Art and Culture

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – August 9th

This post is also available in: Spanish

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People’s is observed on 9 August each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. This event also recognizes the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues such as environmental protection. It was first pronounced by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1994, marking the day of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in 1982.

Indigenous peoples have always represented a great diversity and there are more than 5,000 different groups distributed among some 90 countries, each town with its own culture and language -They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages! They make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history their rights have always been violated. Indigenous peoples today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.

In the Dominican Republic we no longer have indigenous peoples but many years ago taínos used to live in our island. The Taíno people are one of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica, Hispaniola (which today is made up of Haiti and our country, Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico. Cuba’s largest indigenous group was the Ciboney (or Siboney) inhabiting the central part of the island, while other Taínos dominated the eastern part. In the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, and The Bahamas, they were known as the Lucayans. They spoke the Taíno language (an Arawakan language), which contained traces of earlier languages which were supplanted by Taíno. The ancestors of the Taíno entered the Caribbean from South America and their culture is closely linked to that of Mesoamericans. At the time of contact, the Taíno were divided into three broad groups, known as the Western Taíno (Jamaica, most of Cuba, and the Bahamas), the Classic Taíno (Puerto Rico and Hispaniola), and the Eastern Taíno (northern Lesser Antilles).

Here in the Dominican Republic, we can find caves with taíno drawings which have become national treasures and are protected by various entities. The dialects and languages ​​of the indigenous peoples still play a crucial role in our daily life. We still use many words and include a lot of the food they ate in our gastronomy such as yuca, yautía, ñame, mapuey, lerenes, palmito and el maíz (corn), among the Taíno foods we can find the casabe and the catibía derived from cassava, and as a drink is the mabí based on sugar and bark and / or fruit. Some of the words, which you might have heard before, can be traced back to when the taínos used to live in the island:

Ají – Arepa – Batata – Batey – Bija – Cabuya – Canoa (Bote) – Cibao (name of a region of the country) – Cocuyo / Cucuyo (Firefly) – Colibrí (Hummingbird) – Conuco (referring to an orchard) – Guay (Ouch!) – Guayo (Cheese and / or yucca scratcher) – Hamaca (Hammock) – Huracan (Hurricane) – jutia (a rat-like but larger animal) – Iguana – Jagua (a species of fruit) – Jaiba (a species of freshwater crab) – Jicotea (a type of turtle) – Mabí – Macuto (sports bag / backpack / luggage) – Maraca – Piragua (large umbrella) – Yuca (cassava) among others.

There are many museums in our country that include many relics that the taínos used, such is the case of the Altos de Chavón Regional Archaeological Museum, where the indigenous legacy of our culture is documented. It is open everyday until 9pm for all visitors to learn more about the intellectual, artistic and cultural landscape of the Dominican Republic. The museum carries a superb collection of over 3000 pieces found in the region and collected by Samuel Pión over 40 years. They display, in chronological order, the evolution of the culture of indigenous societies from the pre-agricultural era to the time of the Tainos, the dominant culture on the island when the Spaniards arrived.

They also host a wide range of activities, such as conferences, temporary exhibitions, research visits to rural areas and different workshops for tour guides. They even have a special “Discover Room” for children, where they hosts kid’s activities, giving them the opportunity to be archaeologists through various educational activities.

Information sources :

Día de los Pueblos Indigenas:

Museo de Chavón:

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