June 27, 2016

On Thursday May 5, 2016 the Jamaican National Heritage Trust (JNHT) staged ‘Encounter Day’ at the Seville Heritage Park, St Ann, under the theme Taino Lives Matter. The staging of Encounter Day on May 5 was a deliberate strategic move by the JNHT as May 5 marks the 522nd anniversary of the first visit of Christopher Columbus to Jamaica. Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean and during his second voyage on May 5, 1494 he visited Jamaica. His first stop was in St Ann. (He returned to on his fourth voyage in 1503 and stayed here until 1504) Columbus’ encounter with Jamaica allowed him to meet the first settlers of Jamaica, the Tainos (formerly referred to as Arawaks).

Over a hundred and thirty students from St. Ann (Breadnut Hill Primary, Priory Primary, St Ann’s Bay Primary, Columbus Prep, Steer Town Academy, St Ann’s Bay High, Marcus Garvey Technical High School and Walkerswood All Age) were treated to exciting educational activities geared towards informing them and their teachers about the lives and times of the Tainos. Activities included a free tour of the museum located at Seville Heritage Park which has many artefacts from the Tainos, Spaniards, African and English who all played important roles in the formation and structure of the Jamaican society. The Seville Heritage Park sits on the first Spanish settlement in Jamaica and in fact was the first capital of Jamaica until the decision was taken to move it to St Jago del Vega (Spanish Town).

Students were shown food items that Tainos used which are still enjoyed by Jamaicans today such as pineapple, papayas, custard apples, cassava, naseberries, corn, sweet potatoes, and pimento, among many others. A number of other real items used by Tainos were displayed such as a zemi (an idol) and tools.

The main lecture was done by an archaeologist, Dr. Ivor Conolley which was mainly about the continuing influence of the Tainos on present day Jamaica. These influences, he stated, still exist in Jamaica by the foods we eat, words we use, names of things and names of places such as hurricane, barbecue, hammock, Liguanea, Moneague, Guanaoboa Vale, Mammee Bay among others. The most revealing part of Dr Conolley’s lecture was that the Tainos did not all die and became extinct as a result of diseases and the brutal treatment of the Spaniards. Instead, he pointed out, they interbred with the earliest Africans who came to Jamaica as slaves and ran away to the hills for their freedom. These Africans became the Maroons and that they lived among and learned from the Tainos about the plants and animals of Jamaica and how they could be eaten and used. The Maroons were therefore a mixture of Taino and African. Dr Conolley stated that the DNA of the Taino people remain in the wider Jamaican society and that if a DNA study was done of Jamaica this would be proven as it was the case in Cuba and The Dominican Republic. Taino blood flows through the veins of many Jamaicans today!

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Following the thought provoking presentation by Dr Conolley, the displays and the cultural items by Marcus Garvey High and Steer Town Academy, it was time for lunch. The lunch was cleverly prepared and presented with the general Taino theme in mind with things they ate or things made from things they ate. These included sprat (fish), sweet potato and cornmeal puddings, boiled corn, guava jam sandwich, bammy, and pepper pot soup. The Taino inspired delights were enjoyed by all.

Many students and teachers expressed their appreciation for the Encounter Day experience. One teacher indicated her satisfaction with the use of the poem There Was an Indian by John Squire which was shared with the students which gave them a mental image of the likely first encounter the Taino had with the coming of the Spaniards over five hundred years ago. One student pointed out that the whole day made him realise that the Tainos were real people, who did real things, ate real food and left a real rich legacy for Jamaica which is very present today.

The next major activity to be staged at Seville by the JNHT will be Emancipation Jubilee 2016 on Sunday July 31, 2016 under the theme United & Free: What a Jubilee!

Submitted by:
Duane Harris
Director of Communications