The Dominican Republic has a long and fascinating history that begins with the Taino Indians. Taino, meaning good or noble in their language, provides a glimpse into their colorful and spiritual lives.
Renowned for their beautiful artwork, naturally produced medicine, innovative sporting activities, intricate textiles, jewelry and pottery, the Tainos were incredibly talented and surrounded themselves with their skillful and practical creations. They also embraced dance, music, and poetry as the prominent way to express themselves. They even settled arguments with a game akin to football where the two disputing parties would choose a team each, and the winning team would win the case.
The Tainos were also deeply spiritual and prayed to a collection of gods. They respected all forms of life, knew the importance of gratitude, and honored ancestors and spiritual beings. Natural hallucinogens were used to communicate with the spirits and ancestors from the other world. However, only those considered to have sufficient power to communicate were allowed, typically the highest-ranking members of the tribe. The Tainos believed those in touch with the supernatural realm could heal the sick, predict the future, ensure the fertility of the world, and solve global problems.
Their kindness became apparent when in 1492 the Taino’s welcomed Columbus and his crew with peaceful and generous hospitality. At this time an estimated 3 million Taino Indians inhabited Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Columbus quickly noticed their skilled craftsmanship and the incorporation of gold into their jewelry, and so he left 39 of his crewmen behind to gather gold while he returned to Spain to spread the news. Greed quickly overcame the crew, and it wasn’t long before they began fighting with one another and forced the Taino people to work as servants. The Spaniards deeply offended the Tainos, forcing them to fight back. Columbus was shocked when he returned to find his entire squad dead. Even so, his findings didn’t quell his mighty greed.
In 1493, the first European settlement was founded not far from Puerto Plata and relations deteriorated further. Taino men were forced to work in gold mines and colonial plantations, the Europeans brought over diseases they had no immunity to, many fought back, and others fled to remote regions. Within 30 years, the Taino population dropped by 98%!
By 1514 an official survey showed that 40% of Spanish men had Indian wives, combining genes of the New and Old World to create a new population. Nevertheless, there are still debates, with inconclusive results, surrounding the current existence of the Taino people. What we can be certain of, is that the Taina culture is still very much alive.
The Tainos have passed on their vibrant culture with remnants of beautiful artwork, preserved villages, ancient pictograph caves, and artifact filled museums. The Dominican Republic pays homage to their ancestors with festivals, carnivals and artwork celebrating the Taino people, culture and their rich history. The Tainos also live on today in language. Many words we use today originate from the Tainos, such as tabako (tobacco), hamaka (hammock) and kanowa (canoe), just to name a few.
This fascinating history inspired the name and logo for Villa Taina. Hotel owner Claudia Shwarz feels deeply connected to the Taino culture and always has since her first introduction when she moved to Cabarete over 20 years ago. You might be surprised to discover that there are authentic Taino artifacts mixed in with the décor of the hotel! Claudia’s passion for sharing the Taina culture doesn’t stop at the hotel; she has just opened a Yocahu, a fine-jewelry store right next to Villa Taina. The shop looks sort of like a mini-museum exhibiting the beautiful jewels and stones the Taino people would have used. There is even a walkthrough cave with carved faux pictographs.
Ultimately, there is no way our hotel name, a jewelry store in their honor, or this 500-word blog post can accurately represent what they Tainos stood for, the gifts they gave to this country, or the struggles they endured. But here at Villa Taina, we want to do our best to help keep their legacy alive, and we hope that we have at least intrigued you enough to delve a little deeper into the wonders they left behind.