Op-Ed: As Taino We Must Combat Misinformation

by Domingo Turey Hernandez

I viewed on a public access channel recently, a program called "Visions of Puerto Rico." Rita Moreno read the script which included mistakes like, "El Yunke in Taino means Land of the Happy Spirit." This "translation" is not even close! Ms. Moreno then goes on to read the Yunke was considered sacred land to the Tainos. So what about the daily ceremonies that still take place there? Not only by Taino but by people of all colors who are espiritistas, curanderos, Santeros etc. El Yunke is still sacred ceremonial land.

The script also said that the palm trees so abundant on the island were not native to Boriken but was brought over from the Canary islands. This is lazy, lazy research!

There are many varieties of palm trees. While there is debate over whether the coconut palm tree was native to the islands of the Americas, the royal palms which grow taller then the coconut palm tree are indigenous to the islands. The royal palm was used for building bohios, canoas, macanas and the giant pilons used for mashing corn.

These types of corrections may sound petty but misinformation like this has been quoted as truth to say the Taino is no more. We have all heard that it is written that when Taino slavery was abolished, the notice was read in a San Juan plaza and only 60 Indians were there in the whole island to benefit from it. It seems some have forgotten that back in the 1500s Puerto Rico was the name given to the small island that today we call "el viejo San Juan". The Island as a whole was called San Juan Bautista. It was later because of a map maker's mistake that the names were interchanged. The name San Juan was given to the small "isleta" where the walled city was built and Puerto Rico for the rest of the larger island. So what the historian is saying is that when the Taino were liberated, there were only 60 enslaved Indians on the isleta which was then called Puerto Rico. Due to this misunderstanding people today say there were only
60 Indians left in the whole of Puerto Rico in the late 1500s.

People read books or see programs like "Visions of Puerto Rico" and it becomes their truth. As Taino we must write, paint, sing and document our survival. We can not expect it to be done for us. We must watch everything written or created about us and give quick feedback so that our young ones are not misinformed.

For example two books that recently upset me are one that suggests the Taino are Chinese because of the possibility the Chinese ships may have visited 50 years before Colon and another that claims the Taino are African because of possible contact with Africans.

Why can't the Taino be just that? Why does some other group have to be given the credit for what our ancestors created? Even if my great grandmothers loved some Chinese or African sailors, they had a strong and powerful culture that could stand on its own.

Further, no matter who came, our people were the majority for many years after contact. That is what the DNA studies show, that even after 500 years of massive immigration to our island by people from all over the planet; the Native blood is still the majority.

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