Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Lucayans of the Bahamas

In 1492 there were an estimated 45,000 Lucayans inhabiting what is now known as the Bahamas. By the close of the sixteenth century, the entire group had been wiped out. The Lucayans were part of a larger cluster of Arawakan people who referred to themselves as Taíno, meaning good or noble. This, scholars believe, was to differentiate themselves from the war-like Caribs who often raided the Taíno and abducted their women. According to archaeologists, Lucayans began colonizing the Bahamian chain of islands as early as A.D. 600. When they reached the Bahamian archipelago they displaced, killed, or absorbed a group of Siboney natives. The irony is that while the descendants of other Siboney native groups survive, there are no living descendants of the Lucayans.

The Lucayans were fairly short, slim, and muscular with straight black hair and dark reddish skin. Like other groups from Central America, the Lucayans flattened the foreheads of their infants soon after birth by binding boards to their heads. They believed that this increased not only the beauty of their offspring, but also their intelligence. The Lucayans were a peaceful people, who only manufactured weapons for protection against the brutality of the Caribs. This, unfortunately, was not enough against the might of the Spanish.

While they did engage in trade with islanders to the south, the Lucayans were geographically separated from other Taíno groups. Thus, the Lucayans developed their own religion, language, and crafts. The Lucayans were ruled by hereditary chiefs known as caciques who governed specific regions of each island. The cacique was both a religious and political leader of his people, a sort of priest-king. The Lucayans engaged in ancestor worship and believed in gods who inhabited the bodies of animals. In death, they believed that the spirit moved southwards to a blissful paradise, although the bodies of the dead were treated with immense respect.

The villages of the Lucayans were near the sea and none of them numbered more than a thousand in population. The Lucayans were avid fishermen and used shells in their jewelry, pottery, and ceremonial crafts. The men hunted, fished, and fashioned tools, weapons, and canoes. The canoes were up to thirty metres in length, and were treated with immense pride and respect. In addition to caring for the children, the women cooked, farmed, wove, and created ceramics.

The circular homes of the Lucayans were constructed from wooden posts and thatch, with one entrance and enough room for a small family to sleep on their hammocks. Near the chief's rectangular home there was often a ball court or wide space for religious or ceremonial gatherings. The game played on the ball court was a fast-paced sport which utilized a bouncing rubber ball, a clay pitch, and three walls. In addition to this sport, the Lucayans enjoyed dancing, singing, smoking tobacco through their noses, and drinking cassava wine.

On October 12 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the Bahamas and he abducted some Lucayans who guided him southwards to the Greater Antilles. Shortly after, the Spaniards enslaved the Lucayans and shipped them to Cuba and Hispaniola as slave labour in the pearl industry and in the mines. Thousands of Lucayans died from Spanish savagery, the harshness of their labour, and suicide-inspiring depression. Those who remained alive quickly succumbed to European diseases they had not developed immunity to. Within ninety years of Columbus' arrival, there were no Lucayans left.


Patty said...

I, and others who live here in The Bahamas, do not and cannot believe that all Lucayan Taino were captured and taken away. There is compelling and tantalizing evidence otherwise. I would be interested in learning your sources that say they were all eradicated.

John den Boer said...

Hi Patty, thanks for your comment. I am definitely not an authority on the Lucayans and this is not an authoritive article on the topic. I sometimes find writing about topics I have little previous knowledge of to be a good exercise for my brain. I read an article from National Geographic a while back that I believe said something similar to what I'm saying, but I could not find the article (and my memory is not great). Perhaps you could share with me this evidence that there were survivors. I would love to read any information you have on your history.

Here is a list of some of the sources I used:
and wikipedia (I know, I know)

John den Boer said...

I hope someone isn't pulling my leg here.

Rachel said...

I don't know... "tantalizing evidence"? It sounds almost as sketchy as using Wikipedia for a reference.

John den Boer said...

Hey sister,
In my defence, wikipedia was a tertiary source.

Tantalizing evidence sounds delicious, doesn't it?

Who deh?