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Culture

14 Taíno Words You Didn’t Even Realize You Knew

Taíno is an Arawakan language spoken by the Taíno, Ciboney, Lucayan, and Yamaye peoples of what is now Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and across the Caribbean. It was the first Indigenous language encountered by European colonizers, so it’s no surprise that many Taíno words made it into European languages. These same words, sometimes changed up a bit with time, are still present in the English and/or Spanish languages. You would be surprised to know the number of words you say every day that are actually Taíno in origin.

This is why we have to learn our history and recognize how much of our culture is in fact Indigenous. We have to work to keep Indigenous languages alive and healthy (so many are extinct, in danger of extinction, and many are currently being revived), to encourage Latinxs to learn these languages in order to connect with our Indigenous roots and identities. Here are 14 Taíno words you actually already know. Pass on the knowledge!

Boricua

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Good morning familia! I have no words that describes what joy my heart feels with the unity of our people. I always hoped that in my life time I would be here to witness this! Mi gente los amo a todos de corazón ! Boricua hasta la muerte! ✊🏼✊🏿✊🏽✊🏾✊🏻 🇵🇷 We must continue to put pressure on all fronts including the removal of many still in office. We must stay committed to the rallys at the courts. They are trying to choke us with laws that only benefit wall street with a debt we had nothing to do with. Our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren should not be held to pay a debt that was obtained by corruption from political parties that lined their own pockets at the expense of our people. A debt that was NEVER audited. Stay firm in your conviction to see this through. There’s a debt hearing this Wednesday 7/24 on the island and will be streamed live to NYC Federal House 500 Pearl Street 9am court time 11:30 rally time. Remember to always respect, love and have compassion for our brothers and sisters. One People, One Patria !!!! #borikén #puertorico #puertorican #puertorro #boricua #hastalamuerte #taino #coqui #isladelencanto #iwasntborninpr #prwasborninme #unapologeticallyrican

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The first Taíno word you know is Boricua (a.k.a. Borinqueño or Borincano). It is a term that Puerto Ricans use to describe themselves and it comes from the Taíno word Borike’n (a.k.a Borinquen), which means “the great land of the valiant and noble Lord.”

Canoa/Canoe

A canoe is a boat that is pointed on both sides and is propelled by someone paddling with a paddle. But did you know that this word actually comes from the Taíno language? Canoe comes from the Taíno word canoa, which described boats used in the area where Columbus arrived to. He noted the word.

Barbacoa/Barbecue

Barbecue may be a big thing in places like Texas and Kansas City, but the name and delicious practice are all Indigenous/ Caribbean in origin. The Arawaks used the word barabicu, meaning “sacred fire pit,” to describe how they cooked foods over a fire. The word barabicu became barbacoa, when then became barbecue and BBQ.

Hamaca/Hammock

The cozy hammock, perfect for chillin’ on a lazy sunny summer day, is another thing that we can thank the Taíno people for. They used hammocks, called hamacas, to sleep in. The term means “stretch of cloth” in Haitian Arawak. We still use this exact term in Spanish to describe these leisurely beds.

Papaya

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P A P A Y A ✨☄️ Do you like Papayas? I love them! Especially when they are ripe and juicy. After reading this you may consider eating them more often 🙈 They contain an enzyme called papain that aids digestion. Papaya is also high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract. The fiber, potassium and vitamin content in papaya all help to ward off heart disease. Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C and one single medium fruit provides 224% of recommended daily intake. Consuming the antioxidants beta-carotene, found in papayas, may reduce cancer risk. Papaya is also great for hair because it contains vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production, which keeps hair moisturized. When used topically, mashed papaya appears to be beneficial for promoting wound healing and preventing infection of burned areas. 🧖🏽‍♀️✨ . . . #papaya #papayafruit #healthbenefits #healthy #holistic #breakfast #juicy #loveit #foodie #amazing #fruits #plantbased #plants #goodforyou #healthybody #enjoy #nature #fruitsnacks #sogood #yummy #yummyfood

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Next time you go to the grocery store, you’ll know that there are different fruits that you’ll see there that have Taino names. One such fruit is the papaya. Its name is Taino, and the fruit was brought to the area by Taino ancestors.

Iguana

Once you start to identify Spanish words that are actually Indigenous in origin, you will see how they stand out among other Spanish terms. Like the word iguana. It too is a word that is Taíno in origin and comes from the Taíno word iwana.

Maiz/Maize

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There are a few words that we are taught that are American Indian in origin. Like the term maize or maiz. Used to describe corn, the word maize comes from the Taíno words mahisi or mahis, which come from the Proto-Arawak term mariki.

Tiburón

Before it was part of a Proyecto Uno song that had us running to the dancefloor (shout out to “El Tiburon!”), we used tiburon to describe a shark, of course. The word actually comes from the Taíno language and it’s one of the Taíno words that we absorbed into Spanish, intact.

Hurricane/Huracan

The story behind the word hurricane is a cool one. The word to describe a tropical storm with winds over 75 mph comes from the Spanish word huracan, which is Taíno in origin. Hurakán (a.k.a. Juracan in Spanish, phonetically) was who the Taíno, Island Carib, and other Caribbean Arawak people believed to be the god of the storm. Other sources say it means god of evil. There are those who also trace the name Huracan to the Mayan god of the storm/wind/fire and part of creation.

Yuca/Cassava

The cassava (a.k.a yuca) was a big crop for the Taíno people. They used it to make bread and it is said that when Columbus and the Spanish explorers saw that this flatbread didn’t mold or go stale, they took the cassava root with them around the continent.

Tuna

We use the word tuna to describe a type of fish but it is also a Spanish word to describe prickly pear and its fruit. This term tuna comes from the same word in Taíno.

Colibri

Colibri is the Spanish word for the hummingbird. The term comes from the Taíno Colibri; the Taino people regarded the hummingbird as a sacred symbol.

Tabaco/Tobacco

The Spanish tobacco and English tobacco are both words that come from Taíno. They are derived from the Taíno word tabako, which was used to describe the dried leaves rolled up into a tube-shaped cigar, as well as a Y-shaped pipe used to inhale snuff powder during ceremonies.

Guanábana

The Spanish word for soursop comes from the Taíno word wanaban. Now you know that you know at least 14 words in the Indigenous Taíno language. How cool is that?