The Taino Indians of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies, now Dominican Republic and Haiti, are believed to be the first tribe of the New World to have encountered the famous explorer Christopher Columbus. In a rock art cave called Jose Maria within the East National Park are many painted images. Among them is one panel that may depict a conquest event. Also visible are images that seem to bear on the mythology.
Depicted among these pictographs is the mythology and history of the Taino people. They worshipped the bat and the owl, which were belived to carry spirits away to the afterlife, and Atabey, the goddess of fresh water and mother of the yucca plant. Also seen with the images could be a forced tribute to the Spaniards that required the Taino to provide labor and food. This tribute is seen on a large limestone wall inside the Jose Maria Cave. It starts off with an image of a grater. This was used to grind the roots of the guayaga plant or the yucca plant, the main ingredient of casaba bread. Next is a image of a barbeque where they baked the bread after forming the dough. The word barbeque actually came from the Taino Indians and has lasted for hundreds of years. The cacique or chieftain is pictured next to the yucca plant, identified because he was the only one allowed to wear a headress. From there is a scene of the bread being loaded onto a spanish longboat and then travelling back to feed the Spaniards. The Taino Indians had a treaty with the Spaniard which was broken when Juan de Esquivel in 1503 led a battle into the village. The chieftain was killed and thereby breaking the treaty. After that the Taino Indians were almost annihilated by the Spaniards over a period of about 20 years. Hopefully with the interpretation of the over 1,200 pictographs and the finding of a grotto or sinkhole not more than 3 miles away, historians and archaeologists will be able to find out more about the Taino, their customs, and their religion.
Last updated: 14 October 1996
Comments: Underwater Science Program
Copyright 1996, The Trustees of Indiana University