Jamaica is regarded as a cultural melting pot due to its unique history and the racial diversity that has contributed to the country’s cultural heritage.
One such group that is often overlooked are the Tainos, who are featured on the country’s Coat of Arms.
The Tainos, who are generally referred to as Arawaks, are recognized as the earliest recorded inhabitants of Jamaica.
We believe the Tainos were the first inhabitants of Jamaica. They would have migrated from South America and reached the Greater Antilles somewhere around 700 to 1000 AD.
In appearance the Tainos were short and muscular and had a brown olive complexion and straight hair. They wore little clothes but decorated their bodies with dyes. Religion was a very important aspect of their lives and they were mainly an agricultural people although they did have some technological innovations. Today, some of their practices and different aspects of their culture such as their language, and food, are still in use in Jamaica.
Some of the things that are definitely part of our cultural heritage today that came from the Tainos are things like the use of cassava, especially the making of bammy that is a very popular part of our food heritage. There is also the use of tobacco, which is not just a part of Jamaica but (is used) right throughout the world. The Tainos used tobacco in a number of their religious ceremonies and rituals and in their daily life for relaxation.
The Tainos also cultivated cotton and they had a process by which they wove it and were able to make hammocks. The word hammock is a derivative of a Taino word and so is barbeque, which refers to a way in which they prepared meat. So a number of these things that we see around us we may not realize that it has come down to us from the Tainos.