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The Taino and agriculture

The Taino and agriculture

The Taíno were among the first Amerindian populations to populate the Caribbean, preceded by the Igneri, where they arrived from South America.
According to some historians, the disappearance of this people was caused both by the genocide committed by the Europeans during their conquest and by the infectious diseases that arrived with the colonizers.
Upon the arrival of the Europeans, the Taino, who were losing the clash with the rival Carib ethnic group, divided into different kingdoms controlled by lords, the caciques, to whom tributes were owed. Bartolomé de Las Casas, in his book Historia de las Indias (1561), reports that in the year 1508 there were approximately 60,000 Tainos remaining on the island of Hispaniola. By 1531, exploitation and disease had reduced the number to 600.
In reality, the Taino probably mixed with the European colonizers, given that the current population residing in the Caribbean and, in particular, in Puerto Rico, presents high Taino ancestry upon genetic analysis.
It is estimated that at the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival, around 230,000 people lived in all of the Antilles, of which the majority were Taino. Fifty years after the start of colonization they had almost completely disappeared.
Like all indigenous Americans, they were extremely vulnerable to the diseases that arrived first from Europe and then from Africa, with the arrival of slaves.
The conditions of exploitation of the Taino population also contributed decisively to their extinction. Following the decline in the indigenous workforce, slaves began to be imported from the African coasts.
Agriculture was a key part of their culture and economy. The Taino used plots of land called conucos and had irrigation systems.
They grew cassava, potato, corn, chili pepper, pineapple, cotton, peanuts and tobacco.
They also hunted small rodents (hutìa), manatees, iguanas, some varieties of birds and snakes; they fished with different techniques using both hooks and nets, as well as using poison.
They made objects such as hammocks or beds out of wood. They fermented cassava to obtain an alcoholic drink called uicu, while they toasted it in the sun to obtain a kind of round bread called cazabe, a food that was important in their diet and found in some areas of the Caribbean, especially in the Dominican Republic.
Furthermore, a powder was extracted from the fruits of the cohoba tree which was used in a particular religious ceremony, the cohoba ritual, in which the cacique, the shaman and the nobles communicated with the spirits after inhaling the powder which had a hallucinogenic effect.
In reference to agricultural techniques, the Taino practiced itinerant agriculture, which consisted of cutting and burning parts of the forest to create arable fields. Their main crops included cassava, maize, bean, and sweet potato. Cassava was one of the most important crops and was used to produce flour, which was then made into various types of food, such as casabe, a type of flat bread.
On some Caribbean islands, the Taino built terraces for hillside farming. These terraces allowed them to grow food in mountainous terrain, making the use of available agricultural resources more efficient.
The Taino developed several advanced agricultural techniques, such as using sharpened wooden sticks to dig holes for planting seeds. They also used the three sisters technique, in which corn was grown alongside beans and pumpkins. This method allowed for greater yields and promoted soil fertility.
In addition to agriculture, the Taino also depended on fishing and hunting to supplement their diet. They lived in coastal areas and exploited marine resources, hunted animals such as birds, iguanas and other wild animals.
Agriculture among the Taino was often associated with spiritual beliefs. They had deities related to soil fertility and crop growth. Ritual practices were used to honor these deities and ensure good harvests.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, the Taino culture suffered a serious decline following the arrival of the Europeans, due to disease, slavery and conflicts. Much Taino agricultural knowledge and practices were lost during this period, but some cultural and dietary influences survived and mixed with the traditions of Europeans, creating an important part of modern Caribbean culture.

Agricultural techniques and tools –
The Taino people had refined particular agricultural techniques and use of tools.
In fact, they used a series of agricultural techniques and rudimentary tools to grow the food necessary for their survival.
The Taino practiced agriculture in terraces or stepped systems known as “milpa”. This method allowed them to grow different crops in the same land, making the most of the space.
They cultivated in conucos. Conucos were small artificial hills of soil and organic debris that were created to grow crops. This method helped improve drainage and prevent rainwater from accumulating around the roots of the plants.
The Taino used rudimentary tools such as hollowed-out sticks and wooden tusks to prepare the soil, sow seeds, and harvest crops. They had no plows or other sophisticated agricultural equipment.
Much of the agricultural work was done manually, including digging the soil by hand or with the help of wooden tools.
In some areas where water was scarce, the Taino created rudimentary irrigation systems, such as canals and dams, to distribute water to their crops.
In some mountainous islands of the Caribbean, the Taino cultivated on terraces in order to make the most of the mountain slopes.
Harvesting of crops was done by hand, using stone blades or sharp knives.

Guido Bissanti

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