An example of note-taking...
This is approximately the amount of information you should have in your notes from the lectures on the Precolumbian Caribbean and the Amerindian experience of the Contact period.


Taíno Arawaks
Island Caribs
Greater Antilles Lesser Antilles 
farmers/fishermen farmers\fishermen
socially stratified egalitarian
political hierarchy no hereditary chief
sedentary migrating/mobile
teetotal  alcohol-drinking
peaceful warlike; cannibals?
short hair long hair


Diet:  based on root crops (manioc/yucca, sweet potato) with protein from sea (+ parrots, iguanas, dogs); some maize.  Seemed quite tall to Spanish.

Agriculture:  manioc has very high starch content; grows all year round; resistant to drought, to insects (prussic acid), and to hurricanes; easily stored.  Planted in conucos; intercropped with beans, squash, etc.; little demand on soil (erosion, leaching, water loss).  Baked into cassava bread.

Crafts:  cotton cloth and hammocks; woodworking; large canoes; hammered gold nuggets into jewelry, but did not practise mining or metallurgy.  Wood and thatch huts, held 12/15 families.  Clustered round ball court (batey).

Social/Political Structure: caciques/aristocrats/commoners/slaves.  Distinctions seem more honorific than material; no real economic elite.  No marked specialization of labor.  No army, officials, priesthood, towns.  Caciques had religious and judicial functions.  Worshiped zemis.

Why so peaceful?

a) no shortage of food or land.
b) lacked concept of material wealth.
c) social distinctions relatively small.
d) absence of human enemies (until Caribs).
e) absence of animal predators or hunting tradition.
Population collapse due to:
1) European diseases, to which they lacked immunities (swine fever, etc.)
2) Malnutrition (mining and pigs disrupted farming, flight from coast ended fishing)
3) Overwork. Each of these 3 factors multiplied the effect of the other two.
4) Falling birth rate.
5) psychological shock; suicide
6) massacres

Also from Guiana/Orinoco region.  Similar in diet, though made wine from pineapples.  Perhaps more oriented to sea.  Arawak wives: bilingual society.  By late 1400s had settled eastern Puerto Rico and were raiding Hispaniola.

Survived much longer than Taino because:

a) Their islands lacked mineral wealth, were less populated, and lay to windward: therefore, Spanish were less
   interested in them.  Therefore less exposed to the factors that decimated the Taínos.

b) Lower population density muted impact of disease.

c) Fierce resistance discouraged raiding by Spanish.

d) Harder to conquer politically acephalous, socially egalitarian


1) How developed was Taíno society?  Did it most resemble "tribal"
   societies of South American forests, or state-level societies
   of Meso-America?

2) How peaceful was it?  Who were the slaves?

3) Were Island Carib really  a) cannibals  b) related to mainland

4) Is the two main culture picture too simplified?


1) Native American populations are now confined to the Guianas and
   Belize; though mixed groups exist on Dominica and (Black Carib/
   Garífuna) in Belize.

2) Material culture: hammock and canoe have universal impact.

3) Transmitted knowledge of cultivating/processing American crops
   (tobacco, manioc, sweet potato) to African and European

4) Toponymy: numerous place-names of Amerindian origin.

5) Vocabulary: canoa, hamaca, tabaco, cacique, bohío, guajíro,
   batey, in Spanish and other languages.

Return to : LAH 4471