Taino Jitters

Taíno peoples are holding close to their chests the whereabouts of their valuable indigenous ancestral relics and possessions out of fear that the Government and other groups might seek to claim them.

The Yamaye Guani (Jamaica Hummingbird) Taíno Peoples, who have expressed this angst, say they are unwilling to share where these ancestral properties are located without their rights being fully established.

The Yamaye Guani Leadership Council argued in a press statement yesterday that, although Jamaica is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the State’s ratification of the declaration would further demonstrate the Government’s commitment to abandon colonial narratives and instead align with the protection of the rights of the Yamaye Taíno and all Jamaican indigenous peoples.

“This crucial step will showcase the nation’s empathy towards the local indigenous communities, granting them the long-overdue recognition and respect they deserve,” the council said.

It disclosed that consultation has started with the State-run Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), with one of the aims being to grant the Yamaye Taíno unhindered access to ancestral burial sites, ceremonial sites, and ancestral remains currently in the possession of the trust and other government agencies.

The Jamaica Observer’s attempts to reach the JNHT’s chief contact with the Tainos, Darion McGann, proved futile yesterday, as calls to his cellphone went unanswered.

In the meantime, the council said that, unfortunately, the general public in Jamaica remains largely unaware of the existence of the local Taíno people, mainly due to “the prevailing colonial narrative that claims their mass extinction shortly after 1550 at the hands of the Spanish”.

“However, since the emergence of the new Kasike (Taino chief) in 2019, the local Taíno community has taken significant steps to re-educate the local and regional population. The indigenous Taíno and Maroons of Jamaica now collaborate in indigenous rights activism through the Yamaye Council Of Indigenous Leaders [YCOIL] formerly the Maroon Secretariat,” the council said.

It also noted that leader of the Yamaye Guani Taíno Peoples, Chief Kalaan Nibonrix Kaiman, and his community have been collaborating with other groups to organise and actively participate in local and regional indigenous events, such as the Indigenous Day Celebration in Newton, Massachusetts, and the participation of Kasikeíani (Chieftainess) Ronalda in the Caribbean Development Bank’s Indigenous Peoples Forum held in St Lucia.

“These efforts aim to restore local identity and establish a strong foundation for future generations of Jamaican Taíno peoples, ensuring their freedom, equality, and protection from any form of discrimination based on their indigenous origin or identity,” the council said.

The Taíno are a historic indigenous people of the Caribbean, whose culture has been continued today by Taíno descendant communities and Taíno revivalist communities.

At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Puerto Rico.

In the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, and The Bahamas, they were known as the Lucayans and spoke the Taíno language, a derivative of the Arawakan languages. The Lucayan branch of the Taíno were the first New World peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus in The Bahama Archipelago on October 12, 1492.