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Notes on Trade between the Taino and Mesoamerica:

Notes on Trade between the Taino and Mesoamerica:

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Published by guajataca
The issue of what was traded, and how, between the Taino and neighboring peoples is a
fascinating topic, because the goods exchanged and the mechanisms of trade can tell us so much about the culture and their society of the all the participants in this process.
The issue of what was traded, and how, between the Taino and neighboring peoples is a
fascinating topic, because the goods exchanged and the mechanisms of trade can tell us so much about the culture and their society of the all the participants in this process.

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Published by: guajataca on Aug 11, 2009
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12/06/2012

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Notes on Trade between the Taino and Mesoamerica:The Evidence
ByFrancisco J. Gonzalez
(original piece was posted on the official discussion group of Caney Indian Spiritual Circle,a spiritual community inspired by the ancient ways of theTaino Indians of the Caribbean.)http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sobaokokoromo2/message/3195The issue of what was traded, and how, between the Taino and neighboring peoples is afascinating topic, because the goods exchanged and the mechanisms of trade can tell usso much about the culture and their society of the all the participants in this process.I will be the first to admit to my limited knowledge of the Taino and their likely trade partners. However, I have examined the evidence at hand and research both what did theTaino IMPORTED and what did they EXPORTED to their neighbors.
Taino IMPORTS:
One of the facts that had baffled scientists trying to find proof of Taino-Mesoamericancontact is the absolute absence in the Taino islands of typical artifacts commonly foundacross Mesoamerican archaeological sites. The Maya, for example, exchanged fine painted ceramics, obsidian blades, cotton and feather-embroidered textiles, jade and evensome metal jewelry, salt and foodstuffs. See link below:
Seaborne coastal obsidian stone trade between Guatemala and Yucatan(in Spanish)
http://www.famsi.org/reports/95004es/index.htmlLogically the organic materials such as textiles would not survive in the tropical weather, but this does not explain why not a single ceramic bowl of Mesoamerican origin hasnever been found in the Taino lands.I think a partial response to this is that the Taino may simply had no need or desire for Maya/Mesoamerican ceramics. The Taino, as well all know, were master ceramiststhemselves, and perhaps they were not attracted to Maya pottery. Similarly, there isevidence that other people that did trade with the Maya and other Mesoamericanswere very particular about the products that they acquired, and also did not importMaya/Mesoamerican ceramics (see reference to the Anazasi/Hohokam below)So, the Taino must have traded exclusively on perishable organic goods and/or in rawmaterials that were then transformed into tools, jewelry, etc. following Taino, not1
 
Mesoamerican, patterns. The evidence is conclusive about the later: presence of Taino/Saladoid jewelry, celts, etc. made using Mesoamerican raw materials. However,the quantity is fairly small compared to the amount of jewelry, tools, etc. that were madeusing local materials. Then we must conclude that these imported materials were used tocraft special tools and jewelry, either for small elites or for specific religious practices,and not for every-day use by the general Taino population.Regarding the organic imports: honey and beeswax were, as mentioned already, observedfirst-hand by the Spanish in Cuba and even then identified as likely imports fromYucatan, so it is safe to conclude that these were indeed Mesoamerican/Mayan imports.See link below:
Maya beekeeping in Cozumel Island, off Yucatan.
http://www.famsi.org/reports/02016/index.htmlHowever, it is hard to envision that these were the only, or even the most important,organic products imported by the Taino. I think it is almost certain that leather and pelts(deer, jaguar, tapir, monkey and others) were imported by the Taino. Besides the small
 jutia
(rodent about the size of a modern domestic cat) and manatees, the islands of theCaribbean lacked large indigenous species of animals whose hides could be used to makeleather. Jaguar teeth were discovered at La Hueca in Vieques, and although these mostlikely came from South America as opposed to Mesoamerica, this is still evidence thatthe Taino/Arawak people did import these animal parts.The Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples were masters at the use of feathers in textilesand for adornment. The Spanish chroniclers do mention that the Taino, especially the
cacikes
(chieftains), wore colorful feather headdresses; the Mesoamerican mainland hadfar more species of birds with attractive feathers than were available in the Caribbeanislands, so it is likely that the Taino did imported these as ornaments.There have been finds of macaw feathers from southern Mexico and Mesoamericaimported by the Anazasi and Hohokam people of Arizona and New Mexico, so we knowfor a fact that these goods were traded across hundreds of miles in pre-conquest America.The Maya also produced colorful textiles for garments; while the Taino wore few clothes,they may had used the colorful Mesoamerican textiles for cemis, for adornment by elites,or for clothing worn by the common folk on special occasions. See link below:
 Analysis of Rare Textiles from Honduras Ruins Suggests Mayans Produced Fine Fabrics
Other products perhaps imported from Mesoamerica may include c
opal 
resin, used asincense; dyes and medicinal herbs.
Taino EXPORTS
While it is relatively easy to review the many products from the advanced civilizations of Mesoamerica that the Taino may find attractive, it is a bit harder to speculate on what2
 
 products would the sophisticated Maya, Aztecs and Totonacas may want or need from theTaino
 
lands.The Maya and other Central American peoples most likely first received food stuffs likeyucca/manioc from the Taino lands, but there is no evidence that they imported these products in large quantities. Instead, the recent discoveries in El Salvador show thatthe Maya grew their own yucca after learning how to cultivate the plant.The Taino were skilled weavers of cotton, and surviving examples of their art gives us anidea of the quality of their work. See link below:http://www.elmuseo.org/taino/zemi.htmlThe Mesoamericans may have imported these to supplement their own production of cotton textiles, or to be used by the non-elite population. A modern recent example of thistype of trade would be the 19th century trade between the English and the AshantiKingdoms of West Africa, in which cheap cotton textiles manufactured in England werehighly valued and traded for gold and slaves, even though the Ashanti themselves produced their own textiles and also obtained other kinds of textiles from neighboringAfrican nations.Another Taino export could be raw (not worked) gold. The Spanish found that the Tainowere panning for gold in Kiskeya-Dominican Republic and Boriken-Puerto Rico, whichthe Taino then worked into adornments for elites and to add to sacred objects such asdujos and some of the cotton cemis. The Maya and other Mesoamericans also valued goldto be used in jewelry. It is my understanding that gold and other metals such as copper  became more important commodities during the Post-Classic period amongst the Mayaand also for the Aztecs and other later Mesoamerican peoples.There is evidence that South American gold artifacts were imported into Mesoamerica as part of a well-developed seaborne trade route along the Pacific coastline. See link below:
Oceangoing sailing rafts plied the waters of the equatorial Pacific
http://www.innovations-report.de/html/berichte/verkehr_logistik/bericht-105942.htmlThere are few, if any, native gold deposits in Yucatan and most of the Maya lands, so goldhad to be imported form what is now central Mexico or elsewhere. Perhaps the Mayaimported raw gold nuggets from the Taino lands, which then they crafted into objects ontheir own. This would also explain the absence of a single Taino made piece of jewelry inMesoamerica.Other types of goods that perhaps were imported by the Mesoamericans may include seaanimal parts used for adornments and for ritual purposes. The Mesoamericans, speciallythe Maya, used stingray spines and shark and barracuda teeth in bloodletting ceremonies;shark teeth were also popular adornments to be used in jewelry. While the Maya, of course, lived next to the Caribbean Sea and had direct access to the same marine speciesof sharks, etc that the Taino captured; it seems that, at least until the Late Classic and3

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thank you for the information. It helped my daughter with caribbean history a lot. Thank you.
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