History is written by the conquerors.
The Native peoples of North America know this all too well, as they are
still trying to bring the truth to light. Now, their long-lost
Caribbean cousins are beginning the same process.
It’s an uphill battle.
Most Puerto Ricans know, or think they know, their ethnic and racial history: a blending of Taino (Indian), Spanish and African. Students of the islands’ past have read the same account for over 300 years; that the Native people, and their societies, were killed off by the Spanish invaders by the 1600s. It was always noted though, how many of the original colonists married Taino women or had Taino concubines, producing the original mestizaje (mixture) that, when blended with African, would produce Puerto Ricans.
Those first unions, according to the conventional wisdom, explain why some Puerto Ricans have "a little bit" of Native heritage. Mainly we are Spanish, we are told, with a little African blood and far-away Taino ancestry.
But the order of that sequence will have to change.
Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado, a geneticist from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez who designed an island-wide DNA survey, has just released the final numbers and analysis of the project, and these results tell a different story.
According to the study funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans have Amerindian mitochondrial DNA, 27 percent have African and 12 percent Caucasian. (Nuclear DNA, or the genetic material present in a gene’s nucleus, is inherited in equal parts from one’s father and mother. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from one’s mother and does not change or blend with other materials over time.)
In other words a majority of Puerto Ricans have Native blood.
"Our study showed there was assimilation," Martinez Cruzado explained, "but the people were not
extinguished. Their political and social structure was but the genes were not.
"The people were assimilated into a new colonial order and became mixed … but that’s what Puerto
Ricans are: Indians mixed with Africans and Spaniards," he asserted.
"There has been an under-estimation of the Amerindian heritage of Puerto Rico, much larger than most historians will admit," he said.
Martinez Cruzado cited the historical descriptions of life in Puerto Rico during the 17th and 18th centuries as an example.
"These accounts describe many aspects that are totally derived from Taino modus vivendi, not just the hammocks but the way they fished, their methods of farming, etc.," he related. "It is clear that the influence of Taino culture was very strong up to about 200 years ago. If we could conduct this same study on the Puerto Ricans from those times, the figure would show that 80 percent of the people had Indian heritage."
Another historical moment that should receive more attention involves the story of a group of Tainos who, after 200 years of absence from official head-counts, appeared in a military census from the 1790s. In this episode, a colonial military census noted that all of a sudden there were 2,000 Indians living in a northwestern mountain region. "These were Indians who the Spanish had placed on the tiny island of Mona (just off the western coast of Puerto Rico) who survived in isolation and then were brought over," Martinez Cruzado said. "They became mixed but there were many Indians who survived but eventually mixed with the Africans and Spaniards. These Mona Tainos must have had a further influence as well".
Martinez Cruzado noted how many customs and history were handed down through oral tradition. To this day on the island, there are many people who use medicinal plants and farming methods that come directly from the Tainos.
This is especially true of the areas once known as Indieras, or Indian Zones.
He also pointed out that most of these Native traditions probably do come from the Tainos, the Native people who appeared on the island circa 700 AD. But there were other waves of migrations to Puerto Rico and the entire Caribbean area.
Through the extensive study of the Puerto Rican samples, Martinez Cruzado and his team have found
connections between island residents and Native peoples who arrived before and after the Tainos. He pointed out how a few of the samples can be traced back 9,000 years from ancient migrations, while others correspond to the genetic makeup of Native peoples of the Yucatan, Hispaniola, Margarita Island and Brazil among others. These latter genetic trails point to the presence of other Native peoples who were probably brought to the island as slaves from other Spanish or Portuguese colonies after the 1600s.
While island scholars will have much work to do to catch up with these "new" facts, the genetic detective work for Martinez Cruzado is also far from finished. As word spread of the remarkable survey, other scholars from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Venezuela began to invite the Puerto Rican scientist to present his findings. They also want him to assist in similar projects in their respective countries.
"We started a very similar survey in the Dominican Republic last year," he stated. "And archaeologists from Venezuela and Cuba have invited me to do the same and I intend to go … I hope to have a proposal ready to collect samples in both of those countries and do a Caribbean-wide study. They already have evidence of migrations from both sides, north and south."
In the meantime, while Martinez Cruzado and his colleagues will focus on the history of Pre-Columbian migrations, people in the current Taino restoration movement (such as Nacion Taina, The Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken, Taino Timucua Tribal Council, the United Confederation of Taino People, and others) are hoping that many of their compatriots reflect on the following quote: "The DNA story shows that the official story was wrong," Martinez Cruzado said. "This means a much larger Amerindian inheritance for Puerto Ricans."
And if some folks in the Dominican Republic and Cuba are right, the same will hold true for their histories.
The story this week of a new major DNA study
showing considerable American Indian ancestry in the population of Puerto
Rico is intriguing and revealing. Of course, there has been for over two
decades considerable agitation by Taino people of Puerto Rican
nationality, on the island and in the diaspora. But now Dr. Juan Martinez
Cruzado has shown that as high as 61 percent of Puerto Ricans carry
American Indian mitochondrial DNA from their maternal lines.
The level of Native genetic ancestry is impressive and once more evidence that the legacy of American indigenous peoples, across the Western Hemisphere, has been all too easily diminished or denied. The claim that all Native Caribbeans succumbed to war, slavery and disease, that they in fact became "extinct" as peoples and cultures by the 1600s, has been asserted as truth by governments and academics for over a hundred years. However, in Puerto Rico, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, actual, surviving Native communities and numerous families and people of Native ancestry have increasingly revealed themselves. The Nacion Taina de las Antillas and various networks and individual personalities have emerged to give representation and leadership to this growing movement in Caribbean life.
This revitalization is happening among the Taino-guajiro of Cuba, the Taino-jibaro of Borinquen (Puerto Rico) and the Taino-Indio families of Dominican Republic. Dr. Martinez Cruzado recounts as part of his study that in Puerto Rico, "there are many people who use medicinal plants and farming methods that come directly from the Tainos. This is especially true of the areas once known as Indieras, or "Indian Zones." Again, this agricultural way of life is equally evident in Cuba and Dominican Republic, and to a lesser degree, also in Haiti and Jamaica. Direct work with the earth remains a major repository of Native culture and belief.
In Cuba in the same area where resides the most recognized Native community in the greater Antilles, the enclave of la Rancheria at Caridad de los Indios, in Guantanamo, a guajiro farmer recently found a living mammal thought lost to extinction, the insect-eating "almiqui." News of the little possum-like creature’s return from extinction went around the world. So it is with the resilient people of Native ancestry in the eastern region of the island. Because they have not been visible to academics (who have hardly looked), nor quantifiable by governments (who have sought their invisibility), it does not mean that their existence can be denied. The same is true in other parts of the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, we find a Taino movement and now these history-busting new DNA studies by Dr. Martinez Cruzado; in Cuba, in 2003, dozens of North Americans witnessed the repatriation of Taino remains from the Smithsonian Institution to the "community of relatives," in the Guantanamo mountains; at Dominica, St. Vincent and Trinidad, Carib communities still farm and fish and sustain many of the same customs found in the bigger islands, while; on the coastal rim of the Caribbean Sea, Garifuna, Carib and Arawak, Miskito, Wuayu (Guajiro), Kuna and many other Caribbean indigenous relatives interact and are beginning once again to hold regular conferences and tribal gatherings across the whole region.
Christopher Columbus, who will be celebrated and denigrated next week, did not finish the job of genocide with which he is charged, not quite and perhaps not by far. This is not to say that the great mariner did not try to completely enslave the Caribbean’s indigenous peoples. No doubt Columbus was one of the best "dead-reckoning" sailors who ever lived; equally without doubt is that he was a cold and calculating colonizer, who singularly forced the idea of encomienda, slavery and servitude, when a more respectful trade and commerce would have been possible, as was even desired by Queen Isabela of Spain herself.
In the core and heart of the Native Americas Hemisphere, the Caribbean basin, the assumed extinction of Native peoples is being revisited. Old customs around the use of herbal medicines (ceremonial relationship with nature), around the planting of many crops by the phases of the moon, are widespread among farmers and are clearly of indigenous Taino origins. There is also much evidence of respect and prayer with and to the identity of sacred places. Among some folk, orations, certain massages (called "sobado"), ceremonies that burn tobacco and intone the Four Directions and the various gifts of the Mother Earth are still conducted; there are many indigenous elements among the countryside people, the campesino or guajiro communities in particular. There are also many families where the inheritance and legacy of Taino ancestors is still present.
The denial of existence, however, has been brutal. No one was meant to survive the conquest, with its terroristic impositions, diseases and the overwhelming quest to own everything that rightly belonged to the Indian peoples. If survival of customs has been documentable, the idea of genetic and or familial extinction was posited as complete. It was a dictum of the Spanish Empire that to declare the Indian race extinguished was the quickest way to clear title to lands that might be contested in time. Still, many Indian descendent families hold land and retain social and spiritual culture that sustain and transform directly from very early contact times. With the advent of DNA studies, lo and behold, these same general populations who maintain these indigenous customs are seen to be actually - genetically - of direct Indian ancestry, specifically matrilineally, that is, through their mothers. Again, the tree can be cut, the branches loped off, the trunk pulverized, but the roots remain, and over time, the shoots of new generations emerge to claim their indigenous place.
A presentation by the distinguished scholar, Dr. Helen Tanner, recently at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), gives concreteness to the idea of Caribbean indigenous survival. Dr. Tanner, a witness to the repatriation in Cuba earlier this year, spoke exactingly on the survival and continuity of indigenous people and their place in the Caribbean universe. Numerous teachers and professors heard her lecture. Thus the actual and corrected information moves into curricula and to a new generation of students.
Indeed, American Indian peoples and open-minded academics are rolling Columbus back. In fact, the re-indigenization of the Americas is in process. It was inevitable. Truth is power, and on this widespread and necessary effort to educate the Americas, truth is on our side.
Among the first conquistadors and among the
new Spanish arrivals, particularly the men from the Canary Islands and
Galicia, many were known to take one or more wives among the Indian
villages. There were noted alliances and nuclei of mestizajes
stemming from these early intermarriage's. In Santo Domingo, they settled
along the Yaque River and into the Marien region. This "nascent, native
feudalism . . . claimed hegenomy over whole tribes. and was a subtle
breakaway from Columbus's factoria system."
The concubinage system set up by the old chiefs and some new Spanish men, both in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the"guatiao" (exchange of names ceremony) in Santo Domingo created a few somewhat ordained mestizajes, one that would sustain a core of indigenous traditions to modern times.
There were incidents of sympathetic individual Spanish men marrying Indian women and thus removing the caciques and their particular tribes from the encomienda system. The Spanish did this mostly to gain labor and advantage and at times as a way to remove themselves from the central authority all together. For the remaining Indian caciques, it was a way to marry their remaining people and take status as one of the new people, neither white nor pure Indian Taíno, but with at least the ability to establish families and hold land. The comendadores took after this practice when they could.
One Cristobal Rodriguez (nicknamed "La Lengua") a well-known Spanish-Indian interpreter, was exiled for arranging the marriage of a cacica to a Juan Garces, "probably with the intent to remove her tribe from the encomienda system.
A very few Indian communities, deep in the highest mountain valleys, did manage to survive in isolation in Cuba for nearly five hundred years. These are the communities of Caridad de los Indios and others in the Rio Toa region.
In Cuba's Camagucy province, Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa, a particularly vigorous lieutenant from Narvaez's army took dozens of Indian wives and spawned a generation cacique of the savanna organized marriages from among his people and Porcallo's children. Later, Porcallo invited some fifty Spanish families to send young men and women to settle in Camaguey where he coupled his mixed offspring to the new arrivals. They named the new mixed generation "Guajiro," a Taino word possibly coined by the cacique Camagucybax and meaning "one of us" or "one of our countrymen."
Porcallo and his fellow conquistadores provided no gentle model of "pater familias." Porcallo's rule was so brutal that many Taino families in the region committed suicide rather than submit to his encomienda. Near Baracoa, Cuba, at a coastal village named Yumuri, a promontory stands in mute tribute to the many Taíno families who, according to local oral history, jumped to their deaths off its cliffs while taunting their Spanish pursuers.
In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in
search of new lands, gold and the wealth that would bring him. He
"discovered" the already inhabited islands of the Caribbean where millions
of Taino people had lived for thousands of years. Columbus wrote in
his journal that they were strong, well-built people and so generous you
had to see it to believe it. He also wrote that with his
weapons and 50 men he could enslave the entire population.
Thousands of Taino were forced to mine for gold for him. Those who
refused were killed, those who did not meet their quota had their hands
cut off and were left to bleed to death. Women and children were
raped. The people were tortured, starved, worked to death and killed in
despicable ways, hung in groups of 13 representing the Savior and the
Apostles, some were roasted alive, others were cut in half with swords.
Those who dared to flee were chased down with starving dogs and torn
apart. Shiploads of Tainos were taken to Spain to be sold for profit
at the slave market, those who died enroute were thrown overboard.
Columbus was the very first to engage in the slave trade in the Americas.
Millions died as greed and brutality brought death and destruction to the
Taino population. In spite of his actions and the devastating
consequences for all Native peoples, and although 17 states refuse to
celebrate it, our country still honors him as a hero by giving him one of
our 8 federal holidays, while Native Americans have none.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER ON COLUMBUS DAY
1. Columbus sailed into the Caribbean and never even set foot in what is now known as the United
States. So, why do we, in the United States, give him one of our 8 Federal holidays?
2. Why would Columbus be given credit for "discovering" the Americas anyway, when we all know those
lands were already inhabited and had been for thousands of years? Didn't the inhabitants of those
lands discover them? Look at any map of the US and see the many, many, many states, cities and
towns that all bear the Native American names of people and peoples who once populated those
regions: Illinois, Oklahoma, Cheyene, Nantuckett, Milwaukee, Yuma, Omaha, Witchita, Tallahassee,
Mississippi, Muskogee, Tennessee, Allegheny, Missouri, Kentucky, Huron, Tuscalloosa and on and
on and on......
3. Knowing that Native Americans were already here, and Columbus never was here, why does anyone go
along with the myth that "Columbus Discovered America", when we all know it is not true?
4. Why aren't we taught the whole truth about Columbus' actions and the devastating consequences of
those actions? Why are we only told about Columbus, who as a boy who always wanted to sail and
then when he got older Spain provided him three ships & he sailed across the ocean and DISCOVERED
A NEW WORLD! (where millions of Taino had lived for thousands of years and which we now call the
Caribbean). Why are we only taught about that FIRST voyage, and not the other 3 voyages, when all
hell broke loose? Why aren't we taught about how on the second voyage, unlike the first when
Columbus only had 3 small old ships, Columbus was given 17 large ships and 1,500 armed men
eagerly signed up for the chance to go to the "New World" with hopes of getting rich quick on the gold
to be found there? Also, why aren't we taught about the greed and brutality of the Spaniards against
the Taino (who have been remembered as "naked savages" in our history books, if at all), and how
the Taino were murdered and enslaved on that second voyage? Why are we not taught about the third
voyage & how when King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella of Spain heard about Columbus'actions in the
"New World" he was sent back to Spain in chains to stand trial for his crimes, was convicted and
stripped of his titles? Or, how the Spaniards tricked 80 of the Taino leaders into a hut and burned
them alive? Isn't to omit the ugly part of the truth considered LYING BY OMISSION? Then, that is what
our schools are doing when they only teach about the first voyage, they are lying by omission to our
students, and we as a improperly educated country have a holiday for an evil, greedy, slave-trading,
5. Some people say he is worthy of the honor of a holiday for his nautical genius, but the Vikings sailed
across the ocean to North America 500 years before, Marco Polo sailed to China & India 300 years
prior and the Chinese set foot upon the very shores that Columbus did 71 years prior to the arrival of
Columbus, the difference being, Columbus "claimed" the land and cites. The Papal Bulls gave him
the authority to do so if no one disputed the action, and Columbus according to his journal, was
careful to add that no one disputed it at the time, while admitting at the same time that they could
not understand each other. So how could they be expected to understand what his flag-planting and
6. Many people will argue that Columbus brought Western Civilization to what is now known as the United
States, and that is the reason the US bestows upon him the honor of a holiday. But how can we make
that correlation when Columbus, working for Spain, came in 1492 and the European colonizers who
came here TWO HUNDRED years later, came from England? If Columbus is worthy of being given
credit for this "achievement", wouldn't it have happened 200 years earlier and wouldn't we all be
speaking Spanish now as the countries he invaded do?
7. Some people will argue that Columbus Day is a day for recognition of Italians, an Italian Pride Day.
Are Italians more worthy of recognition than other ethnic groups in this country we have proudly (?)
nicknamed "The Melting Pot"? I have heard Italians say that Germans have Oktoberfest, the Irish
have St. Patrick's Day and Mexicans have Cinco de Mayo, but none of those are FEDERAL holidays.
The only two ethnic groups worthy of recognition for their contributions and sacrifice in this land are
those who were ALREADY HERE when the Europeans came and those who the Europeans BROUGHT
HERE IN CHAINS. All other ethnic groups came here voluntarily. It was long overdue but African
Americans finally got their holiday - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January.... but Native
Americans still don't have a holiday (urge your congressmen and women to support House Bill #167).
8. Some people think he is deserving of the honor because he proved the world was round, but this was
already a widely accepted belief by educated people at the time as Ptolemy, the ancient astronomer
and geographer from Egypt, declared that the Earth was spherical in the second century.
9. Why do 17 states refuse to recognize and/or celebrate Columbus Day?
10. Why do protestors gather and march at every Columbus Day Parade?
11. And, Why is Columbus honored with one of our 8 federal holidays in the US when:
a. He didn't "discover" us, or anything previously undiscovered or uninhabited
b. He never set foot on U.S. soil
c. His legacy is greed, theft, destruction, brutality, slave-trading and murder
d. It is offensive to Latin American, African American and Native Americans
e. Native Americans, who were here and are worthy of a holiday, still don't have one
12. And why have the Taino people of the Caribbean and those in the US, whose ancestors have paid such
a huge price for the misfortune of being "discovered", been erroneously declared extinct and are
therefore denied legal recognition by the government?