwealth of the United States and has their finances controlled by the United States, yet never having their autonomy and true freedom? Is this the end of the road as it stands today? Is this the best she can do?
Is it truly “none of the above” as a new path becomes clear? Does it involve the Caribbean Islands being united in trade as they once were for a grand majority of this island’s history? Does Cuba come into play? Does Dominican Republic and Haiti come into play? Does South America get involved in this new economic game being played in modern times? Can Puerto Rico truly handle their economy on their own in a new and emerging global market? Does she believe in herself?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that in 2016, things are changing much faster than ever before in history. From the Taínos over 6,000 years ago to today’s culture of technology, iPads, cell phones, and information flowing faster than ever before the culture is ripe to answer these questions for herself in these coming generations.
In order to know the future course, it’s also best to know the roots and where it all started is my simple opinion in order for all of these questions to better inform who we want to be as people, as a culture, as a society, and as an example to the rest of the world.
Conclusions of Gratitude to La Isla De Encanto
Puerto Rico is indebted to its Taíno roots because of the artistry and food and culture we enjoy today. There is a rich untold story that today’s culture of Puerto Rico is unaware of from the education it receives from an early age – and there are many admirable qualities to take with us into this new modern age we are living in.
Qualities like gratitude, honor, wisdom, kindness, peace, brotherhood, laughter, spiritual connections, hard work, perseverance of culture, actions that benefit the whole community & not just a select few, and of course qualities which involve passion and love for what you do and the people in your life to lead lives of purpose and meaning and contribution.
Puerto Rico can also be thankful for it’s Spanish, African, and American branches and leaves of culture today as they have given the culture amazing aspects such as literacy, health, exotic food, art, music, dance, and world class heritage sights. These qualities cannot be ignored, even though there was “blood in the water” so to speak when these nations took over the island of Puerto Rico.
One of the things the Europeans were fascinated by when they first met the people of Puerto Rico was their “apparent simplicity of life they lead. It confirmed to some the classical biblical belief in an initial golden age, in which humans retained their original innocence, had not yet developed private property and social controls, and consequently lived in a state of complete happiness.” (Rouse).
The last 500 years or so have brought many changes to the island and there will undoubtedly be many more during the next 500 years.
There’s a saying I like to say that seems to kind of make sense to me, and for others if you really and truly think about it:
The world and society of the world and the people we interact with are merely a mirror of who we are. What you think, and feel, and choose to see is who you are.
You get the world you are.
In essence, whether you live here or are traveling here, you get the Puerto Rico you are.
While I’m definitely far from perfect and a human being like everyone else with flaws and obstacles in my way, and still trying to figure out what this all means and why we are here and what we have to offer one another, I’m grateful to Puerto Rico and all of her people for what I continue to witness after 6 years traveling this island. I’m grateful to have learned so much and be a part of her story. Yes, I call her a girl. Duh. Of course it’s a girl. It’s my story too! 🙂 It’s also about a boy. My boy, Dylan. Is it about you as well? Can you relate?
The book I wrote is dedicated to a version of Puerto Rico I SEE today and continue to wish success for her unknown future and destiny wherever that leads!