Revising Caribbean historical past – Stabroek Information

In all schools in the region, students have long been taught that millions of indigenous Taino people died out after the catastrophic arrival of the Spanish conquerors, but recent revolutionary genetic studies are suddenly rewriting our history.

The last major report, published this month in Nature magazine, revealed that many modern islanders in the Caribbean retain distinct Taino DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule that contains the unique genetic code of every organism that is passed on to offspring be it to humans or Hutias.

The Taino is an experienced seafarer and farmer. It is also preserved through the use of common native language words ranging from cassava, canoe, cay, caiman, guava, hammock, iguana, corn, manatee and potato to mangrove and tobacco and savanna. Devastating hurricanes that regularly sweep through this part of the world come from Hurakán, the Taino name for their terrible god of storms.

Last Christmas weekend we prepared a family favorite – grilling, described by a Spanish explorer in the 16th century as “barbacoa”, an elevated platform for storing grain and cooking food, and the special method of grilling meat on a rack above a fire. More than a century later, “barbacu’d” appeared as a delicious verb in the manuscript “Jamaica Viewed” and the rest is culinary history, whether jerky or chili flavored. “Ya-mah-ye-ka” itself means “Great Spirit of the Land of Man”.

I relied on my cherished Guyanese “cassareep”, made inland from bitter cassava juice to color my chicken pieces and seasoned vegetable rice, on this occasion omitting the potatoes, all of which come from the Andes, including the Taino “batata” or magenta cute version that we love so much.

The word Caribbean, which gives us a certain proud identity and evokes comforting visions of sea, sand and sun even in this COVID-19 lockdown era, takes its title from another famous indigenous group known in English as the Caribs Spanish “Caribe”, which was taken over from the Arawakan language group, probably Taino, for “man”. Since the Taino swapped the sounds l, n and r when Christopher Columbus heard the term in present-day Cuba in 1492, it conveniently sounded similar to “Caniba”, generalized to mean dreaded cannibals and to justify the spread of genocide against the indigenous people that has been associated with enslavement, abuse, and disease. Many of the Taino terms are similar to the Arawak language family that survived in Guyana and other parts of South America.

On December 23rd, Nature published the latest major study analyzing the remains of the early Caribbean peoples. An international team of experts led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School, a geneticist specializing in ancient DNA, combined decades of archaeological work with advances in genetic engineering to prove that these residents were highly mobile and that distant relatives lived on different islands.

His laboratory developed a new genetic technique for estimating population size in the past. The number of people living in the Caribbean when Europeans arrived was far fewer than previously thought, probably only in the tens of thousands and not among the millions or more that Columbus and his successors made.

The Florida Museum of Natural History pointed out in a related report that while the heat and humidity of the tropics can break down organics quickly, the human body contains a lock box made of genetic material: a small, unusually dense piece of bone that holds the Bone protects the inner ear. Primarily using this structure, the researchers extracted and analyzed DNA from 174 people living in the Caribbean and Venezuela 400 to 3,100 years ago, and combined the information with 89 previously sequenced people.

The genetic evidence sheds light on the movement of animals and people in the region, where each island can be a unique microcosm of life. The first residents, a group of stone tool users, went to Cuba about 6,000 years ago. During the archaic period of the region at the time, it gradually expanded east to other islands. Exactly where they came from remains unclear, but interestingly, they are more closely related to Central and South Americans than to North Americans, although their genetics do not match any surviving indigenous group, according to the university.

Around 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, farmers and potters related to the Arawak-speakers in northeastern South America found a second route to the Caribbean. With the fingers of the Orinoco River basin, they traveled like highways from inland to the Venezuelan coast and pushed north into the Caribbean, settling in Puerto Rico, and eventually moving west. Their arrival heralded the region’s ceramic age, which was marked by intensified agriculture and the widespread production and use of ceramics.

Over time, almost all genetic traces of humans from the Archean era mysteriously disappeared, with the exception of a holdout community in western Cuba that existed until the arrival of Europe. Mixed marriage between the two groups was rare, with only three people in the study showing mixed ancestors.

Many modern Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans are descendants of people from the Ceramic Age, as well as European immigrants and enslaved Africans. However, the researchers found only marginal evidence of ancestry to the Archaic Age.

During the pottery era, Caribbean pottery experienced at least five distinct style changes over 2,000 years. Elaborate red pottery adorned with patterns painted white gave way to simple, polished vessels, while other pots were punctuated with tiny dots and incisions or sported animal faces that were likely to serve as handles. Some archaeologists pointed to these crossings as evidence of new migrations to the islands. But DNA tells a different story, suggesting that all styles were developed by descendants of people who came to the Caribbean 2,500-3,000 years ago, although they may interact with and take inspiration from outsiders, the university noted.

A study with male X chromosomes that highlighted the region’s interconnectivity surprisingly uncovered 19 pairs of “genetic cousins” living on different islands. These people shared the same amount of DNA as biological cousins, but they may have been separated by generations. In the most striking example, a man was buried in the Bahamas while his relative was buried about 600 miles away in the Dominican Republic.

Professor Reich explained that the detection of such a high proportion of genetic cousins ​​in a sample of fewer than 100 men was another indicator that the total population size of the region was small.

A technique developed by study co-author Harald Ringbauer used shared DNA segments to estimate the population size of the past. This method could also be applied to future studies in old people. Mr. Ringbauer’s technique showed that shortly before the arrival of Europe, around 10,000 to 50,000 people lived on two of the largest islands, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

The 16th-century historian Bartolomé de las Casas later claimed that three million people lived in the region before it was decimated by European enslavement and disease. This was also an over-reinforcement, but the number of people who died as a result of the colonization was still an atrocity, Reich said. “This was a systematic program of cultural erasure. The fact that it was not a million or millions of people but tens of thousands does not make this deletion any less significant, ”he explained.

The Caribbean was one of the last places in the world to be settled by humans. Coincidentally, on this final day of this incredible year, we should be focused on a major revision and update of our outdated textbooks and teachings, given the ever-evolving but fascinating narrative of our rich indigenous history and culture.

ID recalls Columbus being surprised at Taino’s courtesy. After meeting her in the Bahamas, he reported, “They will give everything they have for everything they are given, and even exchange things for broken dishes.” They added, “They were very well built, with very beautiful bodies and very good faces … they do not carry weapons and do not know them … they should be good servants. “