The tribal art of the Taino Indians has become increasingly popular in the tattoo world the last few years, mostly because of its bold imagery. Because of its popularity it is tempting to find a tattoo you like and just "go with it". However, you may be interested in having a little information about the Taino culture, history and meaning of their symbols to help you select a design that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also makes a statement you will be proud to wear.
The Taino Culture
Taino Indians are indigenous to the Caribbean Islands, in the area of the Greater Antilles which is comprised of modern day Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The great island, Puerto Rico, and its people are referred to as Boriken.
The western world caught its first glimpse of the Taino Indians around 1492 when Christopher Columbus grounded the Santa Maria somewhere close to modern day Dominican Republic. The arrival of the Spanish brought disease, slavery and rebellion by the Taino that reduced their populace from an estimated 50,000 to total extinction in less than 40 years.
Taino Tattoo Designs
As a pre-columbian society the Taino had no written alphabet. Instead they had a language called Arawakan, which consisted of petroglyphs, artistic symbols that were carved on rocks.
These artful symbols were also tattooed. Taino men had tattoos for spiritual purposes, the women had piercings.
Here's a listing of the most important petroglyphs:
- The sun and moon: these were important symbols for the Taino people. They believed the sun and the moon come out of caves. The sun is also the most popular Taino symbol for a tattoo design.
- Coqui: the coqui is a small frog endemic to Puerto Rico. It's also the symbol of the island and together with the sun, the most popular Taino symbol.
- Animals: small animals like frogs, turtles and lizards occur frequently in Taino art.
- Water: living on islands, water was an important element to the Taino Indians.
- Gods: The Taino had a rich mythology full of gods who ruled both the earth and the skies. These gods are represented in Taino art and their symbolism. In order to stay in the good graces of their gods, the Taino would do rituals and serve them offerings of cassava bread, beverages and tobacco. One such shamanic ritual is Cohoba. The god Cohoba carries a plate with powder on his head that is used to incite hallucinations.
- Twins: these represent the forces of nature like day-night, hot-cold, ...
- Eternal Lovers
Here's a gallery with more Taino symbols, the meaning is not always clear:
Make sure you check out at these tribal designs as well: Maori Tattoo Designs