Taíno Survival on Hispaniola, Focusing on the Dominican Republic

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Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean: Amerindian Survival and Revival



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Book Chapter

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The island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti, was the heart of the flourishing Taíno culture that, by the 1490s, encompassed most of the Greater Antilles region. It was also on Hispaniola, arising in the first half of the 16th century, that the myth of Taíno extinction began. The most prevalent reason for the creation of this myth was the campaign of the Dominican friars, led by Bartolomé de las Casas, to abolish the encomienda system and replace it with a mission system for the conversion of the Native Peoples. Further, a myth of Taíno extinction provided the Spanish Crown with a perfect cover-up, concealing its inability to exert absolute control over the resisting Taínos. Finally, Taíno extinction provided a rationale for those colonists who benefited from the importation of African people as slaves. Over the years, the extinction myth was transformed in multiple ways to suit national and class interests, which helps explain its tenaciousness in the Dominican ethos. After centuries of unquestioning acceptance of Taíno extinction, some scholars are beginning to challenge the assumption. Indeed, recent historical, ethnographic, ethno-archaeological, linguistic, and DNA studies are demonstrating multidisciplinary evidence for both Taíno cultural and biological survival. This chapter examines the new evidence and takes an in-depth look at the paradoxical situation of today’s Dominican Taínos. While their fellow Dominicans value the pre-Columbian Taíno cultural heritage, they disclaim the existence of Taíno descendants. This is partly because so many authorities over the centuries have perpetuated the myth of Taíno extinction, and partly because complex questions about ethnicity aggravate the already problematical areas of “race” and identity in this politically and economically troubled nation. Ironically, but understandably, the various Taíno revival movements began in Puerto Rico and in the U.S.A. among Taínos of the diaspora. Hopes are that, with the weight of all the new evidence—which sparks yet more new studies—the revival is approaching a critical mass and Taíno survival will soon be recognized in the original Taíno homeland.


©2006 Peter Lang

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Peter Lang