Arawak woman, by John Gabriel Stedman
The Arawak are a group of indigenous peoples of South America and historically of the Caribbean. Specifically, the term Arawak has been applied at various times to the Lokono of South America and the Taíno, who historically lived in the Greater Antilles and northern Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, all of whom spoke related Arawakan languages.
The term Arawak originally applied specifically to the South American group who self-identified as Arawak, Arhuaco or Lokono. Their language, the Arawak language, gives its name to the Arawakan language family. Arawakan speakers in the Caribbean were also historically known as the Taíno, a term meaning good or noble that some islanders used to distinguish their group from the neighboring Island Caribs. In 1871, ethnologist Daniel Garrison Brinton proposed calling the Caribbean populace "Island Arawak" due to their cultural and linguistic similarities with the mainland Arawak. Subsequent scholars shortened this convention to "Arawak", creating confusion between the island and mainland groups. In the 20th century, scholars such as Irving Rouse resumed using "Taíno" for the Caribbean group to emphasize their distinct culture and language.
The Arawakan languages may have emerged in the Orinoco River valley. They subsequently spread widely, becoming by far the most widely spread language family in South America at the time of European contact, with speakers located in various areas along the Orinoco and Amazon rivers and their tributaries. The group that self-identified as the Arawak, also known as the Lokono, settled the coastal areas of what is now Guyana, Suriname, Grenada, and parts of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
At some point, the Arawakan-speaking Taíno culture emerged in the Caribbean. Two major models have been presented to account for the arrival of Taíno ancestors in the islands; the "Circum-Caribbean" model suggests an origin in the Colombian Andes connected to the Arhuaco people, while the Amazonian model supports an origin in the Amazon basin, where the Arawakan languages developed. The Taíno were among the first American people to encounter Europeans when Christopher Columbus visited multiple islands and chiefdoms on his first voyage in 1492, which was followed in 1493 by the establishment of La Isabella on Hispaniola, the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Americas. However, contact with Europeans exposed the Taino to diseases, particularly smallpox, influenza, measles, and typhus, that they no prior contact with, and thus no natural immunity.
With the establishment of La Isabella, and the discovery of gold deposits on the island, the Spanish settler population on Hispaniola started to grow substantially, while disease and conflict with the Spanish began to kill tens of thousands of Taíno every year. By 1504, the Spanish had overthrown the last of the Taino cacique chiefdoms on Hispaniola, and firmly established the supreme authority of the Spanish colonists over the now-subjugated Taíno. Over the next decade, the Spanish Colonists commenced a brutal genocide against the remaining Taíno on Hispaniola, who suffered poor living conditions, disease, massacres, rapes, and enslavement at the hands of the colonists. The population of Hispanoila at the point of first European contact is estimated at between several hundred thousand to over a million people, but by 1514, it had dropped to a mere 35,000. By 1509, the Spanish had successfully conquered Puerto Rico and subjugated the approximately 30,000 Taíno inhabitants. By 1530 there were 1148 Taíno left alive in Puerto Rico.
Taíno influence has survived even until today, though, as can be seen in the religions, languages, and music of Caribbean cultures. The Lokono and other South American groups resisted colonization for a longer period, and the Spanish remained unable to subdue them throughout the 16th century. In the early 17th century, they allied with the Spanish against the neighboring Kalina (Caribs), who allied with the English and Dutch. The Lokono benefited from trade with European powers into the early 19th century, but suffered thereafter from economic and social changes in their region, including the end of the plantation economy. Their population declined until the 20th century, when it began to increase again.
Modern population and descendants
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The Spaniards who arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico, did not bring women on their first expeditions. The explorers mated with the Taíno women, who bore mestizo children as a result. While the Taíno have been extinct as a distinct population since the 16th century, many people in the Caribbean have Taíno ancestry. A 2003 mitochondrial DNA study under the Taíno genome project determined that 62% of people in Puerto Rico have direct-line maternal ancestry to Taíno/Arawakan ancestors.
There are about 10,000 Lokono living primarily in the coastal areas of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, and many more Lokono descendants throughout the region. Unlike many indigenous groups in South America, the Lokono population is growing.
- John P. Bennett (Lokono), first Amerindian ordained as an Anglican priest in Guyana, linguist and author of An Arawak-English Dictionary (1989).
- George Simon (Lokono), artist and archaeologist from Guyana.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arawak.|
- Arawakan languages
- Cariban languages
- Garifuna language
- Jean La Rose
- List of indigenous names of Eastern Caribbean islands
- Maipurean languages
- Adaheli, the Sun in the mythology of the Orinoco region
- Aiomun-Kondi, Arawak deity, created the world in Arawak mythology
- Classification of indigenous peoples of the Americas
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