Historians have established levels of leadership: bands, tribes, chiefdoms. These levels range from the simplest up to the most complex position of power, with the greatest responsibility and status.
Historical evidence shows that at the time of their migration, the Archaics were probably bands (a small group of people from the same population). Later, the following group, the Agroalfareros (Agroceramic), were in the process of adapting to the environment and forming their own clans, possibly based on family ties, at the level of tribes, although there were various chiefdoms developing. It is theorized that the Ostionoids were Tainos at the tribal level. From a socioeconomic perspective, the rise of surplus production could lead to a transformation. As a result, individuals and family lines that previously had a certain prestige in the tribe could come to occupy the hierarchical position that led to chiefdoms.
Among the Tainos, the chiefdoms could have arisen as a result of progressive domination by a leader or a group of warriors who imposed themselves both through prestige and by force within their own group and among other populations, including neighboring islands. The rise of chiefdoms could have been the result of a complex historical process in which the prestige of a warrior took on more importance. During this process, various tribal groups were imposing themselves on the others on each island, leading to the formation of consolidated chiefdoms in relative peace.
In the Lesser Antilles, the Tainos achieved a complex society with a political, economic and ideological system that was somewhere between a tribe and a state. Property was still communal, though there was a clear social stratification and specialization in terms of labor. Once they developed better knowledge of climatology and agricultural techniques, the Tainos were able to produce more, which meant more power.
Once they acquired the knowledge of how to influence the environment in agriculture and how to accommodate the masses, they built large settlements and ceremonial plazas. This also led to a more hierarchical structure and humanization of the deities. Religion became more sophisticated and that was reflected in the ceremonies and in the creation of art objects.
The groups of related families formed into chiefdoms that were spread geographically across the islands. Taino society, as described by the Spanish chroniclers, consisted of the chiefs or caciques, nitainos, bohiques and naborias. The cacique was the maximum authority. Among his roles, the most prominent one was to direct and manage the process of production. The power of the cacique was based on the number of villages he controlled. Polygamy allowed the cacique to have women in different locations, thus extending his power.
In Puerto Rico, Spanish chronicler Fernández de Oviedo named six main rebel chiefs: Agüeybaná, Aymamón, Mabodomoca, Urayoán, Guarionex, and Luisa, with probably the same number of chiefdoms. Puerto Rican historian Cayetano Coll y Toste was able to establish nineteen chiefdoms on the island at the time of Columbus’ arrival in Puerto Rico. The caciques were selected by the maternal line.
As a symbol of his rank, the cacique wore a medallion of South American origin called a guanin, which was made of an alloy of gold and copper. This symbolized the first mythological Taino cacique, Anacacuya, signified by a bright star as the center or central spirit. In addition to the guanin, the cacique used other artifacts and adornments that served to identify him. Some examples are cotton tunics and feathers, crowns and masks of cotton with feathers, colored gems, shells or gold, woven cotton belts, and necklaces of shells or stones with gold or other materials.
The house or “caney” of the cacique served as a home and a temple. The cohoba ritual took place there and that was where the cemis were kept. The chroniclers said that the caney faced the ceremonial plaza. The Tainos believed that the established social hierarchy was based on the divine hierarchy. In turn, there was a progressive humanization of the supreme deities in the form of anthropomorphic characteristics as they were represented in the cemis.
Hereditary power ensured the cosmic equilibrium. The position was inherited by the first son of the oldest sister of the cacique, which guaranteed the same lineage. The hierarchical Taino social structure reflected the model society of the gods. The divine order could not be altered.
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