Symbolism… Symbols exist in every culture. In many cases, these symbols overlap many ethnicities and are seen in other cultures. Symbols can be so representative of something that there are some groups that adopt symbols into their own cultures and make them part of their own history.
Through our formal studies as well as independently, we have come to be familiar with the history of many people who have lived throughout the centuries across the World, as well as their rich legacies. We are knowledgeable about their customs and what some of their symbols are and represent. Who isn’t familiar with a four-leaf clover and its meaning?
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many other groups and cultures. Whether it be due to their size or their lifespan, or because the mainstream does not see it necessary to represent them, many ethnic groups and cultures have been forgotten and not kept alive through history books and other resources. This is a disservice to humanity! Every group has something valuable to teach the World. This is the case of a small but highly influential group of the Caribbean: the Taino People.
Who Were the Taino People?
The Taíno Indians are a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians who inhabited the Greater Antilles made up of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean Sea.
They were a quiet people whose only needed defense was against their aggressive neighbors, the Caribs. That is until the Spaniards came to the island. They were mostly prey to the dominance of these new people who wanted to convert them to Christianity, take their land’s gold, and their land.
The Tainos saw the Spaniards as gods and feared them. The European brought livestock like horses, sheep, and cattle to America. Their weapons were like nothing they had ever seen. Soon they would be working from dawn to dusk as abject slaves and see their resources depleted as well as their lives. In 1501, black slaves were brought to the island to make up for the many losses of Tainos.
Their lifespan was short and around the year 1515, in July, a hurricane strikes the island, killing many Tainos. This, as well as the illnesses brought by the Spaniards, their ill treatments at the hands of the conquistadores, and the intermarriage between black slaves and Spaniards all but depleted the Taino people in Puerto Rico.
The Taínos contributed greatly to the everyday life and language of Puerto Rico. Many towns on the island of Puerto Rico still carry Taino names. Much of our vocabulary still uses Taino words. In fact, the words canoe and hammock in the English language originated with the Tainos.
The Tainos were an inventive people and many of their designs were adopted by the Spaniards that colonized the island. They were also highly Spiritual and had their own religious Cosmology. They sought to please the gods with offerings and by building ceremonial parks.
Few things were left behind that could tell us more about these peaceful people. One thing that has given insight into their life was the discovery of petroglyphs, symbols carved into rock. Many of my wire creations are influenced by these simple yet very meaningful drawings.
These are some of the petroglyphs that have been found on the island of Puerto Rico.
The Taíno’s carried their babies on their backs. Many images often had babies being carried with ropes tied around them.
The Taínos often depicted a spiral symbol, which represented cosmic energy and sweet water. Years later, psychologist Carl Jung said that the spiral is an archetypal symbol that represents cosmic force. The Spiral is also a sacred symbol that represents the journey and change of life as it unfolds.
I connect with the spiral and use it often in my copper designs along with other shapes I have created that make up my Taino jewelry.
Legend has it that the God Guahoyona abducted all women from the island, leaving the men to take care of the children, who out of hunger began to cry Toa Toa or mother-mother. When the children could not be consoled by the men, they turned into frogs.
The Taínos believed that the sun rose from the cave Cacique Mautiatibuel at dawn, and returned when the moon rose.
These petroglyphs have given insight to others like me who are interested in learning about our personal history. I think it is important to know where we come from and how our Ancestors viewed their lives. Symbols can give great insight into our lives today and an explanation for a lot of our beliefs and behavior.
You can learn more about the Native People by reading, The Indigenous People of the Caribbean by Samuel M. Wilson