Like the rising of a phoenix, a tribe thought to be dead for 500 years has successfully come back from the ashes; known as the “Great People of The Sacred High Waters”, the Taino Indian tribe of Borikén in Puerto Rico has proven that it is still very much alive after extensive rallying and participating in the 2010 U.S. census.
Traditionally, the Jatibonicu Taino tribal homeland was a singular large central mountain territory within the lush jungles and beautiful waterways of Puerto Rico, where the tribe had existed for millennia. It was the Taino who greeted Christopher Columbus when he famously landed the New World in 1492, and alas, that marked the beginning of their lengthy oppression and erasure from history (as has been the case for so many indigenous tribes in the Caribbean and throughout North and South America).
The Spanish Conquistadors that followed Columbus enslaved all Taino’s over the age of 14, forcing them to work in gold mines and plantations. Those that didn’t meet the quota had their hands chopped off and bled to death. Removed from their villages there was not enough help to plant the crops that had fed the Taino villages for so many centuries, leaving them to starve.
The Spanish raped women, forced them to marry and decimated the tribe. They were cut to pieces, run down by hunting dogs, beaten, sold as slaves, hung and burned dozens at a time. Women, children and babies were murdered. Hundreds of thousands of Taino’s died due to enslavement and European diseases like smallpox, influenza, measles, and typhus. To avoid the subjugation of violence and disease some committed suicide, killing their families, then taking their own lives. Other survivors fled into the mountains for safety.
When the Taino presence had almost vanished due to the high number of deaths, African slaves were introduced to the islands to take their place. Hundreds more died fighting the Spaniards, also fleeing to the mountains (with the African slaves) to continue fighting the Spaniards from there.
The Taino territory was then gradually divided up, the Taino language and religion suppressed, and then in the 1800s, Spain ceased to even bother counting indigenous people in the census of its colonies, further obscuring the rightful place of the thousands of full-blooded Tainos who remained in Puerto Rico. After this, they were set down in history as having “vanished” 50 years after Columbus arrived.
But then, in 2000, a beacon of hope was shone: a study funded by the National Science Foundation was able to prove that more than 60 percent of Puerto Ricans have Taino blood. This prompted a great awakening of the Taino consciousness among the people of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans living in the USA (notably in Texas), who took DNA tests and began to study their history and traditions with remarkable dedication.
Today, thanks to these efforts, the Taino culture is rapidly rebuilding, with many Taino people learning their traditional stories, dances, and practicing their rightful spirituality. The fight is not over, however, and much work remains to be done; to that end, the Taino leaders have developed a nation-building strategy known as the UCTP Taino Population Census and Intertribal Registry: an official population census and individual enrolment registration system, designed to further strengthen the United Confederation of Taino People. If you believe you are of Taino descent and want to reconnect with your heritage, take part in this Caribbean indigenous initiative by contacting the UCTP.