The perils of human genomics

By Razib Khan | October 25, 2011 1:45 pm

A friend pointed me to the heated comment section of this article in Nature, Rebuilding the genome of a hidden ethnicity. The issue is that Nature originally stated that the Taino, the native people of Puerto Rico, were extinct. That resulted in an avalanche of angry comments, which one of the researchers, Carlos Bustamante, felt he had to address. Eventually Nature updated their text:

CORRECTED: This article originally stated that the Taíno were extinct, which is incorrect. Nature apologizes for the offence caused, and has corrected the text to better explain the research project described.

Here’s Wikipedia on the Taino today:

Heritage groups, such as the Jatibonicu Taíno Tribal Nation of Boriken, Puerto Rico (1970), the Taíno Nation of the Antilles (1993), the United Confederation of Taíno People (1998) and El Pueblo Guatu Ma-Cu A Boriken Puerto Rico (2000), have been established to foster Taíno culture. However, it is controversial as to whether these Heritage Groups represent Taíno Culture accurately as some Taino groups are known to ‘adopt’ other native traditions (mainly North American Indian). Many aspects of Taino culture has been lost to time and or blended with Spaniard and African culture on the Caribbean Islands. Peoples who claim to be of native descent in the islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Eastern Cuba attempt to maintain some form of cultural connection with their historic identities. Antonio de Moya, a Dominican educator, wrote in 1993, “the [Indian] genocide is the big lie of our history… the Dominican Taínos continue to live, 500 years after European contact.”

One of the ways that Taino activists now use to strengthen interest and identity is by the creation of two unique scripts. The scripts are used to write Spanish, not a retained language from pre-Columbian ancestors. The organization Guaka-kú teaches and uses their script among their own members, but the LGTK (Liga Guakía Taína-ké) has promoted their script among elementary and middle school students to strengthen their interest in Taino identity.

It is undeniable that the Amerindian ancestry found in the Caribbean probably derives from that pre-Columbian population. And it may be that there are cultural forms which exhibit unbroken continuity. But it seems that the modern Taino are a re-precipitation out of a cultural milieu whose Amerindian self-identity had gone extinct. By analogy, Argentines have about the same proportion of Amerindian ancestry as Puerto Ricans on a population-wide basis. In fact, over 90% of the Amerindian distinctive ancestry in Argentina is not found in self-identified Amerindians (who do continue to exist as a minority, especially in the South). But to my knowledge for various cultural reasons there has not been a groundswell to shift the Argentine self-conception from being a European settler nation to a mestizo nation, let alone individuals declaring themselves Amerindian.

In comparison to the possibilities which are opened up in this case, the issue of Aboriginal genomics looks rather cut & dried. I suppose we would laugh if some people decided to “reclaim” their Neandertal heritage, but there’s a huge corpus of paleoanthropological scholarship which these individuals could draw upon to reconstruct their identities as Neandertals. It might sound ludicrous, but this is a world where a lot happens that you wouldn’t expect.

  • http://www.usmc.org/7th/ Mustapha Mond

    “there’s a huge corpus of paleoanthropological scholarship which these individuals could draw upon to reconstruct their identities as Neandertals.”

    Kewl! Let’s start by organizing bull elephant and brown bear hunts using only authentic Neanderthal weapons. I’d definitely be up to watch some of that action on HDTV. It would beat Terra Nova all to hell.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    A better analogy, perhaps would be neo-paganism.

    Undoubtedly, almost all indigeneous Europeans (except the Basque and some Altaic descent individuals with animistic roots) have ancestors who once adhered to Indo-European pagan traditions that survived continously living form today almost among Hindus and a few Mari Mountain people in Russia. Much of the pagan tradition was documented in writing, but abandoned.

    But, almost all modern pagans retrace their religious roots to a 19th century (and subsquent) revivals of that tradition, whose practices are only a shadow of their source.

    Pre-Indo-European pagan traditions are even more completely lost. We have only the vaguest ideas concerning what Minoan or Vinca religions involved.

    But, surely those who currently attempt to practice in those traditions would object strenuously to the claim that paganism was extinct.

  • pconroy

    @Razib,
    Yeah, I knew a guy who claimed to be Taino, and was married to a SWPL girl I knew years ago. She was gushing over his native roots, and that their kids would be part Native American. Then he showed me a Dream Catcher that he had purchased and placed in a position of honor in their living room. But of course Dream Catcher’s are part of the cultural traditions of the Ojibwa of Canada and the North Central US, not the Caribbean islands?!

    @2,
    Yes, it’s especially ironic that England has “Druids” – of Anglo-Saxon descent – who practice their Druid rituals at Stonehenge – which of course is pre-Indo-European, and proabaly pre-Old-European (as defined by Marita Gimbutas)…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #2, i was going to point to neo-paganism. the mari are uralic btw. and one quibble i would have is that modern hinduism, like greco-roman religion, are strongly shaped by non-indo-european influences. of the greek gods zeus is the only who which is unequivocally indo-european, and some like artemisis have clear non-indo-european (in her case, semitic) cognates. one can suggest the same for hinduism, which has indo-european roots, but was almost certainly shaped by the indigenous religious substrate. some have made the case that shramanic, and later puranic, traditions point to the ultimate triumph of the non-aryan aspects of indian spirituality. rather than, there is one group which is indo-european in religion in totality. for now. the kafir kalash.

  • http://sidudoexisto.blogspot.com Jorge Laris

    It is absurd to state that a culture is extinct because there are no “pure” cultures nor they are static; further more, they are constantly “breading” with each other, interchanging ideas and forming new ones. Obviously there are some times when a culture is dramatically shifted and changed and forms an apparently “completely” new culture, witch may be apparently so, but it will still hug some characteristics of the predecessor culture.

    Or so am I thinking now.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    It is absurd to state that a culture is extinct because there are no “pure” cultures nor they are static

    who stated this?

  • Dallas

    “In fact, over 90% of the Amerindian distinctive ancestry in Argentina is not found in self-identified Amerindians (who do continue to exist as a minority, especially in the South).”

    I find this statement interesting but a little confusing. Would you mind providing a source (I trust what you’re saying, I’m just looking for a bit more detail)?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • Onur

    The modern “Taino” identity is nothing but a completely modern fashion that is the result of the birth of a third world style nationalism among some lower class people from the Caribbean islands during the last few decades and thus has no connection to the actual Taino identity, which became extinct soon after the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean islands and the ensuing racial mixing (including African slaves) and the total replacement of the original Taino religion and language by Christianity and the Spanish language respectively. I deplore Mr. Bustamante and Ms. Young for bowing to the pressure of the lies of a small but well-organized bunch of “Taino identity activists”, who spread a lot of disinformation about the Taino identity, language and religion, and thus for laying down their scientific integrity.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    onur,

    i’d be willing to be that these aren’t lower class people. do you want to take that bet? if not, you should be careful about generalizing about that sort of issue. i probably lean toward your own position, but let’s be honest, we’re not in their position. and i also believe there are shades of gray here.

  • Onur

    i’d be willing to bet that these aren’t lower class people.

    I used the term lower class in a broad sense here using only a two-class class system: so the middle classes are shared between the lower and higher classes. But not all “Taino identity activists” have to be from the lower classes even according to this class system.

  • bob sykes

    Dienekes has it right. The Taino culture/population is extinct, although some Taino genes and practices survive. Claiming to be Taino has certain legal, economic and social advantages, and so some people will fight to establish what is a bogus status.

  • Onur

    I probably have much more Greek origin than those “Taino identity activists” have Taino origin, but still I don’t claim to be Greek. Those “activists” should stop spreading lies and be honest to themselves and others.

  • Jason Malloy

    This month’s Smithsonian had an article on this very question, although the journalist author doesn’t really seem to know how to adequately answer it. He focuses on genes and cultural traits, but an ethnicity is, more importantly, a shared sense of peoplehood (“fictive kinship”). The historical continuity of that identity seems to be the most salient issue. And the people in that article who share the most genes and traditions with the historical Taino, also seem to be the ones with the least sense of historical peoplehood (compare the eastern Cuban Indian with a son named Vladimir Lenin, and the “Taino” activist who was raised in New York).

  • http://www.centrelink.org/EstevezCronos.html Jorge Baracutei Estevez

    With all due respect to the other posters, this issue of Taino identity is not as simplistic as it seems. People identifying with Indigenous ancestry has been going on in the Caribbean for a long time. Way before genetic testing revealed that Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans (thus far) do indeed have substantial amounts of Native American ancestry, people in remote regions always maintained a connection to their indigenous ancestry. One study in Puerto Rico revealed that 61% of the population has Native ancestry. Another study in the Dominican Republic showed that 39% out of a population of 12 Million also has native mtdna. It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that one cannot have such high numbers of people with Native ancestry, and the population be unaware of it. Linguists such as Julian Granberry have shown that up to 3200 words of Taino extraction exist within the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean. This includes place names, common everyday words, the names of rivers, flora and fauna, etc etc. Dominican researcher Bernardo Vega, not an Indigenista by any measure, demonstrated that Taino material culture is every were in the Dominican Republic, this includes religiosity, language, basket making, canoes making, Casabe and Guayiga bread making, planting ways, etc
    As for the advantage of claiming Taino ancestry versus say claiming Spanish descent, I fail to see who, how and when this has taken place. One can speculate about such things, but no one can demonstrate that this is taking place or has taken place. Pride in ones ancestors is neither new nor uncommon anywhere in the world. Historically all over Latin America, including Argentina, people have found it advantageous to identify with the Spanish, hence you have a country like the Dominican Republic where there is substantial African and Native American ancestry and yet officially we see ourselves as a “white” nation. DNA has simply confirmed claims, opened eyes to realities and offered us an honest exploration of our history.
    Please visit the following site: http://www.centrelink.org/EstevezCronos.html
    Thank you
    Jorge Baracutei Estevez (Taino)

  • Kolibri Carrillo

    The more I read about this topic, the more I am compeled to address this issue of the so called Taino extinction. I am Taino by blood and culture. I do not need a DNA test nor recognition from any faction political or cultural. I am not from a poor or disadvantage life, I am educated and do not need any financial assistance from government as reparation. I am retired from a government agency in NYC and on full pension. I pay taxes like everyone else. Why do I identify myself to the indigenous culture of my home island called Boriken (Puerto Rico)? My mother’s birth certificate says so. Why do I claim to be of both indigenous culture of the caribbean? I am Taino and Carib because my Mother told me so. I do not need the smithsonian study or the speculations of scientist to tell me who I am. I do not need a card from my country’s government to tell me who I am. I am Taino and Caribe mixed with Spanish. Thus I am mestizo like my own Mother. My post here does not come from a need to have some form of identity, I am an American; born and raised in the United States of America. That is my citizenship. I am a Taino and Carib woman, that is my identity. I am not looking for any social or economic advantage at claiming my identity as Taino. I do not need anyone’s approval to know who I am. Mr. Onur whoever you are, I am not a Taino identity activist. I am Kolibri Carrillo daughter of a Taino/Carib woman. I am entitled to self identity.

  • Maurice Travers

    Sirs

    I am one of those so called “taino ” activists whose lies onur goes on about . I am a white anglo / saxon british male who is blessed to be friends with many of these “extinct ” people . Dr Bustamente and the authour of the article graciously admitted that they had made an error of Judgement when presented with facts that dispelled the Columbian myth of extinction . For the information of onur a study carried out over a wide spectrum of inhabitants of Boriken (Puerto Rico ) in a sample of 700 61% showed Mitrochrondial DNA indicating Amerindian (Taino ) decendency The reasearch was carried out by prof Vasesquez of the university there as to the fact that he claims greek origin he should read his history the Greeks are extinct as is every other race in this world .There is no pure anyone left today . I am minded to remind Everyone here of a greeting used by the Lakota soiux Tribe of North america .

    Miyakuye Oyasin WE ARE ALL RELATED

    Blessings to all

    M

  • Charles Nydorf

    Carlos Bustamente agrees that the Taino are alive.

  • omar

    The Kalash may not be around too long: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/20/us-pakistan-kalash-idUSTRE79J0TE20111020

    They survived very well for the first 60 years of being Pakistani, but pressure is starting to build and in this sort of case, I would be more hopeful if the rest of the country was rich and prosperous and therefore likely to go to the trouble of preserving a kind of living museum in some picturesque valleys “up north”…that is not the case in Pakistan, so pressure to change is likely to build up, even if the taliban dont run riot.
    The Afghans wiped out the “Kaafirs” on their side (in Nuristan) in one go in the late 19th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuristan_Province). Such an operation is unlikely while Pakistani forces still control the region but one can imagine scenarios where the larger region falls under Taliban rule, in which case the demise of this “last remaining pagan culture” may be more rapid.

  • http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    #4, I fully agree with you Razib on each of your points, my sentence construction was a bit sloppy and implied more than it should have, but of course you are correct.

    Also, just to be clear, I don’t want to suggest that it is necessarily wrong to reincarnate an extinct culture so long as you are honest about what you are doing (at least to yourself – publicly keeping the faith and asserting the truth of continuities and doctrines even if you know them to be false may be a social necessity if a cultural reincarnation project is to succeed).

    Israel’s resurrection of Hebrew to make it a living language rather than a liturgical one is a triumph of human achievement that has served to turn what could have been a salad bowl culture into a mixing pot.

    The Freemasons did a lot of worthwhile things, including spearheading the American Revolution and protecting the fragile European enlightenment that aren’t detracted from by a bit of fun and games with a historical gloss. It is probably more honorable to at least attempt to look for some sort of made up symbolic connection to the ancient past that honors that (the Boy Scouts used to do some of the same thing without pretending that the connection was anything more than inspired by a non-existent connection to ancient history by citing ancient sources for their mottos and laws and oaths) than to take the approach of fundamentalist Christians who take the position that everything that happened in Christianity that escaped the Biblical canon or happened from the completion of Revelations to the 19th century is irrelevant.

    The fact that Christianity borrowed copiously from Judaism, the cult of Minerva, Platonic philosophy, Zoroastrian philosophy and several other identifiable sources (and probably more obscure to history) didn’t make Christianity a contrived faith or prevent it from serving its essential purpose of providing islands of literacy and civilization during the dark ages after Rome fell or of unifying and legitimatizing Christendom in Europe politically during a political vacuum.

    Likewise, the fact that Judaism itself borrowed wholesale from some Mesopotamian myths and basically retconned the history of the world pre-iron age into its sacred narrative, doesn’t mean that Judiasm is empty or false or affected for its modern practitioners. Who cares that the Moses birth story almost exactly parallels the earlier birth story (almost surely intended to be allegoral for its initial audience) of a Sumerian King? Religion and stories are partially about conveying meaning and emotion, rather than simply being dry historical chronicles of events, and that’s fine as long as you don’t try to reply of them to tell a factually accurate story or one that captures the sense of the time it recounts as oppose to the time when it was written.

    Even Mormons, the ultimate “fake” religion have managed to develop a reasonable vital culture and functioning community for its members – arguably the only really successful mass counterculture in America of its scale. The arbor upon which its society was conceived may have been rotten, but the plant that grew around it and bound it in place is alive and well.

    If the Taino can make a vital cultural identity and construct of the seeds of pre-Columbian practice and current sensibilities that they can cobble together and make something that feels right and sincere and create a functioning ethnic community from those seeds, more power to them, even if Taino 2.0 isn’t in full continuity with Taino 1.0. What they are doing now really isn’t all that different from what nationalist movements did to give meat and defintion to ethnic identities in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, without which there would be not be ethnicities including “German” or “Italian” or “Finn” or “Czech” as such today, even though people who currently carry those lables would share some ill defined cultural legacies. While those national identities may have spawned horrible interaction wars, they also provided a foundation upon which domestic societal cohesion could be built.

  • Onur

    Carlos Bustamente agrees that the Taino are alive.

    He apparently does not know much about Taino. I have just sent him an objection email and explained to him why he is wrong in trusting the “Taino identity activists”. I also sent an objection email to the Nature editorial stuff.

  • Onur

    If the Taino can make…

    There is no Taino today.

    What they are doing now really isn’t all that different from what nationalist movements did to give meat and defintion to ethnic identities in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, without which there would be not such ethnicity as a German or Italian or Finn or Czech as such, even though people who currently carry those lables would share some ill defined cultural legacies.

    Each one of those ethnic identities are based upon the adhesive nature of distinct languages, religions and/or countries. In the case of the modern “Taino” identity there is no such thing; it is completely artificial.

  • Onur

    I also sent an objection email to the Nature editorial stuff.

    I also sent an objection email to the Nature editorial staff.

  • Maurice Travers

    @onur

    Professor Bustamente obviously knows far more about the Taino people than you do. You come at this from the same perspective of the “Doctrine of Discovery” It is obvious to me from your rantings that you have not studied any of the data that has been presented to dispel the extinction myth nor read any of the vast array of historical writing by many eminent anthropologists of both European and American indian disciplines. I can provide you with a long list of research if you are really interested in finding out the Truth and I would suggest that you start with the accounts of the voyages of Columbus and the journal of Fray Pane also you should check the census recocord for the Island of Boriken from 1700 to the present day when you have done all this reasearch then come back and explain to me why you believe that the Taino people are extinct . I will then listen to your “facts ” and discuss this properly . Until that time you will remain a bigot that supports the Columbus theories that have been discredited buy so many eminent historians and anthropologists Including Prof Bustamente

  • Josh L

    As a Puertorican myself, and being familiar with Puertorican culture, I would say the way Puertoricans predominantly see their identity today is as a tripartite union of European (Spanish), African, and Native (Taino) cultures. Interestingly, 85% of Puertoricans identify as “white” on the US Census.

    It is true that the Taino were culturally extinct. However, simple research on Puertorican genetics will show that most Puertoricans have indigenous DNA, and most belong to an indigenous mtDNA haplogroup (I am in the minority, belonging to old-world haplogroup K1a). Puertoricans have every right to revive their Taino heritage if they so desire, though, as ohwilleke wrote, they should be honest about the whole situation.

  • http://www.uctp.org Roberto Mukaro Borrero

    I always find it fascinating how certain “intellectuals” can make blanket statements about peoples they do not even know except by theory… From my perspective, the only persons who state the “Taino the are extinct” are either ignorant of Caribbean history or ones who have a vested interest in promoting this type of propaganda… For example, many governments claim indigenous peoples are extinct… There is a reason for that… There are also many academics who have achieved notoriety from speaking about indigenous peoples cultures – some of these folks have an interest in keeping certain peoples extinct as well… In any case, it is not up to governments or intellectuals to decide who we are… We have the right to decide who we are… That is the universal right to self-determination…

  • Onur

    Maurice,

    If you are convinced from your interaction with some Spanish-speaking Caribbeans who choose to identify as Taino that there is an unbroken chain of Taino identity down to the present, you are either deluded or intentionally lying. Also, what do you know about how much and what Professor Bustamante knows about Taino, and how can you compare my knowledge of Taino with Prof. Buastamante’s knowledge of them without knowing how much I know about Taino? You are writing much like a propagandist rather than a truth searcher. Lastly, what do you know about my perspective? What you write about my perspective is certainly wrong, so you surely don’t know anything about that.

  • Onur

    Puertoricans have every right to revive their Taino heritage if they so desire, though, as ohwilleke wrote, they should be honest about the whole situation.

    But no one has the right to distort the past as the overwhelming majority of the commenters of the relevant Nature article do.

  • Onur

    Also, “Taino”-identifying Caribbeans should not expect others to acknowledge their “Taino” identity, which is a completely artificial identity.

  • Onur

    It is true that the Taino were culturally extinct. However, simple research on Puertorican genetics will show that most Puertoricans have indigenous DNA, and most belong to an indigenous mtDNA haplogroup (I am in the minority, belonging to old-world haplogroup K1a). Puertoricans have every right to revive their Taino heritage if they so desire, though, as ohwilleke wrote, they should be honest about the whole situation.

    Genetics and ethnic identity are two different things and should be examined individually.

  • Jacob Roberson

    Maurice Travers Says:I am minded to remind Everyone here of a greeting used by the Lakota soiux Tribe of North america .

    Miyakuye Oyasin WE ARE ALL RELATED

    Yeah, a guy with a Cornish name. Glad you like my distant ancestors/cousins. And here Jacob Roberson doesn’t know a word of Lakota, irony of ironies. I’ll go with ohwilleke: Just don’t be fake, that’s all.

  • Onur

    there is one group which is indo-european in religion in totality. for now. the kafir kalash.

    How do you claim that? Especially when recorded pagan Indo-European speakers of the past had so much variation in religion among themselves.

  • Onur

    For those commenters who have not understood what I have been stating, let me repeat some of my statements:

    1. Genetics and ethnic identity are two different things and should be examined individually.

    2. The modern “Taino” identity is nothing but a completely modern fashion and fiction that is the result of the birth of a third world style nationalism among some lower to middle class people from the Caribbean islands during the last few decades and thus has no connection to the actual Taino identity, which became extinct soon after the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean islands and the ensuing racial mixing (including African slaves) and the total replacement of the original Taino religion and language by Christianity and the Spanish language respectively.

    3. No one has the right to distort the past as the overwhelming majority of the commenters of the relevant Nature article do.

    4. “Taino”-identifying Caribbeans should not expect others to acknowledge their “Taino” identity, which is a completely artificial identity.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    How do you claim that? Especially when recorded pagan Indo-European speakers of the past had so much variation in religion among themselves.

    don’t take what i said too literally. getting on my nerves.

  • http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/crude-matter/ EcoPhysioMichelle

    I suppose we would laugh if some people decided to “reclaim” their Neandertal heritage

    DON’T LAUGH! THIS IS WHO I REALLY AM!!

  • Jacob Roberson

    Razib Khan Says:don’t take what i said too literally. getting on my nerves.

    Really Onur, you’re getting a bit overwhelming. C’mon. The back-from-the-dead Taino supermen ain’t hurting nobody.

    Back on-topic, WP says we shouldn’t forget Haiti.

  • http://www.uctp.org Roberto Mukaro Borrero

    @ Onur… I agree with your statement, “Genetics and ethnic identity are two different things and should be examined individually” and that is why they changed the article at Nature.com…

    Your other statements are propaganda however because you are simply presenting your theory… a theory based on misinformed opinions…

    While you have the right to not “acknowledge” Taino identity, you have discredited your argument by stating that to be Taino is a “a complete artificial identity”… You stated this in your #4… Putting a number in front of an idea it does not make it a fact…

    Your claims are just that – claims… And I find it partially amusing and somewhat sad that that you choose to do what you accuse Taino People of doing… Some how it is ok for you to make claims but not for others – especially Indigenous Peoples…

    To all the interested readers — At the end of the day Onur and the others jumping the anti-Taino bandwagon have no authority on this subject here or anywhere…

    They just have opinions…

  • Leilani

    @ Onur…What is this basis for your assumption that, “The modern “Taino” identity is nothing but a completely modern fashion and fiction that is the result of the birth of a third world style nationalism among some lower to middle class people from the Caribbean islands during the last few decades and thus has no connection to the actual Taino identity, which became extinct soon after the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean islands”? There are several things wrong with your argument. Firstly, if you have ever bothered to study the culture of contact between indigenous Caribbean people and the Spanish beyond an elementary school textbook then you would know that Spanish law during the early sixteenth century required assimilation for indigenous people. This does not mean that people stopped being Taino, they just stopped being recorded by the Spanish as such. The Taino did not become extinct “soon after Spanish colonization” because Taino culture was still being discussed more than two hundred years after contact. And for the record, I am not a “lower or middle class” Caribbean nationalist, I am a professor of indigenous Caribbean history who has spent ten years reading and researching this history. If you want to be so closed minded, please be consistent and be closed mouthed as well. It is clear that you do not know what you are talking about and are simply repeating what other people have taught you without thinking for yourself.

  • AnaYuisa Pelli

    My comment was lengthybut in no way offensive. What happened to it. It said being reviewed by moderators or something like that.
    Onur has been allowed to bend the arrow his way….why can’t we present our respectful yet truthful opinion?
    For too long I heard tha we were not there, and if Onur feels he does not care about wnat might hve been found on his dna, tha is his choice, buf I am talking about tangibles…not fictitious-let-me-wear-a-feather and call myself Taíno. They had names, faces, lives…..the entire 7 billion people in the planet can come tell me else…and I am still embracing that part of me that was forced to be transparent but survived!
    Again, the “low class” comment……well, to that I have to say: use a mirror! No right to offend our people and we are not in a position of placing people in categories. When the soldiers from Puerto Rico are fighting and defending the US since 1917, every war, every conflict and has a higher percentage per capita of military recruitment. So, please, a bit more respect!

  • Onur

    To Roberto and all other “Taino identity activists”: What I state here about Taino and “Taino” are not theory but established facts. Let me ask you a simple question: What evidence do you have for the existence of an unbroken chain of Taino identity down to the present day? Please present me real evidence (if you have any), not irrelevant data like genetic/physical continuities and some cultural continuities that have nothing to do with the continuity of the Taino identity, and please do not distort the past.

  • Onur

    While you have the right to not “acknowledge” Taino identity, you have discredited your argument by stating that to be Taino is a “a complete artificial identity”… You stated this in your #4… Putting a number in front of an idea it does not make it a fact…

    There is no inconsistency in my statements, so stop lying.

  • Leilani

    @Onur, if genetic materials taken from living people is not “proof”to you then nothing will be proof enough. No one is distorting the past, people are simply arguing that it is problematic to assert that a version of the past written by one group is sufficient to prove that it is completely truthful. History is flawed, especially when that History is written about people rather than by them.

  • Joanna Soto-Aviles

    The issue of Taino cultural identity is not as simple as it may first appear. Long before genetic testing, people in the Caribbean have been identifying with their Indigenous ancestry and legacy for many generations, especially in remote regions. In my own family, many Indigenous teachings and traditions have been passed down through many generations. Although I was the first in my family to be born outside of the island of Boriken (aka Puerto Rico), I was raised among members of my extended family and we quietly practiced our traditions and, eventually, I returned to the island with my husband and two sons. That I was exposed to other influences (“Spanish”, “African”, “North American Indian”, “American”, etc.) cannot be denied. However, this does not imply extinction nor can it deny me my right to self-determination.

    Regarding cultural continuity, I quote the following from Jorge Baracutei Estevez’s post:
    “It doesn’t take much thinking to realize that one cannot have such high numbers of people with Native ancestry, and the population be unaware of it. Linguists such as Julian Granberry have shown that up to 3200 words of Taino extraction exist within the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean. This includes place names, common everyday words, the names of rivers, flora and fauna, etc etc. Dominican researcher Bernardo Vega, not an Indigenista by any measure, demonstrated that Taino material culture is every were in the Dominican Republic, this includes religiosity, language, basket making, canoes making, Casabe and Guayiga bread making, planting ways, etc.” This clearly implies that cultural continuity and a cultural legacy exist. We still live in the land of our Ancestors, we still share a Spirituality that is connected with the Spirits and the Land of our Ancestors, and we continue to live our culture through our Spirituality, Art, Artisan work, Crafts, Ceremonies, Dancing, Foods, Language, Music, Planting ways, Singing, Storytelling, and Traditions. We speak a language that contains many words of Taino extraction, we honor our matriarchal and matri-lineal tradition, and we still actively practice the teachings and traditions that have been passed down for many generations. In other words, our cultural identity continues to exist.

    In response to the statement that “there’s a huge corpus of paleoanthropological scholarship which these individuals could draw upon to reconstruct their identities as Neandertals.”, I would say that there is a significant difference between our identifying with our Taino Ancestors, with whom we share a cultural continuity and legacy that stills exists today, and people identifying with Neanderthals from thousands and thousand of years ago. In fact, it is my understanding that there is still debate as to whether Neanderthals are even a sub-species of homo sapiens.

    In closing, I share the text of the posting I submitted on Oct-15-2011 regarding the article “Breathing life into an extinct ethnicity”:

    While this might be an interesting article, it is unfortunately promoting misinformation by stating that the “Taino no longer exist.” We are NOT an extinct ethnicity. We are still here. “Daka Taino!” (I am Taino!) “El Taino Vive!” (The Taino Live!) My Ancestors are Taino, I am Taino, my family is Taino, my children and their children are Taino, and our descendents yet to be born will be Taino as well. We live our lives as a result of what we are taught and the legacy and traditions handed down from generation to generation. It is lamentable that this magazine and those conducting these DNA studies would seek to comment on the culture of a living people and deny their very existence, thereby publicly promoting the false myth of extinction. Taino DNA remains because we, the Taino People, remain. The Academia can try all they want to erase an entire people by simply stating they do not exist, according to their own DNA theories, but the fact remains that we are still here.

    In addition, it is recommended that you re-check your facts and dig a little more deeply. According to Dr. Juan C. Martinez Cruzado of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus, in a DNA study carried out in Borike (aka Puerto Rico) with a representative sample of the Puerto Rican population (800 participants), 489 (61.1%) had mtDNA of Indigenous origin, 211 (26.4%) had mtDNA of African origin south of the Sahara, and exactly 100 (12.5%) had mtDNA of Caucasian origin. This portrays a very different picture than the one this article appears to be promoting.

    Regardless of the above, to quote Taino leader and activist Roberto (Mukaro) Borrero, “DNA does not determine culture nor does it affect the universal right to self-determination of the Taino People.” As pointed out by another Taino activist, Vanesa (Inaru) Pastrano, “If we only consider the DNA of a people to determine whether their culture is in fact still alive! Then we might as well write out of existence 99% of Native Americans as most Native American Indians alive today are of mixed blood. In fact, there are very few full bloods in some tribes if any. If we also consider the blood quantum theory put in place by US, government that as well would eliminate whole tribes here in the North. As such DNA does not and can not determine the life of a culture, people do, and Taino culture is very much alive as are those who identify with it very much alive.” In fact, this can be said of practically all the nationalities of the world and not just Native American Indians.

    We must, therefore, ask why this magazine is taking such a discriminatory stance against the Taino People and contributing to the false myth of extinction. We must also insist that the truth be made public and prevalent. In the end, the truth will prevail and it will set us free. We are not extinct! We are still here! “El Taino Vive!” (The Taino Live!)

  • AmaHura

    Onur…oh that you would live up to your name. Honor is not something that you are good at. There is no Honor is calling people and their families liars. Every time you make the erroneous statement that Taino do not exist you call us all liars. 20,000 from Boriken just to start and then the other island nations. Are you ready to take on this many of us?

    My grandfather was not a liar- why would he make something up about our ethnic roots? Especially considering that to be Indian in a Spanish world is as good as being a dog. Sound like a benefit to you? Then you add insult in saying that we are just lower class people as if your some social overlord is ridiculous.

    When I learned how to plant a garden from my grandparents I learned “Taino” words for what I was doing. When grandpa taught me how to plant by the phases of the moon he wasnt teaching me how the Spaniards planted but how our ancestors did. When he told me the stories of where we came from he had no reason to lie or make things up.

    This is just the beginning. Not only do we have genetic continuity, we have cultural, and linguistic. Not just because there are 3200 Taino words in common use now (and those numbers are rising) but there is a tape recording of an elder, from Las Indieras (the Indian Lands) in Boriken who was one of the last of our people to fluently speak our language. How do you discount roughly 4000 Taino counted by the Spanish census before they handed over our island to America? What did it profit the Spanish to count us? Why..if we are extinct did they send our kids to the Carlisle Indian Boarding School for forced assimilation in the European Culture along with indigenous children from throughout the United States.

    Your uneducated, socially racist, opinion holds no weight..write all the emails you want to whoever you want. If a person lies to themselves long enough they will believe it.

  • Guarinara Maorinex

    Its is funny when a pseudo-intellectual troll comes out to try some attention whoring using sophist comments.

    “The modern “Taino” identity is nothing but a completely modern fashion and fiction that is the result of the birth of a third world style nationalism among some lower to middle class people from the Caribbean islands during the last few decades and thus has no connection to the actual Taino identity,”
    (– Onur)

    This is the most racist statement that I ever seen. Even for a main-lander like me I consider that a gravely insult and a fault of respect to my people and my nation. People like you way of think start the persecution and killing of thousand of innocents souls that fight or fought for their country, its identity and freedom. People like you are the same obtuse mentality of Custer, Miles, Hitler, Dr. Rhodes and other famous criminals.

    If you go to a store and ask for a chocolate bandy bar. No matter it has caramel, crunchy rice, almonds or walnuts. People still call it a Chocolate Candy bar. 65% percent chocolate, 70% chocolate, 90% chocolate. Its still a chocolate candy bar. 65% taino, 70%, 55% taino. It still a taino. 65% Lakota, 70% Yanomami, 74 Araucano or 80% Quechua. Still a Native American. No matter what other ingridients. Still a Native America. It can be a red head with pale skin or dark skin with curly hair. But is one of ours. Nobody stands a lone no one stays behind.

    You don’t like indigenous people in your neighborhood?. Then built a boat called Mayflower 2 and row to Greece!.
    I find the study of Mr Bustamante very limited in data. To comfortable to abandon the surroundings of his office. the comfort zone of his lab. A tourist investigator. Alas I can recall my taino descent to Guillermo Pio (Pio is a last name given by the Spaniards Criollos to the Indians. It means savage). If you are misguided by miss conceptions of new age wannabes or a limited or extremely narrow scope of the reality. I think you need a reality check or read more history if you like. Libraries are free.
    Like some native people of the Americas. Our identity was stolen. It was prohibited to talk about that because was a cause to a public beating in the town plaza. But your point of view is no surprise for me. You are like the rest of the rogue chicken of a chicken coop singing the same old song. You are just another rascal of the intellect blinded and deified by his way of seeing the world and others.

    I don’t need an apology form you. You are a kanika arijuna. Something with out worth.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    “not irrelevant data like genetic/physical continuities and some cultural continuities that have nothing to do with the continuity of the Taino identity”

    What exactly would any ethnic identity be if not the sum of cultural continuities with the past such as those mentioned in post #15? While culinary and arts&crafts traditions may seem to be weak tea compared to complete linguistic survival they are nevertheless still far from nothing. Both your name calling and increasing level of shrillness are starting to sound like ad hominem attack and proof by assertion rather than reasoned argument.

  • Tainos are not extinct

    I’d have to agree with the Taino in saying that they are not extinct. Quite frankly there are books written on Taino survival and anyone desiring to learn more is welcome to learn about it. Most who deny Taino survival have very restrictive notions on what it is to be Taino. In fact, it seems that in general society seems to hold some weird notions of what an American Indian needs to be that doesn’t seem to hold for any other ethnic groups. It seems unless you’re wearing leather and feathers, and have dark colored features you aren’t an Indian. Which is silly because there are many American Indian tribes today that are multiracial and do not know their language.

    There are so many misconceptions in some of these comments it’s laughable. You are talking on something you know absolutely nothing about. You think you do, but you don’t.

  • Onur

    What exactly would any ethnic identity be if not the sum of cultural continuities with the past such as those mentioned in post #15? While culinary and arts&crafts traditions may seem to be weak tea compared to linguistic survival they are nevertheless still far from nothing. Your increasing level of shrillness is starting to sound like proof by assertion rather than reasoned argument.

    By your standards, a lot of ethnic groups should be something other than what they are. For instance, Turks should not be Turks but Greeks and Armenians, Hungarians should not be Hungarians but Germans and Slavs, and so on. Things like genetics, physical features and material culture are not used to define ethnic groups (at least they are not the main constituting elements); things like language, religious background and country are.

  • V. Iriarte

    I am in agreement with Mukaro Borrero. We know who we are and do not need others telling us who we are. There has been enough of this throughout the world. All indigenous people have a voice and a right to claim it.

  • Onur

    Both your name calling and increasing level of shrillness are starting to sound like ad hominem attack and proof by assertion rather than reasoned argument.

    What name calling and ad hominem are you talking about? Is stating that someone is lying when he/she lies name calling or ad hominem?

  • AnaYuisa Pelli

    @ mr. Onur – it seems you enjoy attention, even if it is negative, but I will share this with you…since you seem to be so convinced….and act like a prosecutor…..prove us wrong. I cannot exhume my ancestors and frankly, definitely not for you.
    You do seem to enjoy name calling, remember we are “liars” and we are “low class”, yet we are really striving to treat you in the respectful way, you definitely not deserve. Study, research, investigate, not on the “”puertoricn category”,
    As I had stated on my ghost message that never showed up, when I looked at the details of Mr. Bustamante’s still in diapers study, when it addressed samples from chinese, it clearly indicated topographycal info., the same with africans, and so forth….however, puertoricans were….just puerto ricans from Puerto Rico. In the island you can find the whitiest of whites,….you can find people of strong african descent, you can find chinese puertoricans…yes, I said chinese, not recent immigrants but people that are part of our history…and whether you like it or not, you have Taino people!
    Show me else,

  • Onur

    In the case of pre-1492 Taino and all of their modern descendants, there is not just discontinuity between them in language and religion but also in identity: the Taino identity disappeared soon after the Spanish colonization. Not to mention the non-Taino and non-Native American dominance in the overall genetic, physical and cultural makeup of all of modern Taino descendants (that is why Mr. Bustamante and other geneticists had to sample a lot of modern Taino descendants and collect pieces of Taino DNA from them in order to form a single more or less whole Taino genome).

  • http://DiscoverMagazine Domingo Turey Hernandez

    We are not lying when we say that our grandparents told us we were of Indian descent or even when they said they were Taino. My grandfather so affirmed as did my great grandmother who was 11 years old when the Americans invaded in 1898. I am a 58 year old man who has lived with a sense of dignity and respect. As a Social Worker I have dedicated myself to helping others for the past 30 years. My Taino identity is not a lie even with my mixed ancestry. I pray that I may leave this world a little better then when I came into it. To judge us and our motives without knowing us is a grave injustice. 19,800 persons in Puerto Rico alone identify as Taino according to the 2010 census. So according to some we are all lying and or are confused. History will in time prove us right. This movement was not created by us but by the ancestors who still move us and inspire us. There are many people with political agendas who are invested in a Puerto Rico with no connection to it’s roots nor to this continent. nothing that that is being said about us is news. It has been said before about many Native Americans many of which are still being treated unjustly.

  • http://www.huxley.net/bnw/ Mustapha Mond

    Not according to post #15.

    “Linguists such as Julian Granberry have shown that up to 3200 words of Taino extraction exist within the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean. This includes place names, common everyday words, the names of rivers, flora and fauna, etc etc. Dominican researcher Bernardo Vega, not an Indigenista by any measure, demonstrated that Taino material culture is every were in the Dominican Republic, this includes religiosity, language, basket making, canoes making, Casabe and Guayiga bread making, planting ways, etc”

    Please refute these claims by scholars of the subject at hand if you want people to take you seriously.

    I would also point out that your analogy to Greeks and Turks makes no sense in the case of purported Taino ethnicity since the Greek culture hardly disappeared under Ottoman rule (plus you have it backwards since you are implying that I said the equivalent of claiming Spaniards being Taino), and also that your definition of ethnicity itself as excluding material culture is ridiculous. There is no difference in materiality between a religious practice and a recipe for making Guayiga bread.

  • AnaYuisa Pelli

    Get your fact straight, Mr. Onur! I saw the list of samples!

  • Onur

    Linguists such as Julian Granberry have shown that up to 3200 words of Taino extraction exist within the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean. This includes place names, common everyday words, the names of rivers, flora and fauna, etc etc.

    Turkish has many more words than that that are directly descended from Greek or Armenian, and they are especially concentrated in the spoken common folk Turkish.

    Dominican researcher Bernardo Vega, not an Indigenista by any measure, demonstrated that Taino material culture is every were in the Dominican Republic, this includes religiosity, language, basket making, canoes making, Casabe and Guayiga bread making, planting ways, etc

    But they are not enough to make modern Taino descendants Taino.

    I would also point out that your analogy to Greeks and Turks makes no sense in the case of purported Taino ethnicity since the Greek culture hardly disappeared under Ottoman rule

    It makes sense in that Turks are mainly defined based on language and religious background. Material culture, genetics and physical features do not constitute Turkishness. Also, there seems to be a close connection between material culture and genetics, but not that much between language and genetics.

    plus you have it backwards since you are implying that I said the equivalent of claiming Spaniards being Taino

    If you read what I’ve writen clearly, you will see that I don’t imply such a thing.

    and also that your definition of ethnicity itself as excluding material culture is ridiculous. There is no difference in materiality between a religious practice and a recipe for making Guayiga bread.

    Ethnicity does not necessarily exclude material culture, but it is surely not one of the main building blocks of what constitute an ethnicity. BTW, I know the difference between religious identity and the actual practice of a religion.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    ok, this is not productive. i’m closing this.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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