In 1492, Christopher Columbus set out to explore the “new world” on his ship the Santa Maria from Spain. His goal was to find a western oceanic route to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands.
Columbus first sighted a Bahamian Island of Guanahani (San Salvador). He believed he was in East India/The Indies so he referred to the people there as “Indians”. He later landed on the island named Hispaniola, currently split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic where the Taíno People resided. The Taíno people were skilled farmers, poets and musicians with complex social and political systems (and still are today). The Taíno provided the explorers with food and shelter after they were deceived by Columbus and his men.
Mainy of the Taíno people were forced to convert to Christianity, given Smallpox, enslaved and starved to the point where it is estimated that their population was greatly reduced within just 60 years of Columbus's arrival.
But they are still here.
-Chief Panchito ramirez
We are no longer just of the monte, our children belong to their parents, belongs to us, belong to the nation, belong to nature, and belong to God.
What happened to the taíno
Across the Caribbean, the Taíno rebelled, created communities in the mountains (where the colonizers could not navigate), and killed and died in pursuit of their freedom, of their right to exist. Over three centuries, the Taínos grew and intermarried with Spanish and African people and sustained kinship communities on small farms, and despite local migrations, preserved their human memory and social value.
There was a paper genocide that aimed to remove the Indigenous Taínos from history. In the early 1800s, when the census was taken in the Caribbean the racial category for being indigenous ("indio") was removed from reports. People were forced to identify as either white or black, but they retained their Indigenous lifeways despite those words on a paper. Taínos still live and thrive today, throughout the diaspora, proud of their culture and their roots.
Part of a photo project based on the census erasure by Haruka Sakaguchi. View the full series here.
Taíno people are working tirelessly to preserve their language, culture and ancestral knowledge. Many of their traditional planting knowledge, spirituality and ceremony, medicinal practices and animal husbandry are still alive today and being passed down orally through generations.
One example of Taíno innovation is evident in Cuba. When the high-input Soviet style farms went defunct a generation ago, it was the old Taíno crops and endemic herbal medicines, applied along with new organic farming technologies, that saved the country from starvation. Below are photos from some of the most well-known Taíno communities in the diaspora.