The exhibition from the Smithsonian presents the history of the Taínos, the Indigenous peoples of the northern Caribbean islands, and how their descendants are reaffirming their culture and identity today. The bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition was organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of the American Latino. The collaborative exhibit at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture has been enhanced through a partnership with the Field Museum of Chicago and Concilio Taíno (Taíno Council) Guatú Má Cú A Borikén. This collaboration aims to showcase twenty-one Taíno artifacts from the distinguished collection of the Field Museum, providing an opportunity for visitors to learn and appreciate these cultural treasures. Furthermore, the Concilio Taíno has graciously loaned us 15 items for exhibition, encompassing their attire, headdresses, instruments, and jewelry.
The exhibition explores the Taíno heritage of today and how their descendants are participating in a growing movement to reaffirm their Caribbean Indigenous identity and culture. The term Taíno refers to the diverse Arawak-speaking peoples of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico) and their descendants within and outside of the Caribbean. In 1492, the Taíno discovered Christopher Columbus, an encounter that set-in motion a Spanish invasion that devastated the Taíno civilization and decimated their population. However, the exhibition reveals that in places like Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica, historical records and regional traditions point to Indigenous survival and rich cultural legacies within and outside the Caribbean.
Visitors will learn about the Taíno survival journey through stories, contemporary crafts, musical instruments, and utilitarian objects associated with aspects of Native day-to-day life. The exhibition includes a short video that showcases the impacts of colonial encounters in the Caribbean and the nexus of the first interactions between the new and the old world.
Audiences will discover examples of Indigenous musical instruments such as the maracas and the güiro, traditionally made from the dritas fruit of the Higuera tree, native to parts of Central America and Puerto Rico. Contemporary objects such as jícara bowls show the traditional eating and drinking utensils first used by the Taínos that were made from the fruit of the gourd tree.