From a noted archeologist/anthropologist, the story of the Tainos—the first people Columbus encountered when he arrived in the Americas—from their earliest days to their rapid decline after European contact"A model of clarity and lightly worn erudition, and it contains the best and most straightforward description of the four Columbus voyages and their implications for the Amerindians I have seen."—Kenneth Maxwell, New York Times Book Review Drawing on archeological and ethno-historical evidence, Irving Rouse sketches a picture of the Tainos as they existed during the time of Columbus, contrasting their customs with those of their neighbors.
He then moves backward in time to the ancestors of the Tainos—two successive groups who settled the West Indies and who are known to archeologists as the Saladoid peoples and the Ostionoid peoples. By reconstructing the development of these groups and studying their interaction with other groups during the centuries before Columbus, Rouse shows precisely who the Tainos were. He vividly recounts Columbus's four voyages, the events of the European contact, and the early Spanish views of the Tainos, particularly their art and religion. The narration shows that the Tainos did not long survive the advent of Columbus. Weakened by forced labor, malnutrition, and diseases introduced by the foreigners, and dispersed by migration and intermarriage, they ceased to exist as a separate population group.
As Rouse discusses the Tainos' contributions to the Spaniards—from Indian corn, tobacco, and rubber balls to art, artifacts, and new words—we realize that their effect on Western civilization, brief through their contact, was an important and lasting one.