Taino People: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Taino people of the Caribbean were the first native Americans encountered by Christopher Columbus on his journey to the New World. Learn about their culture and history in this lesson.

Meet the Taino

Everyone remembers that Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492, and most people probably remember that his ships were the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But can you remember the people that Columbus met when he landed on the first islands of the Caribbean?

The first natives he met (whom he thought were Indians, since he had no idea the Americas existed) were the Taino people. We know about them because of the records left by Columbus and the Spanish, although these people were almost totally destroyed by European colonization, or the takeover and control of another country.

Painting of Columbus landing in the New World, with Taino people on the left
Taino people

Becoming a People

We know very little about the Taino people prior to Columbus's voyages because they had no written histories. However, we do know that they had been in the Caribbean for a long while before Europeans showed up.

The earliest Taino people came to the biggest islands like Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico around 2,400 years ago. They had an organized society to help meet their needs, growing corn, beans, sweet potatoes, and a plant called yuca to feed themselves.

Taino wood carving
Taino art

The Taino had religious beliefs and understood how to travel across the sea, building huge canoes that could fit 100 people. Before Columbus showed up, some three million might have lived in the Caribbean.

Some Taino artwork has survived through the centuries. They made pottery, created belts from cotton (although Columbus recorded them as going around naked), and carved images out of stone, wood, and bone. They also used rubber to make a ball for sports, which fascinated Columbus when he first saw it. Europeans were impressed by their lack of any weapons, although the Taino had figured out how to make pepper gas from spicy chilis!

First Contact

Although they didn't know it, Taino culture would change forever in 1492 when Columbus arrived. They were very friendly, and Columbus noted that there was no opposition to him. They were very eager to trade, giving up valuables like jewelry and even parrots! He also noted they were strong and thought they would work hard as servants, an indication of their future under European rule.

Photo of reconstructed Taino village
Taino village

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