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Signal Hill Secondary School

Caribbean History
Theme 1: The Indigenous Peoples and the
At the end of this topic, students will be able to:

Describe the migratory and settlement patterns of the indigenous peoples in the
Caribbean up to the arrival of the Spanish in 1492.

Explain the factors that led to Columbus voyages.

Assess the impact of the Europeans on the indigenous peoples up to 1600

Assess the impact of the indigenous peoples on the Europeans up to 1600.

The Indigenous Peoples and the Europeans

(People who came book 1)

We do not really know how people came to be in the Americas, but

there is a theory that they came to America from Asia during the 4 th Ice
Age. The Bering Strait formed a bridge so that wanderers crossed the
straits to the Americas. Most likely, being hunters, they followed the
herds of animals like the giant mammoth, and continued to follow the
herd without knowing that they were in a new land.

During these years, the newcomers travelled in many directions. Some

stayed in North America. Eventually, some of them moved southward
until they reached Mexico and the Isthmus of Panama and some of
them continued even further Southward into South America.


How many reasons can you think of why people might leave their
country? Why do people migrate from your country? Why do
others come to your country?
Map-work-Imagine that you are a young Siberian, Using your
map on page two of this handout, draw arrows which show how
your people migrated from Asia to the Caribbean.
Write the words below, then make sentences with each word:
Ice bridge
Bering strait


Complete the following table (Location Library-Photocopy

Text Caribbean Story Book One- Page 7, and an Atlas
which shows the Caribbean)
Amerind Places

Social Organisation
The Arawaks were farmers, but fishing provided them with as much of
their food as did farming. They ate a great variety of fish, mainly
shellfish, but also grouper, snapper and barracuda. In Cuba, fish were
bred in artificial pools, and turtles were also caught by using the
remora, or sucker fish. Nooses, snares and nets were used for catching
birds and part of an Arawak boys education was to learn to imitate the
cry of birds and to make snares and nets.

The Arawaks also did some hunting. The hutia or coney was their
favourite prey. They also caught iguana, the yellow snake and the
manatee. The Arawaks were subsistence farmers and used the slash
and burn method. This means that they burnt the land in order to clear
it of weeds and bush, and cut down the trees in order to clear space for
planting. The burning produced a certain amount of ash to be used as
fertilizer, but it also burnt out essential elements in the top soil and
reduced its fertility.

In planting, the women worked in rows, each woman carrying a bag of

soaked grain around her neck. She made a hole with her digging stick,
threw a few grains of corn into it with her left hand, covered the hole
with her food and repeated the process until her share of the planting
was finished.
They practiced a type of agriculture called the cunoco. This involved
heaping the soil in mounds. In each mound were planted a variety of
crops in such a way as to enrich and protect one another, since the
plants took different nutrients from the soil. This type of planting let
the air into the soil and provided ground cover. It also reduced the
chance of erosion. The farming practices of the arawaks were also
geared toward supporting a large population.
In addition to planting corn and cassava, the Arawaks planted yams,
beans, cotton and tobacco, and supplemented their foodstuff by
fishing. They ate a variety of fishes including groupers, snappers and

Political Organisation
The cacique was the leader the the Arawak community. He had two
In his own village, he was the headman and had the power of
any other headman.
He ruled over the whole province and could give orders that
affected people living in all the villages in that province.

His other roles were:

He decided whether the people of a certain island would go to
war against a neighbouring island or against another
He could levy a kind of tax on the people of his province. This
might be in the form of agricultural produce or of weapons.
He might demand that a certain number of men be sent from
villages to take part in the raids.
He inherited his position. Unlike the Maya however, the
Arawak recognized matrilineal descent that is, inheritance
through the mothers family. Moreover, the Cacique might be
a woman.

Privileges of the Cacique

He was given part of the harvest for himself and his family.
Special cassava cakes were made for him.
His house or bohio was built by the villagers and was larger than
that of the others.
He and his family wore ornaments of gold and copper alloy called
guanin for gold was a sign of rank among them.
His wives skirts were longer than those of the other women, for
length of skirt was a sign of high rank.
His canoe was the largest in the village and the only one to be
When he travelled by land, he was carried in a litter, while his
son was carried on servants shoulders.

At his death, he was burnt in his own hut or buried in a cave or

The Arawaks also buried two or more of the favourite wives of
the cacique with him. They were provided with a calabash of
water and a portion of cassava. This was to help to feed them on
their journey to Coyaba, where they would continue to serve
their husband.
Each village was ruled by a headman, or mitayno or touchaus
while the province was ruled by the Cacique. For most Arawak
people, it was the headmans power which mattered. His functions
were as follows:
He organized the work of the village.
He decided when land should be prepared, crops planted and
harvested and any surplus stored for distribution in the
He was the religious leader of his village.
He was the judge whose word was law and who could sentence
people to death for disobedience.

Nobles and mitaynos also inherited their position.

People who were born commoners remained in that class. Slaves
were usually men and women captured in wars, female captives
were given to outstanding warriors as concubines.
All work was done communally, the commoners and slaves doing
the work which the nobles supervised.

Each village had a lesser chief called a Shaman. These lesser priests
performed a variety of functions including providing cures for
illnesses and making prophecies.

Their belief was called ANIMISM. It was based on the existence
of a spirit world. To them , the forest and river possessed both
good and evil spirits. There were spirits in the trees, rocks and

birds. As a result, the Arawaks religious practices aimed at

pleasing the spirit God or asking it for protection.
They believed in a supreme being called JOCCHU, and felt that
all life came from the sky.
The Arawak zemis were idols made of different kinds of materialwood, bone, stone or even cotton-which were felt to contain the
forces of nature or the spirits of the ancestors. Each family had
its own zemi, which it prized highly and some families kept the
bones of dead ancestors in a basket for use a zemis.
The caciques zemis were felt to be more powerful than anyone
elses. It was believed that only the cacique could speak to the
Even though the ordinary people could not converse with the
zemis, each home had its own zemi in a place of honour on a
small table.
A bowl of snuff (cahoba) or powdered tobacco was placed before
it and when the person wished to pray, he placed the cahoba on
the zemis flat topped head and inhaled from it through his
nostrils from a y-shaped cane tube. He often rubbed the zemi
with cassava to feed it, for the Arawaks felt that if their zemi
went hungry, they would fall ill.
They placed great importance on religious ceremonies. The
cacique announced the day on which a ceremony was to take
place. Their bodies were washed and painted red, white and
black. The men wore their feathered cloaks and the women
decorated their arms and legs with shells and coral.
When all were assembled the entire people formed a procession
with the cacique at its head. He led them to the sacred hut on
the outskirts of the village and there he and the priests entered
to pray. First they tickled their throats with swallow sticks to
make themselves vomit and prove to the zemis that no impurity
remained in them. After this, they smoked the cahoba until they
lost consciousness. It was then that the zemis were supposed to
speak to them.
The arawaks believed in many gods, whom the zemis
represented. The most important among these were the god of
the sky and the goddess of the earth from whom all living things
had descended. They also believed in a God of the moon which
they thought was the suns twin brother. They also believed in
spirits called opia, which belonged to the dead, and who returned
at night to try to enter their bodies. For this reason, they only

went out at night in groups and protected themselves by wearing

zemis around their necks or foreheads.
Shamans or Piaimen were priests who were singled out to
expain the mysterious and control the spirit world. They were
said to possess supernatural powers. The greatest power they
had was to drive out diseases. MATTRACAS (rattles), the chief
articles of their trade, were used for chanting while they blew
smoke on the diseased person.

The naming of a baby was a time of rejoicing for the arawaks felt
that a child without a name would meet great misfortune.
The wedding of a cacique and the inauguration of a cacique were
occasions for festivity.
Harvest time or the return of a victorious war party were also
occasions to celebrate.
The Arawaks favourite sport was a ball game called BATOS
played with a hard rubber ball. The art of the game was to keep
the ball in the air using the thighs only.
Ball games as well as other events were occasions for dances.
They danced and sang to the accompaniment of drums or to
They were fond of drinking parties as well.

Their main food was cassava.
They made a kind of corn bread with green corn whose
kernels they crushed.
Their main dish was pepperpot.
They usually ate in the morning and in the evening when they
returned from hunting.
Husbands and wives ate apart, and there was very little
They caught and ate various types of fish, shellfish, turtle and
They ate a lot of fruits such as pineapples, guavas and


Economic Organization
Trading was an important economic activity which was carried on from village to village,
and island to island. Arawaks were farmers, so Arawak villages were usually near land
which could be farmed. They grew cassava, corn, sweet potatoes and tobacco which they
smoked. The role of the women in the economy was vital. They planted
and reaped the crops, prepared the food and cared for the children. On
the other hand, men cleared the fields, wove the baskets , fished and
hunted. They were also excellent seamen and fishermen.
mentioned before, trade took place between the islands. Jamaica
supplied hammocks and cotton cloth to Cuba and Haiti, while Haiti
produced gold ornaments.

They wore thin cotton bands on their arms and legs. Those that were
married wore a loincloth. Ears, noses and often the lower lip were
pierced so that ornaments usually gold, could be worn.

They wore ornaments of stone, bone, shell , clay or gold, together with
armlets, leg bands and necklaces. They painted themselves with red,
white, yellow and black pigments. Roucou, a red dye, was their
favourite paint.

The chiefs wore the GUANIN a plate of gold and copper alloy, and also
dressed up in gold crowns and feather headdresses.

Role of women
They cooked
They did the spinning and weaving of cotton cloth.
They tended the fields.
They also served as priests.

Role of men
They caught fish and meat for the family.
They built their own canoes.
They built their own homes.
They hunted.

Several families shared one house, which was called a caneye. It was
round and made of wattle and thatch. Sometimes it had windows, but
not always.
The caciques house was called a bohio. He lived here with his wives.
It was often larger than the others and rectangular in shape. Except for
the zemis and the hammocks and some clay pots which were hung
from the roof, there was no furniture in the arawaks home.

Usually, their wars were on neighbouring tribes, fought to
establish fishing or hunting rights. Or they might be wars of
They went to battle under a noble who had put himself
forward as their leader.
They painted their bodies red and carried their round or
square shaped shields with spears and clubs.
Winners at times practiced cannibalism on their defeated
enemies, but usually captives were brought home, the men to
be slaves, the women to become concubines.

Baskets were made from leaves, ropes and vines. The Arawaks
also made bamboo baskets to catch crabs. They were kept as
ornaments as well as to store food.
They used stone tools. In their art work, they used barks of trees,
cotton, wood, stone, bones, clay and shell.
Women wove cotton and made baskets from rope.

Pottery bore symbols and designs. They painted on pots, jars,

and bowls. Their art reflected their beliefs and the world around
them. They also carved handles and stools as representation of
the heads of animals and birds. Pottery included containers for
water bottles and the pepperpot.
They made jewelry from shells, bones and barks. The bones and
teeth of animals were also popular. They possessed musical
instruments made out of wood and shells.

Birth-Ordinary People
After the birth of a baby, the mother washed the baby in the
sea or river. The forehead of the child was flattened between
two pieces of board. This was seen as a sign of beauty.

If the child were the son of a chief, there was a special

Past Paper 2009

Describe the customs of the Taino

Ordinary PeopleBefore marriage, the bridegroom to be had to show proof to
the brides father that he could support a wife. He had to
either pay the bride a price or give his service to his gather in
law. Before marriage, the couple were never seen together
without companions.

The Chief
The Chief was allowed to practice POLYGAMY. Among the

wives, there were sometimes as many as thirty to one chief.

One of them was always known as the number one wife.

The deceased was sometimes burnt in his house, buried in a
cave, or put under the floor of his hut. They also believed in
the afterlife, as objects such as hammocks, bowls, bread and
weapons were buried with the dead.
In the case of the chief, a few of his wives were buried with


Social Organisation
The Caribs were expert fishermen. They also used a type of wood
which they bruised and threw into the water when the sea was calm.
This released a poison which killed many fish.
The Caribs ate a great quantity of seafood and pepper, but they ate
neither salt nor pig not turtle for they thought these foods would make
them stupid. They ate grilled fish served with a sauce called couii and
eaten with sweet potato and yam. Their favourite dish was a stew
made with crab and cassava. With this they drank a kind of cassava
beer called ouicou.

The Caribs enjoyed their drinking feasts. Dancing was the centre of
these feasts. The dance was accompanied by the music of drums,
rattles and bone flutes. For hours, the dancers in procession would
stamp around chanting. There were several types of dances:

Animal dances
Planting and harvest dances.
They also loved wrestling and canoe racing.

Carib Warfare
They used poisoned bows and arrows, wooden swords and knives
made of sharp rock.
For special courage in battle, they used a crescent shaped
copper medal around their necks which they called Caracolis,
and which they greatly prized.
The Caribs worked themselves into a rage and became very
drunk before setting out on an attack and would never turn back
once they had started. They fought for the following reasons:
To get food
To get women from their weaker neighbours.

They ate some enemy flesh, smoked and preserved from the
last raid.
Each warrior was given a gourd full of pebbles to tell how
many days he had to be at war.
They prepared the piraguas and weapons while the women
prepared the food for the raids.

The Actual Raid

They attacked from canoes. These canoes or piragas sometimes
held over 50 men and travelled swiftly.
They attacked at dawn or at night when there was a full moon.
Their attacks which were often directed at the Arawaks were
sudden and very brutal. When the warriors returned home, the
captives were shared out. Women were kept as slaves, or given
to the young men as wives. The men were carried to their
captors house where they were tied up and starved for 4-5 days.
At the end of that time, there was a great ceremony, in which the
captured men were tortured to death and then ceremonially
eaten by members of the tribe. The Caribs believed that by doing
this, they increased their power, by adding their enemies

strength to their own.

Each Carib boy was trained from birth to be a warrior. Much of a boys
education consisted of teaching him how to make and use his weapons
and hardening him for the test of skill and courage that was to come.
Carib boys were trained by being made to shoot their meals down from
the top of trees in order to improve their marksmanship and to shoot
accurately while swimming.
Before a Carib boy could become a warrior, he had to undergo a severe
initiation ceremony. When the day came, he was seated on a stool
before all the warriors of his village, while his father explained to him
what his duties and responsibilities would be in the future. Then a bird
was beaten to death against his body, scratching and pecking at his
body as it struggled. After this, he was deeply scratched with agouti
teeth, and his body was rubbed with the dead bird which had been
dipped in hot pepper. During all this, the boy was expected to show no
sign of pain or discomfort. When the beating was over, he was given
the birds heart to eat, and then was sent to his hammock and made to
fast. Only when he successfully passed through this initiation was he
given a warriors name, taught the warriors language, and allowed to
go on raids.

They flattened their foreheads.
They went naked, with a loincloth for the women decorating their
bodies with a dye called roucou.
Women wore bracelets called rassada on their arms and legs and
men wore necklaces made of their enemies teeth strung on
Both men and women wore bracelets and necklaces of amber,
shell, agouti teeth, seeds and coral and bored holes in their lips
and ear lobes into which they inserted smooth fish bones and
other ornaments.
Around their necks they wore small idols representing the
powerful maboya.
For special occasions, the men wore feathered cloaks and
headdresses of heron or macaw feathers.
The Caracoli, an ornament of gold and copper was a mark of
distinction among the men.

Items Produced/Artforms
The caribs engaged very little in agriculture. They produced hammocks
made from cotton on which they slept .The Caribs made adornments
out of cotton, which they wore around their arms and legs. They used
wooden drums and whistles made out of hollow, sturdy stalks. They
also used conch shells for calling assemblies and for dances.
They made baskets from latania leaves. The baskets had double walls
which were watertight. Other baskets were small and rectangular with
covers which were used a jewel boxes. Large baskets were turned
upside down and provided with wooden legs. They served as tables.
Basketry was also used for making strainers and mats.
With regard to pottery, they baked potss which were used for beer.
They also had bottles for roucou, covered bowls, platters, cups, dippers
and spoons. They were often painted.
The men also carved canoes of wood and made wooden bowls which
were used for drinking and stools.

Sons were highly valued. At a sons birth, there was a special
ceremony in which the father was cut with agouti teeth and
expected to bear the pain without flinching so that the son would
grow up to be brave. The boy was periodically rubbed with the
fat of slaughtered Arawaks so that he might absorb their
A small group of Carib boys were trained to be boyez or priests.
When a boy was to be a boyez, he was apprenticed to an older
priest for several years. During this time, he has to fast
frequently and to abstain from eating meat. Then the boy had to
undergo an initiation ceremony as severe as that of a warrior. If
he passed through the initiation successfully, his teacher took
him to the carbet where fruit, cassava and ouicou were sacrificed
to the priests maboya.


The Maboya was the most important of the Carib idols. They
felt that each person had his own maboya and that all evils
whether sickness, defeat in battle or even death, came as a
result of a spell put on them by an enemy maboya.
The Caribs had priests called BOYEZ. Their chief duties were
to overcome evil spirits which they believed caused illness
and misfortune. When a person fell ill, the boyez were called
in to defeat the maboyas evil spell.
They believed that everyone had his own good god as well as
a maboya.
When a person died, the body was carefully washed and
painted red and the hair was combed and oiled. Then it was
placed on a stool in a grave dug inside the carbet. For ten
days, the relatives would bring food and water to the
graveside and the dead mans possessions burnt. When the
grave was completed, there was dancing over it and as a sign
of mourning, the relatives cut their hair.Later, a feast was held
over the grave and often the dead mans house, especially if
he was a chief, was burnt down.
The Caribs believed that all nature was under the control of
five classes of spirits-land, air, water, hills, houses and
sickness. There were also mischievous beings called
AKATOMBO who played pranks on men.
The Caribs also believed that different parts of the body had
their own spirits. The heart spirit was the only good one.
When a person died, all the other spirits beside the heart
stayed in the forests and the sea and did harm.
To protect themselves, each Carib kept a bat called an ICHIERI
as his personal God. In addition, he wore a carving of an evil
spirit around his neck to frighten other evil spirits.
They believed in a great and good god who lived in the
heavens. Mother earth gave them food and shelter. The sun
who was a male ruled the moon. The moon was a female who
ruled the stars.
The Caribs felt that their ancestors came from the navel of a
man named LOUQUO.

Womens role
Each wife lived in a separate hut. Wives were treated as servants. Their
duties were as follows:

Women were expected to carry all the loads.

They spun the yarn from which the hammocks were made.
They combed and oiled their husbands hair. They also dressed
him and painted his body.
They were responsible for planting and harvesting the crops after
the lands were cleared.
They were responsible for preparing meals and preserving food.
They spun thread, wove baskets and hammocks and made clay
vessels for storage.
They wove







They cleaned and thatched the houses.

Marriage among cousins was encouraged.
Men were allowed to have many wives.
Fathers presented their daughters to the successful warriors after
each raid.
The men with the most wives were considered most powerful.
Girls often became engaged during childhood and sometimes
were brought up by their fiancs family.
The groom had to obtain the consent of the brides parents
before they were married.

The Caribs sometimes killed the old and feeble.
When a person died, the body was washed, painted, oiled and
wrapped in a new hammock.
It was placed on a stool in a grave dug in the Carbet.
The grave was not filled for ten days and during this time, the
relatives brought food and water to the body and mourned.
A fire was built aroung the grave to purify it and prevent the
deceased from catching a cold.

Everything owned by the deceased was thrown into the fire or

placed in the grave. Sometimes the house was burned too.

Their houses were large and rectangular in shape. In addition to
hammocks, they often slept on an amais which consisted of a cotton
folded at both ends and hung from the roof. Other furniture included
stools made from red or yellow wood and a table. In every home, there
was an idols of the familys maboya.
Outside they built a small storehouse in which they kept their warclubs,
their household utensils, their stone tools and extra beds and
The village Carbet was the mens house and the most important
building . Women and men lived separately, the womens carbet being
half the size of that in which the men lived. Women entered the mens
carbet only to serve food to their husbands, standing in wait until he
finished eating. Only then did they return to the womens house for
their own meal.
Up to the age of four or five, all children lived with their mother, but at
that age, all boys were taken away to live among the men. Girls
remained with their mothers until they married.

They would not eat any crab or lizard while at sea. Nor drink any
water for fear that the spirits would be displeased and would
prevent them from returning to land.
If they were carrying any fresh water in the canoe, they took care
not to spill any into the sea as it might cause a storm.
If they were to sail over a place where caribs had drowned, they
were careful to throw food into the water, so that the drowned
men would not reach up to the boat and capsize it.
When they were reaching land, they were careful not to call its
name, nor to point to eat, in case any evil spirit was watching
and tried to prevent their getting ashore.
Arawak women who were captured during battle were given as
wives to the bravest warriors.

Caracolis were given to the young men who distinguished

themselves during battle, and those warriors were highly prized
as husbands.
Sometimes they ceremoniously killed and ate captive men.
However, some of the captives were also kept as slaves. The
women were given as concubines to the warriors and the men
kept as labourers.
The Caribs disliked taking orders, and they had very few laws. If
anyone did harm to a carib, the injured man was expected to
take his own revenge, without any interference from the rest of
the tribe. He could even kill the person who had injured him.

Political Organisation
The Ouboutu was the most important man among the Caribs . He was
the chief only during war time. His functions were:
He decided when the men should be called to the carbet to plan
a raid.
He decided who should be attacked, how the raid should be
conducted and when it should take place.
He chose the commanders of the canoes of piragas.
He presided over the victory celebrations during which everyone
who had killed an arawak chief was allowed to take his name as
a mark of honour.

There were lesser governors who ruled during times of peace.

They were called tiubutuli hauthe, and were the heads of
families, for each family lived in its own village.
His functions were:
He supervised the fishing and hunting.
He led the village in ceremonies and entertainment such as
wrestling, canoe racing, singing, dancing and story-telling.
He was in charge of the Carbets.
He supervised the cultivation of the land.

Duties of Villagers
They were mainly warriors and went out on raids against the
They trained their sons in hunting, fishing, swimming, singing,
making canoes and shooting the bow and arrow.


Social Organisation
Among the Maya, each married man and each wife was entitled to only
400 sq feet of land called a hun uinic. Surplus grains or other nonperishable crops were collected and stored in underground storehouses
called chultunes.


The land was tilled with tools made of bone, stone or wood. The Maya
had a digging stick called a COA (a pointed stick made of fire hardened
wood). It was used for making holes in the ground into which seeds
were planted. They also used a wooden spade called a TACCGA and a
club with a stone ring fastened to the end for breaking up clods of

Their temple pyramids were large and built of sculptured stone.
Ordinary People
The house of the ordinary man was very small and simple. It was either
round, square or rectangular, made of wattle and thatch, and resting
on a stone foundation. The ordinary people lived on the outskirts of the
temple city, and only came into the centre to worship at the templepyramid.
At the birth of a baby, the childs head was flattened between
two pieces of board. They also hung a ball of wax in front of the
child eyes , so that the child would squint his/her eyes. This was
a special mark of beauty.
At the time of a childs baptism, a lucky day was picked for a
feast and the floor of the home was swept clean. Incense and
maize were offered and then thrown away, signifying that evil in
the children had been rid of.
They used war clubs which sometimes had star-shaped heads made of
bronze. They called these Macana. They also used wooden shields
which they decorated with feathers called chimali .
The Maya also sacrificed war prisoners to be Gods, but frequently their
wars were fought between the Mayan cities themselves. They fought
for the following reasons:
To gain advantages in trade.
To gain more land for agriculture.
To get slaves

They did not fight for long, because they were farmers, and when
harvest-time came, they wanted to return home. Usually, battles were
fought in October when the farmer-soldier was not needed in his fields.
They went to battle under a leader called a Nacom , who was elected
for three years. Under him were the captains, and under them were
ordinary soldiers called Hulcans. These were paid a small sum by their
Captains while the war lasted. If their leader died while fighting, then
the war ended.

The Mayas worshipped QUETZALCOATL , the great god and
culture hero. He was also known as the wind God and God of the
air.They worshipped 166 gods in total.
Sacrifice entailed the offering of human hearts and the piercing
of the body to draw blood.
Their Priests played an important part in many activities, and
many of their great buildings were devoted to religious purposes.
For this reason, their cities were called temple cities because
their outstanding buildings were the temples they built on top of
the high flat-topped pyramids.These pyramids were made with a
core of earth and rubble, covered with cut stone, and then
cemented with mortar made by burning limestone rock. The
entrance to the temple was through a corbelled arch. Only the
priests who performed the ceremonies could enter these
temples. The worshippers remained outside, in the plazas or
courtyards surrounding the sacred pyramids. From here they
watched the rites and took part by singing and dancing.
They worshipped many Gods. They believed that all of life was a
struggle between good and evil, and that there were good and
evil gods. The good gods lived in 13 heavens and the evil ones
lived in 9 hells. Great warriors and those who were killed in
sacrifice, were sure to go to heaven. They believed in
immortality, and to make sure that the dead would be able to
enjoy the afterlife, they buried them with a maize drink and the
tools of their trade. Paradise was a place of peace where warriors
killed in battle went, along with sacrificed victims, women who
died in childbirth and those who committed suicide by hanging.
Their priests took part in many activities and almost all their
buildings were devoted to religious purposes. Maya cities were
called temple cities because their outstanding buildings were

the temples they built on the top of high flat topped pyramids.
Only priests entered the temples. The worshippers remained
outside in the yards and watched the rites, praying, singing and
One of the most important Maya gods was the God of corn,
Yum Kaax; other gods were also connected with agriculture e.g.
Chac-the God of rain, and Pipil-the God of the sun,
Itzamna-The giver of Food and Light, Kukulcan-God of the
wind. Above all, they felt that there was one supreme creator.
They called him Kunab-Ku.

Maya men wore a simple cotton garment called an ex (pronounced
eesh). This was a loincloth wound several times around the waist and
passed between the legs. Over this, they wore a mantle without
sleeves. Sandals were tied to the feet with two thongs and were called

Women wore the kub-a simple dress with a square neck. Beneath this,
they wore a light petticoat. They went barefoot.

In addition to these simple garments, the nobles wore a great deal of
jewelry-ear and nose rings as well as bracelets. Moreover, their
garments were dyed in many colours. On ceremonial occasions, the
noblemen would decorate themselves with feathered headdresses
made on wicker frames. Only the ruler and outstanding warriors were
permitted to use the gorgeously coloured feathers of the quetzal bird in
their head-dresses.

As soon as a baby was born, its head was flattened by squeezing
it gently between two boards.
Many mayas were cross-eyed. This was regarded as a special
mark of beauty and distinction, and mothers would hang a ball in
front of their children so that they would focus on it and develop


Maya houses were simple. Most were wattled and thatched, although
the wealthier nobles might have built theirs of stone. Almost all homes
consisted of one room, with neither windows nor doors. Instead, across
the doorway was hung a curtain and small copper bells. Furniture was
very sparse, usually just sleeping racks made of sapling laced with
springy branches and covered with a grass mattress and cotton

Role of women
Cooking was done outside by the women.
They were responsible for taking care of the home and children.
They also performed a good deal of the agricultural labour,
mainly sowing, weeding and reaping of crops.
A woman was supposed to produce many children. If she were
barren, it was considered a disgrace. This meant that from her
early teens, a girl married and took on adult responsibilities.
As a homemaker, she supplied almost all of her familys needs.
For example, she wove the cloth and then sewed the garments.
She shared the responsibility with other women for making the
magnificent feathered head-dresses worn by the nobility .
Women were considered inferior persons , and were trained from
childhood to accept a subordinate position in society. For
example, when in the presence of a man, a woman always
looked down at the ground. To look directly at a man was
considered serious misconduct and she was punished severely. A
mother might pinch her daughter, or rub her eyes with red
pepper, or beat her if the girl refused to act properly toward
No woman might inherit a mans property, not even his mother.

Gender Relations
Wives occupied traditional roles as mothers and housekeepers.
Leadership within the home and society was male centred.
The women played different roles. In public life they were
designated a position which seemed to be less important than

the male.
Within the family, the women played a prominent role. The
woman or the eldest female member was responsible for all
domestic matters.
After Mayan children reached the age of maturity, the males
spent time with their fathers learning his occupation. Girls
learned the art of housekeeping, cooking, weaving and spinning.
As a sign of modesty, Mayan young ladies were taught to turn
their backs to men they met on the streets, while stepping aside
to allow them to pass.

The Maya played a ball game, called pok-a-tok, in which the players
had to butt a solid rubber ball through hoops set 10 metres above the

Achievements of the Maya

They built observatories from which their priests could
observe the movement of the stars and planets. Here they
developed complex calendars. They had a 365 day year.
This was called Haab and consisted of 18 months or
uinals , each of 20 days, or kins. This gave 360 days. The 5
days left over at the end were called uayeb and were
considered an unlucky period.
They had a system of numbering which was based on the
figure 20. They also discovered the importance of 0.
Their writing was in the form of glyphs. These were
sometimes carved on huge stone monuments called stelae.
They also wrote books giving accounts of their stories and

Political Organisation
They lived in independent city-states. Their society was divided into
rigid classes, each of which had its own rights and duties, even in such
matters as clothing and personal adornments. The ruler of each citystate was called the Halach-Uinich-the true man or real man. He was
a hereditary ruler. The office descended from father to son. However, if

the sons of the dead ruler were no fit to rule, one of his brothers
became head of state. Failing this, some other suitable person from the
rulers family was elected by a council of nobles. His functions were as
He was the political head of state.
He carried out military and religious functions.
He wore a magnificent headdress which marked him as chief.
He had one legitimate wife and a number of mistresses.
After the ruler and nobles came the majority of the people who were
artisans and farmers. There also existed a group known as the
ppolms or merchants. Their role was as follows:
They had their own God.
They lived according to their own laws.
They did not have to pay any taxes.
They did not have to give any personal service in agricultural
labour or road building as the commoners did.
They performed a very important role in foreign affairs and
especially in war, for they frequently acted as spies.
They made possible the exchange of goods between the various
Maya cities.

They had judicial and military functions.
They carried out the wishes of the mayan lord.
In times of war, there were war captains called NACOMS who led the
warriors into battle.

Their pottery were decorated in designs that reflected nature as well as
the simple lifestyle of the people. Mayan sculptors used stones, as well
as wooden mallets as their main tools. They also used chisels and

hammer stones. Mayan sculpture was finished by abrasion and then

painted. Their artists made life-like figurines in wood, copper and gold.

They had rich and complicated woven fabrics. The art of spinning and
looming was carried out by the women of the tribe.

Basketry and Matting

Mayans plaited rope from pliable vines to make baskets. Some baskets
were made water-tight by lining the inside of the basket with a wax
type coating. These baskets also held water. They were all-purpose and
used for carrying corn or other products.

Their main instruments were flutes and whistles made out of ceramics.
Special moulds were used to make these instruments. This was to
ensure that there was uniformity in sound. Among their instruments
were also clay trumpets, pottery, conch shells, horns and other
instruments made of wood. They also had a wooden drum called a

Economic Organisation
Markets played an important part in the life of the people. Here, they
met and exchanged goods. Maize was exchanged for beans, beans for
cocoa and salt for spices. Maize was the main food of the Maya.
A variety of vegetables and fruit were grown. The cocoa beans were
valuable and were also used as currency. Women played an important
role in the economy as they were the producers of crops.

The Maya were the only Amerindians who carried on trade by sea as
well as land. It was merchants who made possible the exchange of
goods between the various Mayan cities. They used no money, but
instead used cocoa beans as a means of exchange. Sometimes, small
copper bells or red shells or strings were also used. The trade in salt ,
an important commodity was controlled by certain tribes. Brightly
coloured feathers were carried to the sea coast people.

They traded cotton for weaving Mayan garments, cocoa which was
their favourite drink, honey, wax, fish, flint, maize, precious stones for
ornaments, shells, and gold. The Ppolms were the traders used no
money, but instead used cocoa beans as a means of exchange.
They also built great roadways called Sacbeobs to encourage trade
between their various cities.

Weapons consisted of those which could be made from wood, bone or
stone. They used war clubs with a star shaped head made of bronze
called a MACANA. They used very simple weapons. The Maya used
hornets nests which they threw into enemy villages to create
confusion. They also used wooden shields decorated with feathers
called CHIMALLI.

Interaction of the Arawaks and Caribs

It was common for tribes which practiced human sacrifice
(Caribs) to raid other settled tribes in order to get victims
for their sacrifice.
Sometimes tribes moved into a region and raided
neighbouring tribes to obtain captives. These captives
were held to help tribes increase their numbers, acquire
slaves and women as concubines.
Female captives were taken in order to reproduce and
increase the numbers of the Carib tribes. They were also
needed to till the soil.

Groups came together in order to trade. A large amount of
trade took place by sea with the use of canoes. The main
traders were the Mayas and Arawaks.

The Caribs of Guadeloupe, Marie Galante and St. Croix
united in their attacks against the Lucaynos of Jamaica and
the Bahamas. They in turn never attacked each other, but
worked together as one group.

Indigenous people from the Caribbean first visited by

Columbus sent out secret messages to warn tribes of
neighbouring islands of an invasion by Columbus and his
men. The Spaniards in their attacks on the islands always
tried to kill the chief first. The purpose of this was to leave
the tribes defenseless and disorganized without a leader.
Sometimes, tribes from neighbouring islands assisted
these tribes, and even kept the chief of these tribes safely
from the Europeans.