Tuesday, March 22

Encounter & Taino Culture

When Columbus met some native men in the Carribbean, they said "Taíno, Taíno," which meant, "We are good, noble." Columbus thought they were saying the name of their people....and the name stuck...

The Taíno Indians, a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians, inhabited Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea at the time when Christopher Columbus' arrived to the New World.  Within their culture, there was a hierarchy of deities who inhabited the sky, where Yocahu was the supreme Creator.  Another god, Jurakán, was perpetually angry and ruled the power of the hurricane.  Like many Native Americans, the Taínos believed that being in the good graces of their gods protected them from disease, hurricanes, or disaster in war.

The people lived in theocratic kingdoms (kingdoms ruled by a religious king), and they had a chief, or cacique.  They tended to be skilled at agriculture and hunting, but were also good sailors, fishermen, canoe makers, and navigators.  Their main crops were cassava, garlic, potatoes, yautías, mamey, guava, and anón.  It's believed that Taíno settlements ranged from single families to groups of 3,000 people.

The Taíno were the first Native Americans to encounter the Spanish.  Columbus recorded in his diary that the natives “would easily be made Christians because it seemed to me that they had no religion.”  When they arrived, the Spaniards expected the Taíno Indians to acknowledge the sovereignty of the king of Spain by payment of gold tribute, to work and supply provisions of food, and to observe Christian ways. 

By 1495, the Spanish who had originally been welcomed by the Taíno, had managed to alienate their hosts.  The Taínos rebelled most notably in 1511, when several caciques (Indian leaders) conspired to oust the Spaniards. They were joined in this uprising by their traditional enemies, the Caribs.  The battle was unlike anything that the Taíno had ever experienced.  It began with twenty Spanish warriors, fully armored and riding warhorses through their ranks, inflicting great damage with their swords and lances.  Then foot soldiers fired their guns, a terrifying weapon to those who had never encountered it.  Finally, the Spanish set loose their large dogs, trained to kill humans, upon the Taíno warriors.  The Spanish goal seemed to be to kill as many Taíno as possible, a goal that was unheard of in the traditional warfare on the islands.

The natives were no match against Spanish horses and firearms. and the revolt was soon ended brutally by the Spanish forces of Governor Juan Ponce de León.  The Taíno was forced to accept status as Spanish subjects, paying tribute in the form of food, cotton, and gold.  The Spanish demanded that every man over the age of 14 provide them with a little copper bell filled with gold every three months.  Providing gold, however, was not the greatest hardship; the Spanish were also eating everything, including food that wasn't ready for harvest, leading to food shortages and starvation for the Taíno.  By 1497, the combination of starvation, European diseases, and Spanish brutality had reduced the Taíno numbers. 


  • Encounter (Jane Yolen)
    • When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492, what he discovered were the Taino Indians. Told from a young Taino boy’s point of view, this is a story of how the boy tried to warn his people against welcoming the strangers, who seemed more interested in golden ornaments than friendship. Years later the boy, now an old man, looks back at the destruction of his people and their culture by the colonizers.
  • Juan Bobo: Four Folktales from Puerto Rico
  • The Golden Flower


Make / Do

  • Map out the region of the Taino people.  Label important landmarks / seas / modern day cities.
  • Make a timeline of the Taino civilization (include the encounter)
  • Create a Venn Diagram showing how Columbus' men and the Taino were similar and different.
    • Older students should use this diagram to write an essay comparing and contrasting the cultures.
  • Several English words are derived from the Caribe language.  See how many of them you use everyday!
  • Check out 10 Fun Facts about the Taino
  • What do you think?  Should we celebrate Columbus Day?  Explore that question with this packet.
  • Learn more about the geography and history of Tainos in the Everyday Explorers: Puerto Rico 20-lesson unit bundle!  (Free for subscribers to download here.)


  • barbacoa
  • Boricua
  • Borikén
  • cacique
  • piraguas/cayucas
  • Caribe
  • coquí
  • cucubano
  • guanín
  • iguana
  • jurakan
  • mime
  • natiao
  • yucayeque


  • How this story is different from most stories about the early encounters with Native Americans?
  • Looking back on the 15th century from a modern day perspective, who do you think benefitted the most from the encounter?  Why?
  • What would happen if advanced beings from another planet came to Earth? What might happen to the human population? How does that scenario differ from human colonization?

Pick up the Everyday Explorers: Puerto Rico unit for FREE on our Subscriber Freebies page!  Not yet a subscriber?  Sign up here!

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Includes ten unit studies (plus a bonus!) covering World History. Each unit addresses a new topic, spanning from Ancient Hawaii to modern-day. There is also a study of archaeological concepts. Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
These studies are directed toward upper grades students, but some have resources for younger students so that the whole family can work together. Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!

Product samples:   Motel of the Mysteries & Encounter

  • Motel of the Mysteries
  • Island Boy
  • Encounter
  • The Odyssey
  • A Loyal Foe
  • Indigo Girl
  • Gold Rush Girl
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Number the Stars
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • House of the Seven Gables (bonus)

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