December 8, 2001, Dicey Taylor, "Taino: Ancient Voyagers of Sea and Spirit."

Dr. Dicey Taylor, Consulting Curator of Pre-Columbian Art at El Museo del
Barrio, presented an exciting picture of
"The Taino: Ancient Voyagers of Sea and Spirit."   We can trace Taino
origins back to hunter-gatherers in 5000 B.C. whose heartland was the
Orinoco River area of the Amazon basin.  Up until about 1 A.D. there were
waves of sea migrations of these Arawok speakers into the Caribbean from
Venezuela and Brazil area into the Lesser Antilles and from Belize into Cuba
and the Greater Antilles.  These people saw the earth as a flat disc that
sits on the watery sea and has a central shaft from which grows a sacred
Ceiba tree that connects to the underworld and supports the universe with
its branches.  They believed that when the sun sets in the west the
underworld is flipped to become the night sky.  While the Taino  did not
think of the Milky Way as a crocodile, as did the Maya, they did conceive of
a canoe associated with our Big Dipper and noted the alignment of its last
two stars with Polaris.  They used their knowledge of the stars to navigate
in their waves of seagoing migrations.

Dr. Taylor gave us some powerful insights into Taino art, religious beliefs
and culture, as well as the organization of their communities and their
complex chiefdoms.  There are many parallels to the Maya world, but there
was no evidence of contact with the Maya until about 650 A.D. with the first
introduction of stone balls, stone belts, and various ballgame
paraphernalia.  The Taino’s basic food was not corn, but casaba cakes
produced from bitter yucca, and their supreme sky god was the Yucca God.
Taino art is distinctive.  A wonderful collection is on permanent display at
El Museo del Barrio  – Fifth Avenue at 104th Street in New York City.   See
more at its website: http://www.elmuseo.org

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