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Puerto Rico, History

Archaeologists believe that the island of Puerto Rico was first settled in the 1st century ad. When the Spanish arrived in 1493, the island was inhabited by an agricultural people belonging to the Arawakan language family. The Spanish called them Tainos, but they were also known as Island Arawak. The Tainos called the island Boriquen (or Borinquen). They lived in settled villages, in small, thatch-roofed houses or huts known as bohios. Their main furniture was the hamanca (hammock). They molded clay into plates, jars, and other domestic items, decorating them with engraved or painted designs.

Taino agriculture was simple, but it produced a sufficient and balanced diet. The Tainos grew cassava, which they ground into flour for bread called casabe. Other crops included pineapples, sweet potatoes, and tobacco, which the Tainos smoked during religious ceremonies. In the rivers and the sea, they fished and gathered clams and snails. They also hunted rodents and iguanas.

Taino society centered around the village, whose chief was called cacique. Taino society was matrilineal, meaning that family lineage was traced through the female line. The cacique was succeeded not by his son but by the eldest son of one of his sisters. There was a large degree of equality between men and women in Taino society. In many instances a cacica, or female chief, served as the head of a village.

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