The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus

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When Colum­bus arrived in the Amer­i­c­as, the first peo­ple he encoun­tered were the Tain­os, inhab­i­tants of the islands of the north­ern Caribbean Sea. In this book a not­ed arche­ol­o­gist and anthro­pol­o­gist tells the sto­ry of the Tain­os from their ances­tral days on the South Amer­i­can con­ti­nent to their rapid decline after con­tact with the Span­ish explorers.
Draw­ing on arche­o­log­i­cal and eth­no-his­tor­i­cal evi­dence, Irv­ing Rouse sketch­es a pic­ture of the Tain­os as they exist­ed dur­ing the time of Colum­bus, con­trast­ing their cus­toms with those of their neigh­bors. He then moves back­ward in time to the ances­tors of the Tainos—two suc­ces­sive groups who set­tled the West Indies and who are known to arche­ol­o­gists as the Sal­adoid peo­ples and the Ostionoid peo­ples. By recon­struct­ing the devel­op­ment of these groups and study­ing their inter­ac­tion with oth­er groups dur­ing the cen­turies before Colum­bus, Rouse shows pre­cise­ly who the Tain­os were. He vivid­ly recounts Colum­bus’s four voy­ages, the events of the Euro­pean con­tact, and the ear­ly Span­ish views of the Tain­os, par­tic­u­lar­ly their art and reli­gion. The nar­ra­tion shows that the Tain­os did not long sur­vive the advent of Colum­bus. Weak­ened by forced labor, mal­nu­tri­tion, and dis­eases intro­duced by the for­eign­ers, and dis­persed by migra­tion and inter­mar­riage, they ceased to exist as a sep­a­rate pop­u­la­tion group. As Rouse dis­cuss­es the Tain­os’ con­tri­bu­tions to the Spaniards—from Indi­an corn, tobac­co, and rub­ber balls to art, arti­facts, and new words—we real­ize that their effect on West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, brief through their con­tact, was an impor­tant and last­ing one.
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