The Myth of Taíno survival in the Spanish speaking Caribbean

In recent years, a small but growing number of Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans have adopted an exclusive indigenous or Taíno ethnicity. They have done so despite evidence showing that pure blooded Native Americans became extinct in the western Caribbean by the early decades of the seventeenth century, if not earlier, Gabriel Haslip-Viera argues in this article from The Venture.

These individuals have also played fast and loose with concepts of race and ethnicity. They have done so with words and phrases such as “extinction” and “indigenous survival” to justify their claims.

In the early part of the last decade, Puerto Rico’s news media made a big deal of studies that showed that 61% of Puerto Ricans had a trace or a small amount of indigenous DNA dating back to the sixteenth century, passed exclusively through a single female line of ancestry in an individual’s family tree (the mother’s line). This finding was used and abused in an exaggerated, self-serving manner by would-be later day Taínos and their advocates as evidence supporting their claims for an exclusive indigenous pedigree.

However, another study was largely ignored at the time (and since). It that showed that 70% of Puerto Ricans had European DNA, along with 20% who had African DNA and only 10% who had Amerindian DA – this time passed through a single male line in the individual’s family tree (the father’s line).

As it turned out, these studies, when considered together in a sober manner, provide actual evidence for what had been concluded all along by scientists, social scientists and historians – Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans have been and are persons of genetically mixed backgrounds. Eventually, these studies were also criticized for their very limited utility because of two characteristics. First is their focus on distant ancestry. Second, their focus on single male and female lineages that ignore thousands of other males and females who contributed genetic material to an individual’s family tree during the past 500 years.

Ongoing research since the last decade undercuts claims for an exclusive indigenous pedigree by would-be later day Taínos and their supporters. So called “autosomal” or “admixture tests” show that Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans are persons of mixed ethnic background – mostly European and African. with significantly smaller percentages of the indigenous and others. These studies have also been criticized for their limited utility, but they have also been judged to be more reliable than studies that focus on distant ancestry and on single male and female lines of ancestry (See table and sources below).

Claims have been made by would-be Taínos and their supporters that substantial numbers of Taínos fled into the mountainous interior regions of Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Cuba in the sixteenth century and remained biologically pure in isolation of Spanish colonial society in the centuries that followed. These claims have not been demonstrated. On the contrary, the genetic and historical evidence shows that surviving Taínos were joined by impoverished Europeans, runaway African slaves and others to form the mixed Jibaro, Guajiro, and Cibaeño peasant populations of rural interior Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Cuba in the centuries after 1550 or 1600. The claim by Anthony Castanha (as reported in a previous NiLP Network posting) that the Puerto Rican Jibaro is Native American is, therefore, patently absurd.

It also needs to be said that the genetic make-up of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Cubans has little or no connection to the way race and ethnicity are socially constructed at the present time in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and its Diaspora. The traditionally crude and simplistic Eurocentric concepts of race and ethnicity and their connected patterns of prejudice and discrimination, aimed mostly at persons defined as black or mulatto, continue to prevail among Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans. This has occurred despite efforts to promote a “rainbow” model of race mixture.

These concepts have also been adopted by the later day Taínos to justify their claims for a pure indigenous pedigree. This is, in part, an attempt to separate them from persons of African background and from Europeans – especially Spaniards – who they see as colonial oppressors whose contributions to society and culture is to be ignored or rejected in the articulation of their identity.

Commentary from National Institute for Latino Policy

For the original report go to

7 thoughts on “The Myth of Taíno survival in the Spanish speaking Caribbean

  1. Read Sherina Feliciano-Santos’s extremely insightful PhD dissertation (Linguistic Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) for a much more nuanced discussion of what people who claim Taino heritage actually say (which does not coincide with the portrayal in this article).

    An Inconceivable Indigeneity? The Historical, Cultural, and Interactional Dimensions of Puerto Rican Taíno Activism

    This dissertation examines the historical, institutional, and interactional dimensions of Taíno activism in Puerto Rico. Particularly, I consider how the presumed extinction of the Taíno in Puerto Rico has served to limit their claims to indigeneity as well as the role that they can play in public policy debates concerning the management of indigenous human remains and sacred sites. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in Puerto Rico, I argue that Taíno activists address and reconfigure widespread historical narratives within everyday interactions. I propose that Taíno activists seek to reposition the histories that erase them by focusing particularly on three factors: (1) the incongruity between the life stories and documents that inform prevalent historical narratives premised on the Taíno extinction and the personal and filial trajectories that inform current claims to being Taíno, (2) the ensuing discrepant interpretations of ambiguous terms in historical documents, and (3) the repair of Taíno erasure through the active reclamation of Taíno identity in cultural and linguistic terms. I examine how these incongruities, ambiguities and repairs materialize at various levels of social action: within discursive and interactional realignments, through recruitment encounters, in the socialization of novices, in the course of creating a Taíno script, throughout the manufacture of Taíno speech forms, and in bureaucratic encounters. The dissertation shows how these social dimensions have been involved in the recent public emergence of Taíno as an increasingly visible social identification in Puerto Rico.

    1. I am so glad you brought up SHerina’s dissertation. She is a colleague at Vassar College and her work deserves greater attention.

  2. PART 4
    6. Conclusion

    Unfortunately, genetics are no panacea for identifying Indian ancestry. Ancestry, although based in our genes through mating practices, migration and evolutionary forces, is also based upon kinship-cultural affiliation that equates “blood” in the purest metaphorical sense. Racial ideology has persisted in genetic methods claiming authenticity in technological rigor. Not unlike the physical anthropologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, biological determinism and its modern equivalent genetic essentialism are often difficult to move away from. Race, ethnicity, and even identity are social constructs not easily established in human biology. How American Indian identity is defined, then, should not be based on exclusive criteria. However, tempting it may be to use Euro-American definitions of identity to maintain a cultural uniqueness, blood quantum is not the solution. What is needed, as explained by Beckenhauer [16] is to work toward a functional definition of identity, one of how to reconcile cultural affiliation and self-identification with exclusionary definitions based on biology, a necessity to effectively allocate limited federal funds, thus striking a balance between inclusivity and exclusivity. Identity is not something that can be cordoned off with definable, fixed boundaries. It must be in continual process, one that allows a fluid identity fixed in cultural construction, not something inherently and innately fixed in the human genome, defined by blood or any other facet of biology (real or imagined).


    The author would like to thank Gregory Campbell for discussion and implementation of this paper. His remarks greatly clarified numerous issues surrounding American Indian identity and the use of blood quantum in American Indian communities.”

  3. PART 3
    As a consequence of increased interaction, over 60 percent of all American Indians are married to non-Indians, which has certain implications pertaining to group membership (as established by blood quantum), heritage, and identity. For example, Congress has estimated by the year 2080 less than 8 percent of American Indians will have one-half or more Indian “blood” [33]. This raises several interesting identity questions, one important question being how much “racial admixture” can occur before American Indian people cease to be identified as a distinct people? Individuals enrolled in federally recognized tribes receive a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, specifying a certain degree of Indian blood. Each tribe has its own blood quantum requirements. Some, like the Cherokee of Oklahoma, do not have a minimum quantum [34], while others have more restrictive requirements (1/2 or more). What dangers are posed to American Indian sovereignty and continuity if the tribes and the federal government continue to identify “Native American” on a racial instead of a cultural or more explicitly political basis?

    Blood Quantum’s Contemporary: Genetic Testing

    Can an individual’s ethnicity be identified by the genetics of his biology? This question is often investigated through the use of genetic testing that allows individuals to see “where they came from” [16]. A brief Google search on the Internet reveals a number of websites and companies that offer genetic testing that will reveal one’s ancestry and by definition, one’s ethnicity. But ethnicities are fluid cultural constructions that can change multiple times, not something easily identifiable in our genes. This issue has been studied in a legal context by Beckenhauer [16], who discusses contemporary methods of ancestral determinations (through DNA markers) and asks if such an approach is an improvement over the simplistic assumptions of blood quantum. Ultimately, genetic means are still rooted in a biologically determined significance, and not in kinship patterns that are culturally identifiable.

    Biological anthropologists and geneticists have been fascinated by American Indian biology and as such have put forth probing literature into Native American origins, colonization, variation, and identity [36–39]. The majority of these studies use either mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or Y-chromosome DNA as the unit of analysis due to uniparental inheritance (maternal for mtDNA and paternal for Y-chromosome). That is, lineages can easily be traced through the mother or father using either of these two methodologies because of the non-recombining nature of their genetic makeup. Unique haplogroups are specific to populations, such as may be found among Native American groups. For example, American Indian mtDNA haplogroup typing has revealed a few “major” haplogroups [37]. These include haplogroups A, B, C, D, and X (although X has also been linked to European groups). Some researchers believe the identification of these haplogroups should be able to facilitate establishing ancestor/descendent relationships between modern and prehistoric groups of Native Americans [37].

    These findings could have significant implications for individuals and tribes alike. TallBear [17] discusses the case of the Western Mohegan tribe, who contracted for genetic testing to “prove” their legal status as a federally recognized tribe in the state of Vermont. The Mohegan tribe had little documentation, supporting ethnographic evidence, and had not signed a treaty, thereby lacking the requisite genealogical information necessary to make a case for tribal recognition. Through genetic testing, members of the tribe were able to genetically relate to an existing tribe, located in Wisconsin. Native American tribes feared this case (and pending legislation) might implement stricter regulatory procedure underlying Indian identity; that is, the requirement of taking a DNA test to prove tribal affiliation. Future legislation, coupled with genetic analyses, coincides with previous attempts to equate culture with biology such that assumptions which continue to be perpetuated in determining a persons’ or peoples’ political rights and cultural identity are biologically determined.

  4. PART 2

    “There’s this ignorance about Native American citizenship,” said Good Fox. “And what are we learning about American Indians grades K-12? It’s all in past-tense, and we don’t get a sense of what an Indian today looks like. That can really be confusing to people.”

    The Above is a north Americans Tribes mens take on the ignorance and stereotypes of Native Americans that were based on Blood Quantum’s imposed by the conquerers.

    But lets take a more Scientific and Legal approach to the Question

    American Indian Identity and Blood Quantum in the 21st Century: A Critical Review


    “Identity in American Indian communities has continually been a subject of contentious debate among legal scholars, federal policy-makers, anthropologists, historians, and even within Native American society itself. As American Indians have a unique relationship with the United States, their identity has continually been redefined and reconstructed over the last century and a half. This has placed a substantial burden on definitions for legal purposes and tribal affiliation and on American Indians trying to self-identify within multiple cultural contexts. Is there an appropriate means to recognize and define just who is an American Indian? One approach has been to define identity through the use of blood quantum, a metaphorical construction for tracing individual and group ancestry. This paper will review the utility of blood quantum by examining the cultural, social, biological, and legal implications inherent in using such group membership and, further, how American Indian identity is being affected.”

    “American Indians have maintained throughout history higher degrees of sociocultural inclusiveness and interaction (i.e., breeding and intermarriage) with other tribes then do non-Indian peoples (Europeans, Africans). Admixed individuals were apparently accepted into Native society with few reservations, though this is most likely a broad generalization not applicable to all groups inhabiting native North America.

    The arrival of Europeans brought changes to group identity. Concerns of Indian identity and how it has been commodified and expropriated through continuing colonial practice have been raised [1]. Europeans not only expropriated land and resources, but also Indian identity. Over the next few centuries, the issue of identity shifted from indigenous social-cultural-territorial-based definitions to legal and frequently race-based definitions arbitrarily articulated in congressional laws, administrative regulations, or court cases. In other words, American Indian identity was commodified through bureaucratic procedure

    Early scientific analysis sought to explain and perpetuate the race concept by applying technological and methodological rigor to the study of innate biological differences among human groups. Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778), considered the founder of scientific taxonomy, established a classificatory system still in use today that denotes all living forms by “genus” and “species.” This taxonomic system was also applied to the human species [6], under the false assumption that humans could be divided into subgroups, such as a subspecies. Group differences and subsequent descriptions indiscriminately mixed physical features with supposed traits for character, disposition, and behavior (all features seen today as external and cultural). Broken up into four “species,” Linnaeus defined predominate geographical human groups (Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeaus) using innate terminology not only for physical characteristics but also qualities of behavior and temperament ascribed to fixed entities.

    The use of “blood” to trace ancestry has historical roots, mainly applied to persons of “mixed” blood. Meyer [2] explores the etymological roots of the term “blood” and notes that its use extends deep into Anglo-Saxon tribal psychology. By 1200, the term blood became increasingly synonymous with lineage, descent, and ancestry in association with royal claims to property and power and “presages modern conceptions of “race.”” Meyer [2] claims that native conceptions of blood were more subtle and nuanced and did not necessarily connote physiological meaning. However, as American Indian and European relations progressed, native peoples began to adopt the strictly physiological meaning of blood, deemphasizing the metaphorical extension of kinship and lineage. In the context of people with admixed blood, Meyer [2] observes

  5. PART 1

    This whole argument boils down to 2 questions
    1) are there Pure blooded Taino? or as he has only recently edited to say “which actually meant the following: The pre-Columbian indigenous were 100% pure indigenous (indigenous genetic mix) ” The answer is NO

    2) Who is Native American?

    Extensive Research has been Done on this Subject as I will demonstrate in a moment, since Colonization of the Americas there has been an extensive Effort by Governments and Neo Spaniards to Erase who we are by Blood Quantum ,and Today in modern times by its equivalent genetic testing.

    1) The first question is there any pure blooded Taino or North American tribes Left?
    The answer is clearly NO! so we should move to the second question

    2) Who is Native American?

    Some NorthernAmerican Tribes have adopted the following formula

    “Many tribes use parentage as a means of defining membership. Known as “blood quantum,” the practice defines tribal membership according to the degree of “pure blood” belonging to that tribe. For example, a person with one grandparent belonging to one tribe and three grandparents not belonging to that tribe would be considered to have a “blood quantum” of one-quarter. The minimum amount of blood quantum required can be as little as one-thirty-second (equivalent to one great-great-great-grandparent) or as high as one-half (equivalent to one full-blooded tribal parent).”

    But many People consider that being part of a Tribe doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have one drop of Blood of any Native Groups, in this case cultural affinity would play a stronger role to define the individual.

    ” says Renee Holt, a doctoral student at Washington State University who studies cultural studies and social thought in education. Her research of different traditional indigenous tribal practices indicates that most tribes did not use blood quantum as the primary determinant of who was a member and who was not. In the case of the Nez Perce tribe, of which Holt is a member, belonging to the tribe meant you spoke the language and followed cultural practices. One did not necessarily have to be of 100% Nez Perce blood to be part of the tribe – cultural affinity was considered more important.

    As an example, Holt mentions her uncle, who was adopted as a boy by her great-grandmother and raised alongside her aunt. The uncle lived among the tribe throughout his life, spoke Nez Perce fluently, had a traditional tribal name, and participated in ceremonies and rituals. He was white – but his skin color didn’t prevent him from being considered a member of the tribe. Upon his death, he was given a traditional funeral.

    “I just thought that was amazing. How do you tell somebody like that that they’re not Nez Perce?” asked Holt.”

    “Blood quantum was imposed upon the tribes by the United States. We never had blood quantum a thousand years ago,” said Good Fox, who is herself a member of the Pawnee tribe.

    Some historians believe this was a way of diminishing the number of “actual” Native Americans that the government would then be obligated to count when calculating federal money and land disbursed to the tribes. Among some 19th and early 20th century politicians, there was also the hope that eventually, Native Americans would intermarry and assimilate with whites to the point that they would no longer have the power of a cohesive group – and would no longer have a right to land and monetary payments from the government.

    “It seems to me one of the ways of getting rid of the Indian question is just this of intermarriage, and the gradual fading out of the Indian blood; the whole quality and character of the aborigine disappears, they lose all of the traditions of the race; there is no longer any occasion to maintain the tribal relations, and there is then every reason why they shall go and take their place as white people do everywhere,” said Anthony Higgins, a U.S. Senator from Delaware, in 1895 congressional testimony.”

    Good Fox said the popular perception of Native Americans is rooted in stereotypes – the idea that a “real Indian” looks and acts a certain way, and that anyone who doesn’t conform to that image is somehow “less Indian.” But the truth is more diverse – different tribes can have different physical characteristics, and intermarriage among other ethnic groups mean that Native Americans often have a multiracial background.

    “I think people still have this perception that all American Indians look like this image of Plains Indians from the 1800s,” said Good Fox. “We don’t look like how we would have 200 years ago either, so to expect Indians to look the same (as they did then) makes no sense.

  6. Neo Spaniards , and other Critics promote a fallacy of Blood Quantums and who can and cant be considerd Native American.
    He says things such
    “In recent years, a small but growing number of Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans have adopted an exclusive indigenous or Taíno ethnicity. They have done so despite evidence showing that pure blooded Native Americans became extinct in the western Caribbean by the early decades of the seventeenth century, if not earlier.”
    Yes but Taino’s continued until Today despite;

    “According to some authors [3, 14, 31, 32], the continued use of blood quantum as a way to ascribe membership in a Native American tribe has dire consequences. These authors feel blood-quantum policies are little other than genocidal (or “autogenocide by definitional and statistical extermination” as characterized by Churchill [3, page 51]), which will ultimately end with extinction of the original indigenous people of native North America. Summarizing the process (although slightly generalizing at the same time), Limerick [31, page 338] writes, “Set the blood quantum at one-quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed as it had for centuries, and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence. When that happens, the federal government will be freed of its persistent “Indian problem.””

    This is how Governments have tryed to erase who we are as a people.

    Tainos of today must prove themselves to the Tainos of 1492 ,yet Spaniards of today are not compared to Spaniards of 1492 in order to prove they are Spaniards.
    if you consider yourself a true scholar you should have more respect for the self identification of a People who have not been counted for hundreds of years.
    Remember Taino as a category was taken out by the Spaniards if I’m correct sometime in the 1800, yet the Paroquial records or Puerto Rico show a multitude of Puerto Ricans Identifing themselves with Taino First names and Sur names soon after they were counted out of the census(Erased as a People).
    This research was First done by Yael Coriano.

    Please read Part 1,2,3 and 4 of my post below

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