The Tainos

Irving Rouse, professor of anthropology at Yale, presents the results of thirty-five years of research into the origins of the Tainos, the early inhabitants of the islands of the northern Caribbean. Rouse discusses the theory that ancestors of the Taino people migrated from the South American continent. Archaeologists who subscribe to this theory are divided as to exactly where the Tainos originaed. One group traces the Tainos linguistically back to the Orinoco Valley in Amazonia. Another group, concentrating on ecological evidence, contends that the ancestors of the Tainos came from the Andes region. By carefully examining the archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence, including linguistic and biological clues, Rouse describes the Tainos as they existed at the time of Columbus.

According to Rouse the Tainos were still evolving when Columbus encountered them. The West Indies apparently was first peopled during migrations from South America which began around 4000 B.C. Columbus’ arrival brought about a rapid decline in the population due to overwork, malnutrition, the onslaught of introduced diseases, and rebellion. By the early 1500’s, the Tainos had practically vanished as a separate ethnic and cultural group. However, as Rouse explains, certain Taino traits have been passed down through the generations through intermarriage between Spaniards and Tainos. Interestingly, certain familiar English words had their origins with the Tainos, including barbecue, cannibal, and hurricane.

THE TAINOS is a highly readable work. Among the numerous illustrations are chronological charts, examples of pottery, tools, artifacts, and stone ornaments, and photographs of archaeological sites. Included also are a glossary and an extensive list of references. This timely book is probably the best account ever written of the Taino Indians.