Puer­to Rico is one of 7,000 islands in the clus­ter of islands known as The West Indies. Arche­ol­o­gists and geol­o­gists have been unable to deter­mine exact­ly when Puer­to Rico became inhab­it­ed. They deter­mined that cen­ter­ies ago, peo­ple referred to as “Archaics”, came to the Caribbean from North Amer­i­ca, main­ly Flori­da. The next peo­ple to inhab­it Puer­to Rico were The Igner­is, from a region of Venezuela. The Igner­is were fol­lowed by anoth­er group from the Arawak Cul­ture, The Tain­os. His­to­ry shows that the Tain­os were a more advanced group then the pre­vi­ous groups. They gave their new home a name, the first group to do so. They called it “Bor­in­quen” which is now known as Puer­to Rico, mean­ing land of the Regal Lord. Bor­in­quen, a place that was most­ly a rain for­est from shore to shore. A place filled with hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent species of palm trees, bam­boo, giant ferns, gua­va trees, mamey and the big leaves of the yau­tia. The island also was filled with many species of wildlife such as man­a­tees, par­rots, igua­nas, giant sea tur­tles, and crabs. Boringuen also had many rivers with many dif­fer­ent species of fish. Every evening the cool breeze from the ocean was filled with the sounds of the mil­lions of coquies (tree frogs).

The Tain­os estab­lished a struc­tured soci­ety. They devel­oped vil­lages all over the island. All the vil­lages were designed exact­ly the same. Each con­tained an open area in the cen­ter, to look like the cen­ter of town. This open area was called the batey. From each side of the open area, were nar­row lanes stretch­ing out­ward lines their liv­ing spaces (hous­es). The batey was the cen­ter for all the social activ­i­ties of the Tain­os. They con­duct­ed town meet­ings qnd reli­giouis cer­e­monies. They also held trib­al dances in the batey.

The Yucayeques were build close to a water source with a court­yard (batey) in the mid­dle and under the tall trees. A tall fence sur­round­ed the vil­lage. A road lead­ing direct­ly to the water source with a look­out tow­er on each side was built from the batey. Farms (Conu­cas) were placed around the yucayeques. The conu­cas were tall mounds of loose dirt for farm­ing. These mounds were 10 to 15 feet wide and as tall as the Tain­os. They plant­ed yuc­ca in the conu­cas because the yuc­ca need­ed soil that was aer­at­ed. The Tain­os social struc­ture was much like that of the Incas of South Amer­i­ca. Each vil­lage had a leader (Chief) and then the whole island had a leader, whom was cho­sen from the lead­ers of the vil­lage lead­ers (Chief­tain).

The vil­lage chief of (Cacique) was an inher­it­ed posi­tion. The cacique was polyg­a­mous. Some of the wives were arranged to women from oth­er vil­lages in order to form strong alliances. The cacique wore a head piece made from a cloth band and a gold seal or amulet and was adorned with feath­ers of dif­fer­ent col­ors from the macaw and par­rot. He also wore a mao which was a round cloth with a hole in the cen­ter used to cov­er the chest, back and shoulders.

The Tain­os social struc­ture was that of a caste sys­tem just like that of the Incas. The top includ­ed the island chief­tain and his fam­i­ly, the vil­lage chiefs and their fam­i­ly. Next lev­el was the priests (med­i­cine-men). The respon­si­bil­i­ties of guid­ing them in spir­it and health made these priests the most impor­tant and respect­ed mem­bers of the Taino villages.

The priests cured var­i­ous sick­ness­es with the use of herbal teas. They also looked after the vil­lages spir­i­tu­al needs, by ward­ing off evil spir­its by chant­i­ng prayers to the Gods to pro­tect them. To appease the evil spir­its that would bring storms and earth­quakes, the priests would go into a trance to con­tact the Gods by sniff­ing ground tabac­co. The caste sys­tem divid­ed the Tain­os into two groups. The largest group was the labor force. The oth­er group was the teach­ers and the lead­ers (super­vi­sors) that ran the day to day oper­a­tions. This group instruct­ed the labor group on main­tain­ing the soil for grow­ing a vari­ety of veg­eta­bles of herbs, which was the Tain­os main diet. The Taino econ­o­my was man­ly agri­cul­tur­al. The Taino peo­ple grew cab­bage, peanuts, pep­pers, corn and sweet pota­toes. The Tain­os also gath­ered cot­ton, fruits, and tobac­co which grew wild all over the island. By the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry, there were about 30,000 to 60,000 Tain­os on the island. After many raids by oth­er tribes in attempt to invade and con­quer the island of Bor­in­quen, they were main­ly attached by the Caribs from South Amer­i­ca. The Caribs sailed the Caribbean Ocean in huge boats. Time and time again the Caribs raid­ed the Taino set­tle­ments tak­ing women and chil­dren back to their vil­lages in South America.

Columbus’s Discovery 1493

Colum­bus on his sec­ond voy­age had a fleet of sev­en­teen ships that land­ed on the Island of Bor­in­quen as the Tain­os called it. Upon land­ing on the island, Colum­bus claimed the island for Spain and called it San Juan Bautista, after the son of the King and Queen of Spain.

When Colum­bus first set foot on the island, he did­n’t encounter any natives. After walk­ing towards the inte­ri­or of the island, Colum­bus found a small vil­lage on a nar­row inlet. He was amazed by the land­scapes, beau­ti­ful tall trees. He named the vil­lage Puer­to Rico, which means beau­ti­ful or rich port. After the native Tain­os over­came the sight of the many ships and hun­dreds of men car­ry­ing weapons and wear­ing col­or­ful uni­forms, some of the Tain­os made con­tact with Colum­bus. Colum­bus com­mu­ni­cat­ed with the Tain­os through hand ges­tures, and soon Colum­bus was able to learn of some of the more amaz­ing accom­plish­ments the Tain­os had made. He was impressed with the pot­tery the Tain­os showed him. He was even more impressed with the pieces of gold they showed him. When Colum­bus left the island, there were about 30,000 Tain­os on the island. Colum­bus went back to Spain to report to the King and Queen about all that he encoun­tered in the new land. He told them of all the won­der­ful dis­cov­er­ies he made. How the Tain­os built com­mu­ni­ties. Homes that were like art­works made out of straw and wood. The Tain­os had dif­fer­ent forms to express them­selves through sculp­ture, art, ceram­ics, jew­el­ry, dance, music and poetry.


was com­piled by Puer­to Rican his­to­ri­an Dr. Cayetano Coll y Toste of the “Real Acad­e­mia de la Historia