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The Tainos

The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus

Irving Rouse
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Tainos
    Book Description:

    When Columbus arrived in the Americas, the first people he encountered were the Tainos, inhabitants of the islands of the northern Caribbean Sea. In this book a noted archeologist and anthropologist tells the story of the Tainos from their ancestral days on the South American continent to their rapid decline after contact with the Spanish explorers.

    Drawing on archeological and ethno-historical evidence, Irving Rouse sketches a picture of the Tainos as they existed during the time of Columbus, contrasting their customs with those of their neighbors. He then moves backward in time to the ancestors of the Tainos-two successive groups who settled the West Indies and who are known to archeologists as the Saladoid peoples and the Ostionoid peoples. By reconstructing the development of these groups and studying their interaction with other groups during the centuries before Columbus, Rouse shows precisely who the Tainos were. He vividly recounts Columbus's four voyages, the events of the European contact, and the early Spanish views of the Tainos, particularly their art and religion. The narration shows that the Tainos did not long survive the advent of Columbus. Weakened by forced labor, malnutrition, and diseases introduced by the foreigners, and dispersed by migration and intermarriage, they ceased to exist as a separate population group. As Rouse discusses the Tainos' contributions to the Spaniards-from Indian corn, tobacco, and rubber balls to art, artifacts, and new words-we realize that their effect on Western civilization, brief through their contact, was an important and lasting one.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16183-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. I Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    Columbus called the inhabitants of the Western HemisphereIndiansbecause he mistakenly thought he had reached the islands on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean. He could not use the termNative American, which is preferred by today’s “Indians,” because he was unaware of the continents that now bear the name America. The so-called Indians were divided into innumerable small ethnic groups, each with its own combination of linguistic, cultural, and biological traits. This book focuses upon one such group, the Tainos, who greeted Columbus when he first landed in the West Indies. Their habitat and their characteristics are...

  6. II The Ancestries of the Tainos
    (pp. 26-48)

    The region known as the West Indies offers an unusual opportunity to study problems of origin because its islands extend like a series of stepping stones between South, Middle, and North America. Its natives could have come from, and later acquired traits from, any or all parts of the mainland.

    The study of human origins falls within the academic discipline of anthropology. It is done not only by ethnohistorians, whose results have just been summarized, but also by physical anthropologists, archeologists, and linguists. These four groups of specialists have become organized into separate subdisciplines because they base their conclusions on...

  7. III The Peopling of the West Indies
    (pp. 49-70)

    The ancestors of the Tainos did not reach the West Indies until long after the first settlers had arrived. Why, then, discuss the peopling of the West Indies in a book on the rise of the Tainos? There are three reasons. We need to know how the original settlers modified the pristine environment in order to take into consideration the conditions faced by the ancestors of the Tainos when they arrived. We need to learn about their contrasting ways of life in order to understand how the ancestors were able to replace the previous population. Finally, because the ancestral peoples...

  8. IV The First Repeopling
    (pp. 71-104)

    We have seen that the West Indies were peopled from both the northwest and the southeast. During the Lithic age, Indians from Yucatán moved into Cuba, Hispaniola, and western Puerto Rico, where they developed the Casimiroid series of cultures. During the Archaic age, peoples of an Ortoiroid series migrated from the mouth of the Orinoco River through the Lesser Antilles and the Virgin Islands into Puerto Rico. The two groups met at the Mona Passage, between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

    Saladoid Indians subsequently arrived from the interior of South America, introducing the Ceramic age. They descended the Orinoco Valley to...

  9. V The Emergence of the Tainos
    (pp. 105-137)

    Unfortunately, the genesis of the Tainos, the most important theme of this book, has been too little studied to do it justice. West Indian archeologists assumed for many years that the Tainos had come from the mainland, in effect passing the problem of genesis to their mainland colleagues. The latter saw no reason to study it, so it was ignored.

    My involvement with the problem began as a graduate student at Yale University in the late 1930s, when I had to reconcile the hypotheses of Gudmund Hatt (1924), a Danish archeologist who had excavated in the Virgin Islands, and Froelich...

  10. VI The Second Repeopling
    (pp. 138-168)

    We humans are ethnocentric, tending to overlook events in which neither we nor our ancestors participated. Columbus’s career is a case in point. People of European descent honor the admiral for his discovery of the “New World” but give no credit to the Native Americans for having previously found it. From the standpoint of humanity as a whole, it would be more accurate to say that Columbus discovered a new route from Europe to the Americas.

    Two other routes between the hemispheres had been found before Columbus’s time. The ancestors of the American Indians had moved from Siberia into Alaska...

  11. Epilogue. The Tainos’ Role in the Columbian Exchange
    (pp. 169-172)

    The Taino people emerged during the latter part of the first millennium a.d. and reached maturity about 1200. They were still evolving when Columbus arrived, but soon succumbed to the effects of overwork, malnutrition, epidemics of introduced diseases, rebellion, emigration, and outmarriage. By 1524 they had ceased to exist as a separate population group. Parts of their biological, cultural, and linguistic heritages have nevertheless survived in the former Spanish colonies or have been revived there during the present century.

    Before departing from the scene, they transmitted a number of biological, cultural, and linguistic traits to the Spaniards, who in turn...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 173-186)
  13. References
    (pp. 187-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-211)