Variations on a theme
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Sayfa Ar'ad and Solomonic Rulers
Monday, May 29, 2023
The Savior of Bornu
Irving Rouse and the Tainos
Although trying to catch up with the current trends in Caribbean precolonial history and archaeology is an ongoing process, Irving Rouse's The Tainos: Rise & Decline of the People who Greeted Columbus is more nuanced and relevant than we thought. As a towering figure in "Taino Studies" and Caribbean archaeology during the 20th century, Rouse's work is inescapable. However, we were under the impression that today's scholars are more skeptical of some of Rouse's framework and assumptions of "primitive" pre-ceramic indigenes in the Greater Antilles. However, after reading Rouse, one finds that he recognized the cultural complexity of the "Taino" peoples in his division of their societies into Eastern, Classic, and Western branches. Moreover, he acknowledged that migration should be not be presumed to be the major factor behind major changes in culture or ceramics in the Antilles.
While he perhaps exaggerated by referring to the Saladoid expansion in the Antilles as the cause of a "genocide" of archaic, earlier populations in the Antilles, they undoubtedly were among the important ancestors of the people who went on to become known as "Tainos" by today's scholars. Studies of the ancient DNA samples and mythology also suggest a rather pronounced South American Amazonian origin for the population of the Antilles. The two earlier cultures identified by Rouse, the Casimiroid and Ortoiroid, undoubtedly helped shape the development of "Tainoness" in ways that younger generations of archaeologists can hopefully uncover. But the later "Saladoid" expansion through the Antilles does seem to have played a major role among the ancestors of the Tainos. The numerous interaction spheres across bodies of water that connected different parts of the archipelago and the South American mainland are also fascinating topics, pointing to how movement across maritime highways was the avenue for exchange. Caribbean people have always been on the move, between islands and between islands and the continent.
However, Rouse's study is somewhat outdated despite its recognition of the Taino cultural legacy in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Despite acknowledgment of the cultural, linguistic, and biological legacy of the Taino in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Rouse believed the Taino disappeared by 1540 or so. The full story of the disintegration of Taino communities and their role in shaping the colonial period is worthy of monograph-length study itself. Rouse did not do justice to this in the chapter on the fall of the Taino, and we are sure neo-Tainos would take issue with Rouse's description of it. In addition, a more detailed analysis of the rise of chiefdoms or more complex polities on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico could have been included in the chapters on the origins of the Classic Tainos to assist readers with understanding the origins and dynamics of political organization. If zemis, for instance, date back to the early Cedrosan Saladoid expansion in the Antilles, and evidence for conuco mound agriculture in the Cibao perhaps began in the 1200s or so, is it possible that some indigenous societies had reached the chiefdom stage earlier without conucos for yuca cultivation? What was the role of long-distance trade in this process?
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Once in Puerto Rico
Friday, May 26, 2023
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
The Tainos of Hispaniola
Roberto Cassá's Los taínos de La Española is one of the important studies of the Taino past. Although somewhat dated as it was first published in 1974, Cassá's work is an interesting example of historical materialism applied to the precolonial past of our island. His work highlights the ways in which Taino societies were at a stage of "incipient" artisan class formation and other features of a society whose processes, in the final stage of Taino culture, was disrupted by the Spanish conquest. However, unlike Moscoso, Cassá seems more orthodox in his Marxism. According to the latter, the absence of private landownership prohibits the formation of social classes. Instead, the Tainos developed social "ranks" based on chiefs, or caciques (with nitainos and behiques as part of this group) and laborers. Nonetheless, the evidence cited by Cassá himself from the Spanish chronicles, documentary sources, and archaeological insights suggest the reality was perhaps closer to that described by Moscoso.