Jamaican Arawak History
One of the four large islands of the Caribbean, Xaymaca a.k.a Jamaica, is roughly the size of Connecticut. The island is well known for its rich-tasting Blue Mountain coffee and its bauxite mining and aluminum processing industries.
As early as 600 A.D., Jamaica was settled by Arawaks, indigenous Natives, who called the island Xaymaca. In 1494 Columbus stole the island for Spain and in 1509, Juan de Esquivel began transporting Jamaican Arawaks to Hispaniola, a.k.a Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as slaves.
From Columbus’ Journal:
Saturday, 13 October 1492:
They brought us sticks of the cotton thread and parrots and other little things which it would be tedious to list, and exchanged everything for whatever we offered them. I kept my eyes open and tried to find out if there was any gold, and I saw that some of them had a little piece hanging from a hole in their nose. I gathered from their signs that if one goes south, or around the south side of the island, there is a king with great jars full of it, enormous amounts. I tried to persuade them to go there, But I saw that the idea was not to their liking…
Sunday, 14 October 1492:
…These people have little knowledge of fighting, as Your Majesties will see from the seven I have had captured to take away with us so as to teach them our language and return them, unless Your Majesties’ orders are that they all be taken to Spain or held captive on the island itself, for with fifty men one could keep the whole population in subjection and make them do whatever one wanted.
[They are] Used to heat of the rain forest, Arawak families lived without clothes. Arawak men had never done gardening or work around home. They only hunted fish, and let the women do the rest. Even women expecting babies, or with little ones in their care, worked in cassava patches while men sat in hammocks under the shade. When asked if they wanted to get married did not seem in a hurry. The Indians kept themselves cleaner than the Europeans. Believing that sweat weakens the body, they bathed frequently throughout the day.
In their houses—thatched shelters without walls—they sat on clean sand, and they treated one another very politely. Young people called their parents and others of that age “honoured ones.” Older people called all young men “handsome ones” and it took them a while to learn the European titles for women, girls and children, and how to use them. Even though the Arawaks did not have an exact word for humility, they well knew the attitude. One should not look another person in the face while speaking “like a dog,” they believed. Rather, one should rise so that others might sit and count it a privilege to give. Arawak hospitality always involved eating and drinking together and even drank of fermented cassava, held frequent love feasts, and fought at their festivals. — A Pilgrim, Heinrich Beutel
The villagers showed great interest in teaching and no sooner had they learned how to read, then they began to hold classes for the rest and also began helping the pilgrims translate scriptures. The Arawaks, however, had no concept of right and wrong in the European sense, and only dimly comprehended concepts such as worship and faith, but they knew what disobedience meant. They lived according to rigid ethics of their own, something the Europeans realized they could learn from.
Arawaks knew that Yuca (cassava) was a staple food and grew it with minimal care in the tropical climate. They also grew corn, unusual for Caribbean islanders. The women did all the agricultural and craft work at home, whereas the men were generally the warriors. These indigenous peoples invented the hammock (the name derives from the Taíno term hamaca) which the Spaniards used to improve the sanitary conditions of their ships while sleeping.
In repayment for their kindness, the early settlers committed genocide against the Arawaks by ways of small pox, slavery, lynchings, rapes and syphilis.
Today, many islanders such as Puerto Ricans, Surinamese, Venezuela, Guyana and Colombians can claim Arawak ancestry.
This post is dedicated to my brother, a descendant of the noble and peaceful Arawak tribe.