Today, Wednesday, May 5, 2010, is being observed as Taino Day in Jamaica, a day to celebrate the lives of the Tainos as the first Jamaicans.
This day was initially observed as Encounter Day, to commemorate the meeting of the cultures that Columbus’ landing at Discovery Bay, St. Ann on Monday, May 5, 1494 represented. But not many people liked it as a day to remember or saw it romantically as a “meeting of the cultures.” Why should we commemorate the beginning of the extinction of a whole race of people by another? It’s tantamount to celebrating the war that was the Rwandan genocide not too long ago!
So initially Encounter Day was observed to commemorate the meeting of the Taino and Spanish cultures. Then there was a switch to Taino Day with the first Taino Day observed in 2007.
What were the Reasons for the Switch from Encounter Day to Taino Day?
Prof. Verene Shepherd, professor of social history and once chairman of the board of directors of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), highlighted the following reasons for the switch in a paper titled “Why Taino Day?”
1. To publicly celebrate the lives of the early Jamaicans, who often get left out of annual cultural celebrations and who have no major monument to mark their presence.
2. To concretise in the minds of our young people the fact that Jamaica and the wider Caribbean was populated before Columbus’s arrival/invasion of the region, which is conservatively estimated to number 60,000 to 1 million people in 1494.
3. To teach students and the general public about the reasons for the disappearance of the Taino civilization as a result of the Spanish atrocities against them.
4. To celebrate the lives and experiences of the Tainos as they lived it before 1492. This came out of the concern that the “meeting of the cultures” emphasised by Encounter Day disregarded the fact that the Tainos existed before Columbus invaded the Caribbean. As Prof. Shepherd puts it: “…this emphasis on several cultures … did not allow for a proper focus on the rich culture [of the Tainos] – the lives and experiences of those who existed in that space before 1492.”
So Jamaican Echoes fans let us not forget the Tainos as they were the former inhabitants of this country, Jamaica Land We Love, who left loud echoes of their existence, in the form of archaeological remains. Indeed, their former existence is symbolically represented in our Jamaican Coat of Arms with the quite suitable motto “Out of Many, One People.”
Their historical echoes reverberates daily in 21st century Jamaica.
Until next time…
Black, Clinton V. (1983) History of Jamaica. UK: Longman Caribbean Publishing.
Rouse, Irving (1992) The Tainos: Rise & Decline of the People who Greeted Columbus. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Shepherd, Prof. Verene (2010) Why Taino Day. [Online] Available from: http://www.jnht.com/download/why_taino.pdf. [Accessed on 5 May 2010].