The Taíno Tribe of the Caribbean


When Christopher Columbus and his crewmen first set foot on North American soil, they were greeted by Taíno tribesmen. The Taíno were one of the main cultures populating the islands of the Caribbean Sea when Columbus arrived. Assuming he’d landed in the West Indies, Columbus called these people Indians. 

History of the Taíno Tribe of the Caribbean

With no written language, the history of the Taíno tribe is passed along from generation to generation as oral tradition. Some tribal ceremonies include the singing of the village epic with music from simple instruments, such as maracas, for accompaniment.

The Taíno peoples use oral tradition to explain their own origins and to describe the creation of the world. Local legend says the Taíno tribe emerged from a sacred cave on the island of Hispaniola and early Taínos left their caves only at night, fearing transformation into other forms if the sun shone on them. The tribe is descended from the union of Deminaán Caracaracol, one of four brother gods, and a female turtle. 

Like many other cultures, Taíno lore includes a monumental flood, which occurred when a father murdered his own deceitful son and placed his bones in a calabash, a gourd indigenous to the islands of the West Indies. The bones became fish that broke through the gourd, spilling out all the waters of the world. The Taíno believe spirits of the dead reside in an underworld, resting by day but returning at night disguised as bats that eat guavas from the trees.

While these legends are rich and colorful, they don’t satisfy modern science. Geneticists and archaeologists believe the Taíno are descendants of the Arawaks, a tribe that migrated to the islands from northeastern South America, along the Amazon River basin. Just a century before Columbus’ arrival, another South American tribe, the Caribs, entered the islands and quickly took over many of the islands inhabited by the Taínos.

Columbus described the Taíno as a kind, gentle people with a sweet-sounding language and the Caribs seem to have taken advantage of that peaceful nature. The Caribs brutalized the Taíno, taking their women as slaves and sacrificing their men in cannibalistic rituals.

The Spanish were no kinder, Columbus included. Columbus’ discovery of the New World brought Spanish explorers, adventurers, and merchants in search of exotic riches and hedonistic tropical lifestyles. They also brought taxation, failure of which to pay often meant beheading; diseases that ravaged the native population; and bloody rebellion and widespread slaughter. Within a few short decades after Spain’s arrival, the Taíno population had been reduced by as much as 90%.

  • Taíno Indians Culture: The Taíno culture shaped much of Caribbean life as it’s known today.
  • The Taíno and Ponce de Leon: This image depicts the meeting of a Taíno tribe meeting the explorer, who arrived in the islands to serve as governor for Spain.
  • Indios Taínos: This musical video presents the history of the Taíno in haunting images.

Jatibonicù Taíno Tribal Nation of Borikén

The Jatibonicù Taíno tribe originated on the island of Borikén, or modern-day Puerto Rico. Led by the cacique, or principal chief, Orocobix (which means Remembrance of the First Mountain), the tribe settled in the central mountain region of the island, where the climate is mild and beautiful year-round and the mountains are splashed with the vibrant colors of indigenous flowers. Hummingbirds love the Jatibonicù homeland, too, and the tribe has declared the Colibri hummingbird as its sacred tribal totem.

Taíno Timucua Tribe of Florida

The Taíno who reached the United States mainland became the Timucua tribe, inhabiting most of the modern-day state of Florida and the southeastern region of Georgia. When French explorer Jean Ribault first encountered the Timucua in 1562, he described pretty women and handsome men. The Timucuan welcomed the French settlers, as well as the Spanish and British settlers who followed, but the Timucuan lifestyle, which had remained fairly stable for more than 1,000 years, quickly changed after the European invasion. The Timucuan population, estimated to number in the tens of thousands when Ribault first encountered them, dropped to a mere 550 by 1698. The last Timucuan is thought to have died in 1797.

Jatibonicù Taíno Tribal Band of Southern New Jersey

The Jatibonicù Taíno tribe in southern New Jersey is part of the larger Jatibonicù Taíno tribe in Puerto Rico. Like their brethren in Puerto Rico, the New Jersey Taíno strive to keep their heritage alive and thriving.

Taíno Cultural Resources

  • United Confederation of Taíno People: The confederation was ratified in 1998 with the mission of protecting, uniting, and defending the Taíno culture.
  • Taíno Dictionary: Explore the language spoken by Taíno tribal peoples today.
  • Taíno Indian Language: Learn about the language, the people, the culture, and the history at this website.
  • Taíno Cyber Culture Center: Find Taíno poetry, recipes, home remedies, scenes of daily life, and children’s activities at this website where you can even get the answer to the question, “Am I Taíno?”