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The Taïno (or Taino) is an indigenous ethnic group from the Arawak tribe, which occupied the Greater Antilles when the Europeans arrived in the 15th century.

After their dispersal, during the sixteenth century, many West Indians, especially part of the Cubans, the Haitians, the Puerto Ricans, and of the Dominicans, continue to consider themselves as Taino: the Taino Lucayan people (in present-day Bahamas), the Western Taino people (in Cuba), the Central Taino people (in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and the Eastern Taino people (in the Lesser Antilles).

The Taino believe that the dead’s souls continues their existence in a different world. From that place, they can see all the living’s facts and know all their secrets. The shamans can communicate with these souls.

Lamentation around the corpse lying on a mat

The Taino are described as being gentle persons, ignorant of evil, incapable of killing and imprisoning each other, and very close and respectful of nature.

For them, death is not an extinction or a punishment, but rather a step in the transition from one existence to another. That represents an expected and anticipated event which is a part of the natural cosmic order.

They believe that after death they meet with all the missing loved ones, and there, in the afterlife, they can enjoy pleasures similar to the terrestrial’s ones.
The dead go to the « home of the absent », a distant place at the end of Soraya island, inaccessible to the living.

They practice various funeral rituals: the secondary burial in caves, the cremation of some of the bones, the burial of the bones and skull, or the preservation of the ancestors’ bones in open baskets.

The tribal leaders receive specific rituals: they may be embalmed (the entire corpse is opened and dried by fire) or euthanized (which consists of strangle him at the end of his life). They can be chased out of the house or left in a hammock, with water and bread, until they die. Sometimes they can be burned inside the house where they died.

End-of-life strangulation can also concern people with serious illnesses, but this is only practiced with the agreement of the tribal chief.

For other Taino, only the head is kept or buried in a cave, with a bottle of water and bread. 

Each tribal chief believes that the dead return to their region.

In their belief, the dead remain locked up during the day and mingle with the living, walk, and celebrate the night. The living people have a named spirit, but the dead have an elusive one. To make certain, the Taino has to check if the individual has a navel: if he does not possess a navel, it is a dead person. The navel represents the proof of the passage on earth, the result of the separation from the mother at birth.

A living being can, by ignorance, sleep with a dead being, and when he tries to hug him, the deceased disappears.
The dead may appear to the living shaped as a man or a woman, possibly a father, mother, brother, or in other forms. They say that the dead come out only at night hence their fear of going out after sunset.

Palms casket on trestles

They smoke the body (by drying and exposure as a preservation method), then insert the remains in a container and bury it.

The receptacle keeps the individual in the burial position and allows his transport until the burial place.

That container may be a basket, a mat, made of bamboo or palm, in tissues, such as a shroud made of a hammock, bark pieces, or a hollow tree trunk.

Later, they reopen the grave and remove the skeleton. The collected portion is then re-inhumated, either in the same grave or in another grave. It is also possible to not re-inhumate the skeleton.

Often they keep the skulls of their dead in an urn or a basket. The chiefs’ skulls can be conserved in a wooden statue.

The bats and the owls are associated with death.

Tainos people

Sources :

Giuseppe A. Samonà, L’insaisissable religion des Taïnos. Esquisse d’anthropologie historique

Wikipédia, Tainos


Jacques Flint, Des cavernes de la partie espagnole de l’île de Saint-Domingue

François Rodriguez-Loube, Les Antilles, Un Des Derniers Peuplements Précolombiens de l’Amérique

Menno Hoogland, Anthropologie funéraire amérindienne dans les Petites Antilles

Bernard Grunberg, Les indiens des petites Antilles, Des premiers peuplements aux débuts de la colonisation européenne 

Culture Taïna – Croyances sur la mort et funérailles


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