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Puerto Rico was inhabited by the Taino Indians long before Columbus arrived in 1493. They were primarily farmers and fisherman. After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, the Taino population was decimated by famine, disease, and war within twenty years. Today, the Taino’s blood is part of the Puerto Rican heritage and through research and archaeological digs, today there is a clearer idea of their culture and contributions to society.
In recent years, we have seen local Puerto Rican artists embrace the taino symbols and it is now featured in many of our store’s local art. We are often asked about their meaning and significance, and decided it was long overdue to blog about it and share some of the common symbols and meanings.
The Taíno written language was in the form of petroglyphs, or symbols that were carved in stone. Evidence of these petroglyphs can still be found around the island. For those interested in viewing them in person, these locations are the best for individual travelers:
- Piedra Escrita – Jayuya
- Cueva del Indio – Arecibo
- Cueva del Indio – Rio Piedras
- Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park – Arecibo
- Rio Blanco in Naguabo – take a tour with Robin
Here are a couple of interesting photos of petroglyphs found in Ponce recently and here is a documentary about the Tainos….
Many Taíno implements and techniques were copied directly by the Europeans, including the bohío (straw hut) and the hamaca (hammock), the musical instrument known as the maracas, and the method of making cassava bread. Many Taino words persist in the Puerto Rican vocabulary of today. Names of plants, trees and fruits includes: maní, leren, ají, yuca, mamey, pajuil, pitajaya, cupey, tabonuco and ceiba. Names of fish, animals and birds includes: mucaro, guaraguao, iguana, cobo, carey, jicotea, guabina, manati, buruquena and juey. As well as other objects and instruments: güiro, bohío, batey, caney, hamaca, nasa, petate, coy, barbacoa, batea, cabuya, casabe and canoa. Other words were passed not only into Spanish, but also into English, such as huracan (hurricane) and hamaca (hammock) and barbacoa (barbecue).