D. 5. Taino Lifestyle. D. 5. Taino Lifestyle.

IV bohioDwelling – Resided in villages or Yucayeques of varying sizes, with the smaller ones being 10 to 20 families and the larger ones around 3,000 people.

Dwellings called buhios or bohios came in two styles: one with a circular floor plan with a conical roof and the other rectangular with an a-frame roof believed to be called caney and used mainly for the cacique's home or for temples.

These bohios were built relatively fast tying palm wood slabs with vines and fabricating a roof using weaved dried palm branches or yaguas.

They kept very few domesticated animals: a mute dog named aon, and parrots called higuacas.

Games – Like other pre-Hispanic societies, the Tainos had games and contests such as wrestling, races and a ball game which consisted of keeping a ball in the air by hitting with all parts of your body except the hands, which they played in the batey or village ceremonial plaza with a ball made of tree resin from the Clusia tree (Clusia rosea Jacq.) (Copey).

Transportation – Canoes (canoas or cayucos), essential objects in their every day life, used for transport and cargo, were built from a single tree and with these they could travel easily from island to island. They came in many sizes from smaller ones to larger ones that could hold forty men. The oars were called nabes and it is believed that, as well as the canoes, were very delicately decorated.

Furniture – The hammock (hamaca) woven from cotton stands out in the Taino household. A hanging bed that as well as being very comfortable and easy to transport, also raises you away from the ground avoiding contact with insects and critters.

A Taino household would also contain ceramic vessels, gourds (higueros) (Crecentia cujete) which they fashioned to use as cups, spoons, etc. Baskets, mortars, graters, bateas (wooden trays), ceremonial idols and maybe a duho or small ceremonial seat.

The cihuacan and the buren were also a very important part of the Taino household. The cihuacan was a large long basket with a wood pole inserted in the bottom which they filled with grated yuca and would tighten, extracting the toxic juice of the yuca (cassava) in the same fashion as a tourniquet. The buren was a large ceramic flat platter that used over a fire, resting on three or four stones, would be used to cook the yuca tortillas called cazabi or cazabe.

cocinando cazabe graphic

DietCasabe was the star dish of the Antillean diet. It is it is very nutritious and it remains fresh for twenty days or more. Also a staple for the colonists, the preparation technique has remained the same through the centuries.

The Tainos prepared a flat bread (like a tortilla) out of the guayiga (Florida arrowroot) and they consumed maiz (corn), yautia (taro root), mani (peanut), leren (Guinea arrowroot), mapuey (yampee), and ages or batatas (sweet potatoes) as well.

They thought highly of the aji (hot pepper) (Capsicum frustecens) which they mixed with water as a favoring or as a spice. They smoked tabacco (Nicotiana tabacum), which the Europeans apparently instantly loved, rapidly spreading this habit throughout Europe.

Their diet included also fish from the sea and rivers, shrimps and xaibas (river and land crabs), rodents like the hutias, curies and mohies, iguana and manatí (manatee) meat, and a variety of birds, shells, worms and some insects.

woodblock indians

Favorite fruits include mamey (zapodilla), mamon (custard apple), guanabana (soursop), papaya or lechoza, caimito (star apple), hicacos (cocoplum), guayavas (guavas), some pineapple varieties and nisperos (zapadillos).

The jagua or xagua (Genipa americana), and the bixa or bija (Bixa Orellana), as well as being used for its medicinal properties, were used as paints to decorate ceramics and bodies.

Decoration y Dress – Usually, the Tainos and ciguayos were very interesting people; it is believed that they possessed very good teeth (probably based on their healthy diet) and they were very clean, bathing frequently in the numerous rivers and streams where they also dipped their newborns, probably to purify them.

It is known that the ciguayos wore no clothes and would use ash on their faces and bodies, wearing their hair very long as we have noted.

The Tainos practiced cranial deformation as a beauty symbol, tying their babies to slabs of palm wood increasing the pressure until achieving the desired shape.

They wore no clothes and only married women wore a nagua or cotton "skirt".

Hairless like the majority of American indigenous people, they dyed their skin to protect themselves from insects and for decoration, creating abstract designs similar to their ceramics. They made stamps with these designs using them to stamp their bodies with the desired color, usually white, blueish black, and red.

They wore cotton bands in their arms and ankles, liking a lot of necklaces, bracelets and anklets made with beads or shells. Lots of earrings and hair clips have been found, which were made of wood, shell, bone and sometimes clay, these were very beautiful and called taguagua.

The caciques and nitainos might wear a gold nose ring dangling from the septum, as well as a guanin or disk, also made of gold, worn on the neck. It is thought that they also used guaizas or masks made from shell or bone to display on the chest or the front part of belts woven from cotton.

Since their intimate live was tied directly to their believes and divinities, they had abundant amulets of varied types and sizes that they hung from the neck or from their forehead in ceremonial occasions and dangerous confrontations.

Burials – Their burials have almost always been located in lands very close to the villages and inside caves. In the majority of cases, the body is found seated and surrounded by objects necessary in the afterlife in the coaybay or land of the spirits.

Caciques, however, were buried with their bodies wrapped and sitting in a duho, and sometimes, their favorite wife was buried (alive) next to her husband. In some occasions, the head of the loved one was conserved for rituals, maybe, because it was considered, as suggested by archeologist Manuel Garcia Arevalo, "the most important part of the person where the self resided".7


D5: J. Arvelo. Drawing: F. Castro