The Guanahatabey (Spanish: Guanajatabey) were indigenous inhabitants of Cuba. They numbered about 100,000 and had lived on the island since at least 1000 B.C. They are considered to be the earliest inhabitants of the island. Hunters, gatherers, and farmers, these native Cubans cultivated cohiba (tobacco), a crop upon which the island's economy would one day depend. They, like other Amerindians, likely migrated to Cuba from South America.
The name Guanajatabey is the one which the natives of the far end of Cuba applied to themselves. It is known that they constituted a separate speech community because Columbus' interpreter was unable to understand their language. The Guanajatabeys became extinct before they could be studied, and hence it has been impossible to learn the nature and affiliation of their language.
This cultural group appears to have coincided with the ethnic group that went by the name Guanajatabey, and with the linguistic group to which that name has been applied. This was to be expected if the joint groups had survived from an earlier, more widespread population.
Archeologists have discovered that the extinct population of which the Guanajatabeys were a remnant once extended over all of the West Indies. Harrington (1921) applied the name Ciboney to this population, not realizing that the Indians had used that name to refer to a part of the Taíno speech community. The term Archaic, which is used by Alegria (1981:4-9) among others, avoids this error, as does Preceramic. However, both terms are too general; they refer to levels of development or ages that extended throughout the American continent (Willey and Phillips, 1958). It might be preferable to correlate the Guanajatabey people and culture with the prehistoric series of peoples and cultures also known as Redondan Casimiroid (Rouse 1986, Chap. 5).
Columbus had contact with the Guanajatabeys on the western end of Cuba, who were remnants of the original population of the islands. This ethnic group lived by hunting and fishing, was organized into bands rather than villages, and lacked pottery. Also lacking was the worship of zemis, which characterized the Taínos, and the warlike behavior for which the Caribs were known.
- Irving Rouse, Handbook of South American Indians, pp. 497-503.
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