Caribbean Natives

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People have been enjoying the Caribbean vibe for a hell of a lot longer than resorts have been inviting guests to share the wealth of its beauty. This is an article about the Caribbean natives who’ve called this land home for millennia. First let’s define the Caribbean. The region is the generally the zone east of the Gulf of Mexico and Central America consisting of the Caribbean Sea and some of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s over 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays that make up the Caribbean, spanning 2,7 million square-kilometres with 240 thousand square kilometres of land area. There’s a general form of an island arc that gives the region its form – and it’s divided into the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles, and all are part of the greater West Indies grouping. That’s 30 territories within the Caribbean, as we know it today. But back when, it was dominated by a few indigenous groups of people.

The oldest known culture in the Caribbean is the Ortoiroid people, dating back to at least 5,000 BC. They were a hunter-gatherer group, as is to be expected, and are assumed to have migrated up from South America (and perhaps Lemuria or Mu before that). Various tribes expanded throughout the islands over the years, as people are prone to do, and by the time of European arrival in 1492, there were basically two major groups of Amerindian indigenous peoples living on the islands. These were the Arawaks of the Greater Antilles and the Caribs of the Lesser Antilles.

The Taíno were part of the Arawak and a seafaring people who were historically enemies of the neighbouring Carib tribes. Their origin story holds that they emerged from caves in a sacred mountain, a common theme throughout ancient cultures across the planet. If taken literally, this gives credence to the fringe theory of Hollow Earth, wherein following the Great Flood (a story that a remarkable number of cultures all around the world document as fact) the survivors sought refuge inside vast underground networks of caverns. Another repeating theme throughout the world is of advanced civilizations that inhabited Earth before what we refer to today as mainstream history. Perhaps there is some truth to the idea that there was once civilizations even more advanced than we are today, and life is in fact a wheel and a fractal, operating on much larger scales than we currently accept. But I digress.

The Taíno were a class-based society governed by chiefs and priests who were extolled for their healing powers and ability to communicate with “the gods” (extraterrestrial/interdimensional beings?) They practiced polygamy, as many tribal networks do, for its inherent ability to create a self-sustainable society through the family unit. As such, polygamy and its self-sufficiency pose a tangible threat to the State, which seeks to legitimize itself through the dependency of its citizens. Just another way of looking at the morality of polygamy. But again, whoops, I digress.

The Taíno were highly skilled agriculturalists and fishermen, sailing in dugout canoes that seated up to 150 people. When Christopher Columbus met the Taíno he described them thusly: “in all the world there can be no better people… They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are always gentle and laughing.”

In short order, their culture was made extinct. They were completely wiped out following Spanish settlement, due mostly to infectious disease, warfare and enslavement. In 1518 a smallpox epidemic annihilated 90% of the natives who’d survived the few decades of the New World. Just to emphasize this point, that’s millions of people from entire ancient tribes deleted from reality in what could arguably be called genocide. Happy Columbus Day, though, right?

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST, Johnny Depp, 2006. (c)Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, Johnny Depp, 2006. (c)Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

The other major group, the Caribs (after whom the Caribbean was named) were historically the more aggressive people, conducting many violent raids on the Taíno – long before the Spanish came with their germs and guns. In fact, in the two centures preceding the arrival of Columbus, the Caribs had mostly displaced the Taíno through warfare, extermination and assimilation. As support for the “life is a wheel and a fractal” theory (and karma, as well) the same thing happened to the Caribs, yet unlike the Taíno, small populations survive to this day. So-called Black Caribs were descendent from a group of enslaved Africans marooned from shipwrecks of slave ships to intermarry with the native Caribs.

Early Carib culture was patriarchal, with women and children living in different houses than the men. Women were highly revered, however, and the Carib society is considered more egalitarian than Taíno. Some historians suggest that Caribs practiced cannibalism as a war ritual, eating the bodies of their enemies, although others claim this is a misconception.

The arrival of Europeans signalled an end to life as the Caribs and Taíno knew it and the beginning of the colonial era. The Spanish, who came first seeking wealth, enslaved the majority of the native population and imported African slaves to supplement the Amerindian labour. With the decline of the Spanish Empire (party due to the near-extinction of the Caribbean tribes), French, British and Dutch forces came in droves, bringing with them millions of African slaves to support the plantation system that spread throughout the Caribbean. The region then became a highly contested area for centuries between Imperial rivalries and European wars. More on this in a future article…

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