To know well the culture of Puerto Rico it is important to study the history of its first inhabitants, the Tainos. Although their offspring are not clearly defined, they are believed to be a descendant tribe of the Arawak Indians of Venezuela. Its history is reflected in the archaeological sites, tombs, caves, petroglyphs and in Taino meals and words included in the Spanish language.
When I visit El Yunque National Forest and swim in its beautiful waterfalls, I always have the image of paradise in which the first inhabitants of Puerto Rico lived. This is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system in the United States. The Tainos believed that in the peaks of El Yunque lived Yuquiyu, the god of the good protected them.
Being under the waterfall of La Mina has always been a religious experience for me. Seeing the waters sprouting from the earth among the beautiful foliage transports me to the time of the Tainos. Enjoying that marvel, I thought how unjust the colonization was and why it fought to death to protect its land. Its history and legacy can be admired in what is known as the Taino route that goes from Arecibo to Ponce. The ceremonial centers, archaeological sites, caves, petroglyphs, and monuments are worthy representatives of the customs and history of our first inhabitants.
The battles to maintain the culture, the language and what characterizes us as people have been many and still continue. Today we can say with pride that, although the Tainos mostly did not survive the ravages of colonization, their heritage and fighting spirit are still present on our island.
By María M. García, BA, MA