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Leo Rosales, Dominic Roser, Ben Magalnick, Ian Schiller

Mr. Wentzel Period 1


The Arawaks
The Arawak were a pre-Columbian civilization of the Caribbean and South America. The most well known Arawak
tribe, the Tainos were the first American Indians that Columbus encountered on his expedition to America.

Area/Geography: ​At their peak, the Arawak lived throughout Northeastern South America, the Greater Antilles
(Hispaniola, Cuba, Bahamas, etc.) and the Lesser Antilles (until they were forced out by the Caribs). (Source 4)

Migration: ​The first Arawaks inhabited Northeastern South America, while some Arawaks migrated to Cuba and
Hispaniola, around 2300 BCE. The most notable tribe, the Tainos, began migrating to the Lesser Antilles around
200 BCE. (Source 7)

Time period:​ The Arawaks emerged around 2500 B.C.E, and Columbus encountered the Tainos in 1492 on
Hispaniola. While many tribes were decimated by disease and massacre, they still exist today in small groups in
Northeastern South America. (Source 2, 3, 4, 5)

Language:​ Lokono Dian (Northeast South American Arawakan Language), is spoken today, but mainly by
Arawakan elders and adults indicating that their language is becoming extinct. This language was not the same
language that the Caribbean Island Arawak spoke and was "no more alike than, say, French and English" (Gale 1).
Furthermore, there was no known writing system for either language. (Source 1)

Social Hierarchy:​ ​The Arawak had a strict social ​hierarchy​. ​At the top of the pyramid were the ​caciques​ who could
either be men or women and were the leaders of one of the five sub-groups of the Arawak. They resided in large
rectangular houses, and each could have up to 30 spouses. At the next level were the ​bohiques ​(Arawakan priests)
who communicated with the ​zemi ​during religious rituals and ceremonies. Further down the pyramid were the
naborias ​who were the professional warriors, and at the lowest level were the ​naborias, ​the working class of each
sub-group. The​ naborias​ did the bulk of hard laborious tasks, such as farming or fishing to help their civilization
thrive. (Source 3)

Government:​ The Arawaks had leaders called ​caciques​ who ruled different Arawak sub-groups. ​Caciques ​were
similar to tribal chiefs and were always regarded with honor. The ​caciques​ lived in rectangular houses that had
hearths in the center, as opposed to round teepee-like dwellings. (Source 4)

Religion​: The Arawaks didn’t have a name for their religion, but they worshiped gods called the ​zemi​. The ​zemi​ all
controlled different parts of the universe. Religion was a large part of Arawak society, and there were many religious
ceremonies throughout one’s life. There were priests called ​bohiques ​who helped people worship the ​zemi​. Religious
rituals included dressing up with shells from the waist down, women baking bread to serve the ​zemi ​and ​caciques,
and shamans presenting carved statues of ​zemi​ to the ​zemi​. These religious ceremonies were held in a central court.
(Source 1, 7)

Art:​ The Arawak’s most common art form was pottery and woodcarving. They also carved stones into ​zemi s​ tatues,
which have been found around present-day Haiti. The Arawaks also made elaborate clothing for religious
ceremonies which they decorated with shells, paint and feathers. Lastly, in their day-to-day life, they wore
accessories made of shells, bones and wood. (Source 5)

Artifacts and Archaeology:​ Many Arawak tribes carved depictions of noble acts and everyday life into stone, some
dating back to 600 A.D. These carvings varied from faces of chieftains to those of daily activities. Other carving
examples include children playing games and certain foods that the tribes ate. Also, many rings embedded with
stones were discovered and thought to be used for games, religious ceremonies, dances, or to tell stories. (Source 1,

Agriculture:​ There was minimal wildlife on the islands, so Arawaks relied on agriculture and fishing for food. They
planted crops such as cassava, a potato-like food ground up to make bread, as well as beans, pepper, peanuts, and in
some areas, corn. They planted these in ​conucos​, plant beds packed with leaves to provide extra nutrients and to
keep the soil together. (Source 2)

1) Gale, Thomson. “Caribbean Religions: Pre-Columbian Religions.” ​The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed​,, 2005,
2) “Pre-Columbian Hispaniola - Arawak/Taino Indians.” ​Pre-Columbian Hispaniola - Arawak/Taino Indians​,
3) History of the Arawak Amerindians, Taino Religion Technology and Culture.” ​History of the Arawak
Amerindians, Taino Religion Technology and Culture.​, Carriacou.
4) “Arawak Indian Fact Sheet.” ​Facts for Kids: Cherokee Indians (Cherokees)​,
5) Juliao, David. “Arawak Peoples: Culture, Art & Religion.” ​​,,
6) Lee, Alfonso Silva. “Cuban Fauna Past.” ​Cuba Heritage .Org ​,
7) “Arawak and Taino.” ​Caribya​,
8) “Arawak Indian Language (Lokono, Arawaks).” ​Native Languages​,