The Arawak are a group of indigenous peoples of South America and historically of the Caribbean. Specifically, the term “Arawak” has been applied at various times to the Lokono of South America and the Taíno, who historically lived in the Greater Antilles and northern Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, all of whom spoke related Arawakan languages
Modern population and descendants
The Spaniards who arrived in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1492, and later in Puerto Rico, did not bring women on their first expeditions. The explorers mated with the Taíno women, who bore mestizo children as a result. While the Taíno have been thought to be extinct as a distinct population since the 16th century, many people in the Caribbean have Taíno ancestry. A 2003 mitochondrial DNA study under the Taíno genome project determined that 62% of people in Puerto Rico have direct-line maternal ancestry to Taíno/Arawakan ancestors.
There are about 10,000 Lokono living primarily in the coastal areas of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, and many more Lokono descendants throughout the region. Unlike many indigenous groups in South America, the Lokono population is growing.
In a Stabroek News editorial comment to my letter, titled “Least developed countries like Guyana can benefit from the Organization of Islamic Conference,” Saturday, March 15th 2008, on the just concluded OIC Summit in Dakar, Senegal it was stated that “We have been informed that Guyana’s Ambassador to India Mr. Ronald Gajraj and Mr. Fazeel Ferouz President of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) attended the Summit.” I was informed by the OIC and Senegal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Mr. Ronald Gajraj was expected in Dakar, however he did not attend the summit.
Here again we have witnessed was another diplomatic fiasco by the Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs due to bad planning and micro-management. If the Guyanese delegation was formalized in advance and arrangement was made for them to travel in a timely manner this poor image of Guyana could have been avoided.
Thirty-Seven heads of states attended the summit, and according to the OIC office in Jeddah and ISESCO in Rabat, Morocco, CIOG’s Fazeel Ferouz was there only on the final day of the summit, March 14, 2008. This is another embarrassing diplomatic blunder especially after Senegal sent a three-member delegation to invite President Bharrat Jagdeo personally to the Heads of State Summit.
Taíno heritage in modern times
Some scholars, such as Jalil Sued Badillo, an ethnohistorian at the University of Puerto Rico, assert that although the official Spanish histories speak of the disappearance of the Taínos, many survivors left descendants usually by intermarrying with other ethnic groups. Recent research revealed a high percentage of mixed or tri-racial ancestry in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Those claiming Taíno ancestry also have Spanish ancestry or African ancestry, and often both.
Frank Moya Pons, a Dominican historian, documented that Spanish colonists intermarried with Taíno women. Over time, some of their mixed descendants intermarried with Africans, creating a tri-racial Creole culture. 1514 census records reveal that 40% of Spanish men on the island of Hispaniola had Taíno wives. Ethnohistorian Lynne Guitar writes that the Taíno were declared extinct in Spanish documents as early as the 16th century; however, individual Taínos continued to appear in wills and legal records for several decades after the arrival of the Spaniards.
Evidence suggests that some Taíno men and African women inter-married and lived in relatively isolated Maroon communities in the interior of the islands, where they evolved into a hybrid rural or campesino population with little or no interference from the Spanish authorities. Scholars also note that contemporary rural Dominicans retain Taíno linguistic features, agricultural practices, food ways, medicine, fishing practices, technology, architecture, oral history, and religious views. However, these cultural traits are often looked down upon by urbanites as backwards.
Sixteen “autosomal” studies of peoples in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora (mostly Puerto Ricans) have shown that between 10-20% of their DNA is indigenous, with some individuals having slightly higher scores and others having lower scores or no indigenous DNA at all. A recent study of a population in eastern Puerto Rico where the majority of persons tested claimed Taíno ancestry and pedigree showed that they had 61% mtDNA (distant maternal ancestry) and 0% y-chromosome DNA (distant paternal ancestry) demonstrating as expected that this is a hybrid creole population.
Groups, such as the Jatibonicu Taino Tribal Nation of Boriken Puerto Rico (1970), the Taíno Nation of the Antilles N.Y.C. (1993), United Confederation of Taíno People N.Y.C (1998) and El Pueblo Guatu Ma-Cu A Borikén Puerto Rico (2000), have been established to foster Taíno culture. Taíno activists have created two unique writing scripts. The scripts are used to write Spanish, not a retained language from pre-Columbian ancestors. The organization Guaka-kú teaches and uses their script among their own members. The LGTK (Liga Guakía Taína-ké) has promoted teaching their script among elementary and middle school students to strengthen their interest in Taíno identity.
In February 2018, a DNA study from an ancient tooth determined that the Taínos have living descendants in Puerto Rico, indicating that they were not extinct as previously thought.