Any teacher who is embarking on this project of researching the Taínos and following my guidelines and recommended activities should be aware that I stand on the shoulders of others. By that, I mean that my colleagues have already written eloquently about the Taínos. I would refer all readers of this unit to the following: Unit 82.05.09, Mythology: A Study of Puerto Rican Myths, Legends and Folktales by John C. Warner, and Units 82.05.08, 84.03.08, and 86.02.01, all authored by Doris M. Vázquez. These three units are entitled La Nueva Canción en Puerto Rico, The Art of the Puerto Rican People, and Spain in Puerto Rico: The Early Settlements. Her descriptions of the Taíno people and her bibliographies proved helpful in my research.
Furthermore, readers of this unit should be aware that this unit is part of a compendium of units that I have written primarily about Puerto Rico: El Sabor del Caribe/ A Taste of the Caribbean (An analysis of the symbolism of food in the oral and written literature of the Caribbean), Unit 95.04.01; Las Voces del Caribe: Recent Immigrants from the Caribbean, Unit 96.04.03; and La Presencia africana en el Caribe: un análisis de la poesía afroantillana (The African Presence in the Caribbean: An analysis of African-Antillean poetry), Unit 97.01.03. The present unit is a continuation of the prior units on the Caribbean with an emphasis on the island of Puerto Rico, or
Borinquen, its Taíno name.
Sources for this Unit
The sources I used for this unit are varied: chronicles by Spanish priests, such as Bartolomé de las Casas; records by historians and archeologists, such as Ricardo E. Alegría, Cayetano Coll y Toste, and Irving Rouse; and collections of Taíno objects, such as those found in El Museo del Barrio and the Yale Peabody Museum. Two outstanding anthropologists who have studied the Taínos are Yale authors, José Juan Arrom and Irving Rouse. Their books and research are available to readers who want more details from an anthropological perspective.
Other sources for this unit include literature about the Taínos or literature inspired by the Taínos, as well as several myths and legends attributed to the Taínos. The legends and myths I have examined are the creation myth of Atabei and Yocahú, the legend of Guanina, the legend of Salcedo, and the legend of the Taíno cave. An unexpected source of information about the Taínos was provided by a visiting historian and poet from Puerto Rico, Rafael González Mu–iz, who visited the New Haven School System in April of 1998 to share his knowledge and recently published book Poemas de mi Pueblo Taíno, with the teachers of New Haven. A video and booklet about the Taínos entitled Guanín also was consulted. The author and illustrator, Edwin Fontanez, generously provided me with ideas, inspiration, and materials. Finally, the Yale Professor, Jules Prown, provided a methodology for describing and analyzing art objects.
Bartolomé de las Casas and Fray Ramón de Pané: Primary Sources
A study of the Taínos should begin with a careful reading of the exposé by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. He wrote his descriptions of the Taínos of the Dominican Republic with the express purpose of alerting the world to the sufferings and exploitations of the Taínos at the hands of the Spanish
in the island of Hispaniola, today Haiti and The Dominican Republic. He extols the virtues of the Taínos as a gentle and unsuspecting people who were subjected to unspeakable atrocities at the hands of their oppressors. Another recommended author is Fray Ramón de Pané, who chronicled the religious beliefs and myths of the Taínos at the time of the conquest or
. Excerpts of his journals are found in the book by Karl Waggenheim listed in the bibliography. A reading of one of these two primary sources and knowledge of the history of Puerto Rico during pre-Colombian times is highly recommended for any teacher using this unit. Other primary sources teachers may want to consult include the writings of Oviedo y Valdés, not covered in this unit but available to teachers interested in further research.
Ricardo E. Alegría: A Historian’s Perspective
In contemporary times, Ricardo E. Alegría has become the most eloquent gatherer of information about the Taínos of Puerto Rico. He has written several books about the Taínos and is considered the expert on the history of Puerto Rico. His book, Historia de los indios de Puerto Rico, is available in both English and Spanish. I rely on it heavily in this unit and recommend it highly for those teachers not familiar with the history of the Taínos of Puerto Rico. He was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico to preserve several famous archaeological sites in Tibes and Caguana.
Irving Rouse: An Anthropological or Archaeological Perspective
Irving Rouse has written several books about the Tainos from the perspective of an archaeologist. He describes the pre-Taino groups in the island, the origin of the Tainos, their extent and spread in the Caribbean, and the archaeological evidence to support his theories. If these areas are of interest to the reader, his books, listed in the bibliography, should be consulted. His findings and comments will be briefly included.I think he is an important part of this study of the Tainos because students should be aware that there is scientific data that supports the many legends, myths, and stories. This unit emphasizes not only the literature of the Tainos but the art objects they produced. In order to fully understand the art, one needs to know about the culture of the people. That cultural information may be gleaned in several ways: studying the people directly, studying the body of literature they produced, studying their art, and examining their artifacts of everyday life.
Since the Tainos are largely extinct as far as being an identifiable group living today, we are unable to study them via direct observation or interviews. The remaining sources availabe to us are the oral literature handed down, their legacy as expressed in their art and daily objects, and the theories constructed by experts from various fields as to their lifestyles and culture, based on evidence such as objects found in archaeological sites and museums. The most recent archaeological evidence was documented in the New York Times article of July 5, 1998.