( Page 4 )

Editors: Blánca Vazquez & Teresa Santiago
Typography & Design: Blánca Vazquez

Taíno: Ancient Voyagers Of The Caribbean

Dicey Taylor, Ph.D.
Guest Curator, El Museo del Barrio

Belt/Collar. Taíno, Puerto Rico, A.D. 1200-1500/Stone, 43 cm long
El Museo del Barrio, New York. Photograph/Justin Kerr

The Caribbean was colonized about 7,000 years ago by nomadic hunters and gatherers from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Central and South America. After 500 B.C., farming people who spoke Arawak languages migrated into the region from Venezuela and the Guianas in the Orinocan-Amazonian Basin of South America. They traveled in canoes from island to island in the Lesser Antilles and, later, to the Greater Antilles, where they established themselves on Puerto Rico and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The earlier population was gradually absorbed.

The Taíno evolved about A.D. 1200 from an intermingling of people who had been in the Greater Antilles for many centuries. They became the dominant culture of the region and lived on the large islands of the Greater Antilles: the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Taíno settlements were bigger than those of their predecessors and powerful caciques (chiefs) consolidated lesser chiefdoms through marriage and warfare. By the time Columbus reached the Caribbean, the Greater Antilles were dotted with Taíno communities nestled in valleys and along the rivers and coastlines; some were inhabited by thousands of people. Hispaniola was under the control of five important chiefs and Puerto Rico was ruled by approximately 20.

The first New World society Columbus encountered was one of tremendous creativity and energy. The Taíno had an extraordinary repertoire of expressive forms: stone and wood sculpture, ceramics, shell and bone jewelry, weaving, featherwork, dance, music and poetry. Until recently, the Taíno were peripheral to the study of the pre-Columbian past. Scholars focused on the high cultures of the mainland—the Inca, Aztec and Maya—which were organized into political states. Archaeologists and art historians now realize that Taíno chiefdoms were complex political entities and that their artifacts had parallel forms on the mainland. It has also become clear that the Taíno concept of the universe was decidedly pre-Columbian.

Vessel/Vasija. Taíno, Dominican Republic, A. D. 1200-1500/ Ceramic, 14 cm x 24.5 w x d 23.5 cm
Collection of El Museo del Barrio, New York. Gift of Brian & Florence Mahony. Photograph/ Bruce Schwarz

The Taíno believed they were descended from the primordial union of a male culture hero named Deminán Caracaracol and a female turtle. Similar creation stories persist among tribal societies in South America. In the Taíno myth, Deminán was the eldest of two sets of twins, but his siblings had no names. Twins had magical power in pre-Columbian mythology and the number four signified abundance; Deminán represents multiple aspects of a single character. When he stole casabe (yuca bread), his spirit grandfather threw a hallucinogenic mixture on his back, which became a painful swelling. Deminán’s brothers cut it open to find a female turtle, with whom they all began to cohabit. Images of turtles are common in Taíno art because "Turtle Woman’ was the ancestral mother and kinship was traced through the maternal line.

Pre-Columbian cultures perceived the earth as a flat disc pierced at the center by a supernatural hole, or conduit. An imaginary ceiba (silk cotton) tree filled this space and connected the heavens to the watery depths of the underworld. Each day, when the setting sun dipped below the horizon, it flipped the underworld upward to become the night sky. The Taíno and their island neighbors interpreted stars and constellations as marine forms—fish, crabs, lobsters and shells—and the Milky Way as a giant alligator floating in the nocturnal sea.

The concept of "center" as sacred space pervades every aspect of Taíno art and culture. Communities had central plazas, where ceremonies were held to communicate with spirits and ancestors. Artists adorned figures with circular motifs, often concentrating on the navel area, where the soul connected to the cosmos. Chiefs wore belts with linear motifs, which encircled the body and sheltered the soul. The Taíno probably believed, as do modern groups in the Orinocan-Amazonian Basin, that the universe is protected by an invisible web of geometric patterns. Circular and geometric designs are used throughout the gallery to surround visitors with sacred symbols from the Taíno world.

One of the cacique’s most important responsibilities was the organization of areitos, festivals that involved entire communities and often neighboring settlements. Areitos were held in the main plazas at times of great importance and took hours to perform. They involved feasting, singing, dancing, mock battles and ball games. Pre-Columbian cultures played a competitive game similar to soccer, in which the ball was hit with the head, arms, hips and legs, but could not be touched with the feet or hands except to put it into play. Players wore protective accessories on the arms and legs as well as belts made from wood, fiber and cloth. The Taíno also created belts of stone. Some scholars believe these belts were actually worn during games. Most, however, interpret them as memorials that accompanied the dead to the other world.

Effigy Vessel/Vaso efigie. Deminán Caracaracol, Taíno, Dominican Republic, A.D. 1200-1500. Ceramic, 40.6 cm high Collection of National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. /Photograph/David Heald

The Taíno legacy endures today not only in the ethnic heritage of the Caribbean people, but also in such Arawak words as barbecue, canoe, hammock, maize, yuca, cacique, maraca and hurricane; in customs related to ancient traditions of weaving, hunting and fishing, music and dance; and in cuisine based on yuca, beans, soups and barbecued meats and fish. Photographs in the gallery depict canoes, dwellings and methods of preparing yuca that persist in the Greater Antilles; others attest to similar practices among modern tribes in the Orinocan-Amazonian Basin.

The Taíno (taïno, "good people") had a sense of the Greater Antilles as their homeland, including burenquen, Puerto Rico; cuba anakán, Cuba; haití and quiz-caíri, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola); hamaika, Jamaica; and luk-caíri, the Bahamian archipelago. Arawak languages were also spoken in the Lesser Antilles by the Carib (carib eh, "strong and brave"). Today, many island provinces, towns, mountains and river valleys retain their original Arawak names and paved roads follow ancient trails.

TAÍNO: ANCIENT VOYAGERS OF THE CARIBBEAN presents rare and beautiful objects that illustrate diverse spheres of Taíno culture, including mythology and cosmology, religion and ancestor worship, chiefs and chiefdoms, festivals and ball games, navigation and astronomy, ceramics and cuisine and daily life and technology. In the coming years, the exhibits will change to include works of art from all islands touched by the Taíno. El Museo del Barrio has created a permanent gallery of Taíno art to acknowledge this society as the ancient foundation of modern Caribbean culture.

Duho/Dujo. Taíno, Dominguitas, Puerto Rico
Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, New York
Photograph/Bruce Schwarz

Organized by El Museo del Barrio and curated by Dr. Dicey Taylor, guest curator, TAÍNO: Ancient Voyagers of the Caribbean was conceived following the highly successful 1997 exhibition, Taíno: Pre-Columbian Art and Culture from the Caribbean and features over 125 works. This permanent exhibition presents rare and beautiful objects that illustrate diverse sphere of Taíno culture, including mythology and cosmology, religion and ancestor worship, chiefs and chiefdoms, festivals and ball games, navigation and astronomy, ceramics and cuisine and daily life and technology.

El Museo Del Barrio

El Museo del Barrio is dedicated to presenting and preserving the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans in the United States. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, El Museo del Barrio has evolved from a local organization into a cultural institution that represents "El Barrio beyond El Barrio." El Museo del Barrio offers over 55,000 visitors a year the opportunity to view ancient and contemporary works by Caribbean and Latin American artists (over 8,000 works composed of sculpture, paintings, prints, photographs, videos and traditional arts). This permanent collection also includes the second largest public collection of santos de palo in the United States, second only to that of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

El Museo del Barrio was founded in 1969 by a visionary group of Puerto Rican parents, educators, artists and community activists in East Harlem’s Spanish-speaking El Barrio. From the outset, El Museo defined itself as an educational institution…a place of cultural pride and self-discovery for the founding Puerto Rican community. Initially El Museo operated in brownstones, then in a public school classroom as an adjunct to the local school district. Between 1969 and l976, El Museo moved to a series of storefronts on Third and Lexington Avenues, in the heart of El Barrio. In 1977 El Museo found a permanent home in the spacious, neo-classical Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue.

The move to upper Fifth Avenue allowed El Museo to maintain contact with its core Puerto Rican community yet reach out also to a wider Latino and non-Latino audience. At the same time, El Museo has broadened its mission, collections, and programs in response to substantial growth and demographic shifts in the Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean communities in El Barrio, New York and nationally. In 1978 El Museo became a founding member of the Museum Mile Association, comprising nine of the city’s most distinguished cultural institutions along 20 historic and scenic blocks on Fifth Avenue, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, The Jewish Museum, and The Museum of the City of New York. The accessibility of the site, participation in this prestigious association (one of New York City’s major tourist attractions) and a growing interest in Latino and Latin American art has brought a huge increase in audience attendance in recent years.

In 1977 El Museo became a member of the Cultural Institutions Group of the City of New York by an act of public policy of the Mayor of New York. This organization encompasses 31 cultural institutions housed in city-owned buildings, from large, world-famous ones like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to small, community-based ones like El Museo. Through substantial public funding, CIG membership acknowledges the importance of the cultural services these institutions render to the population of New York City.

El Museo’s educational mission continues to drive its collections and programs. El Museo’s permanent collection remains a treasured resource for developing exhibitions and education programs which specialize in Puerto Rican art but also include art from other Caribbean and Latin American countries. In recent years public programs have been developed to address the educational needs of diverse populations—seniors, adults, adolescents, public school students, and very young visitors.

On view during Puerto Rican Heritage Month is the new permanent exhibition Taíno: Ancient Voyagers from the Caribbean, which features 125 works from major public and private collections, including an extraordinary Taíno belt of Puerto Rican origin which E Museo purchased for its permanent collection. Organized by El Museo del Barrio and curated by Dr. Dicey Taylor, guest curator, Taíno: Ancient Voyagers from the Caribbean was conceived following the highly successful 1997 exhibition, Taíno: Pre-Colombian Art and Culture from the Caribbean. This permanent exhibition presents rare and beautiful objects that illustrate diverse spheres of Taíno culture. Wall texts emphasize the proud spirituality of the Taíno and guide visitors through the exhibition. The exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure and video as well as photographs that document the survival of ancient customs. Also on view is Between Heaven and Earth: Devotional Arts from Puerto Rico and Mexico, a permanent installation of santos selected from the Museo’s own outstanding collection.

Susana Torruella Leval, Director
Lili Santiago-Silva, Theatre/Development Manager
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
Phone: (212) 831–7272
Fax: (212) 831–7927
E-mail: elmuseo@aol.com
Website: http://www.elmuseo.org

Table Of Contents

Message On Behalf Of Comité Noviembre 2000
Comité Noviembre - Fifth Annual Gala
Gala Foto Album (PuertoRicans.Com)
History And Mission
About The Poster
About The Artist

Comité Noviembre 2000 Spokesperson Dave Valentín
Celebrities Come Out For Comité Noviembre

Celebrando Lo Mejor De Nuestra Comunidad
ASPIRA Of New York, Inc
Exceptional Puerto Rican Youth
Comité Noviembre Scholarship Program
Eugenio María De Hostos Community College
Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund

Taíno: Ancient Voyagers Of The Caribbean
El Museo Del Barrio
New Boricua Books

National Congress For Puerto Rican Rights
History Revealed: FBI Releases Files On Independence Movement
Las Carpetas: The Book
Institute For The Puerto Rican / Hispanic Elderly
Day Of Community Service And Social Responsibility

Vieques And The U.S. Military: The Struggle Continues
Intergenerational Message From Vieques

In Memoriam Adelfa - Vera Puerto Rican Nacionalista
In Memoriam - Paul Ramos Health Care Advocate

Comité Noviembre De New Jersey, Inc
New Jersey 2000 Honorees

Poster 2000
Poster 1992
Comité Noviembre - 1999

Copyright ©Comité Noviembre 2000 / Reprinted With Permission


Sign Guestbook

Read Guestbook




Copyright © 1999-2002 / Talí Lamourt-NYBoricua / All Rights Reserved / Updated: November 15, 2003