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The Aborigines of Puerto Rico and Neighboring Islands

Jesse Walter Fewkes, L. Antonio Curet

Publication Year: 2009

A valuable recounting of the first formal archaeological excavations in Puerto Rico.

Originally published as the Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1907, this book was praised in an article in American Anthropologist as doing "more than any other to give a comprehensive idea of the archaeology of the West Indies."

Until that time, for mainly political reasons, little scientific research had been conducted by Americans on any of the Caribbean islands. Dr. Fewkes' unique skills of observation and experience served him well in the quest to understand Caribbean prehistory and culture. This volume, the result of his careful fieldwork in Puerto Rico in 1902-04, is magnificently illustrated by 93 plates and 43 line drawings of specimens from both public and private collections of the islands.

A 1907 article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland described the volume as "a most valuable contribution to ethnographical science."


Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Caribbean Archaeology and Ethnohistory


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-3

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pp. 3-4

Contrary to many other sciences, archaeologists have a tendency to find decades-old scholarly publications of great value. This is, in part, because some of the ideas and explanations are still valid, but also because the authors had an opportunity to observe archaeological sites before they were impacted by later modern activities. ...


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pp. 5-6


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pp. 7-16

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pp. 17-21

The author of the following monograph was commissioned by the Director of the Bureau of American Ethnology to visit the island of Porto Rico in 1902, and to continue the exploration in 1903 and 1904. The object of these visits was the collection of data and specimens that would shed light on the prehistoric inhabitants of this West Indian island ...

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Physical Features of Porto Rico

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pp. 21-22

The culture of a people is largely determined by its environment. The climate, fauna, flora, geology, and other physical conditions are important elements of this environment. Isolation, with consequent freedom from attack of foes, by which pure blood is retained for a considerable time, ...

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Precolumbian population

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pp. 23-24

The Europeans who first landed on the shores of Porto Rico reported the island to be densely peopled. The early Spanish voyagers state that the population was distributed over the whole island, but that it was thickly settled in the littoral tracts and along the banks of the rivers. ...

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Present descendants of the Porto Rican Indians

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pp. 24-26

The visits made by the author were too limited to determine what parts of the island are best suited for a study of the purest survivals of the former race, but marked Indian features were casually observed everywhere, especially in the isolated mountainous regions. ...

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Race and kinship

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pp. 26-28

Among the first words heard by the comrades of Columbus when they landed in Guadeloupe were "Taino! taino!" "Peacel peace!" or "We are friends." The designation "taino" has been used by several writers as a characteristic name for the Antillean race. ...

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Bodily characteristics

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pp. 28-31

Writers who followed Oviedo appear to have used his account indiscriminately in their descriptions of the mental and bodily characteristics of the islanders of Porto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba. Among these may be mentioned Iñigo, Charlevoix, and perhaps Gómara. ...

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Mental and moral characteristics

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pp. 31-33

Natives of the different islands, and even those of different parts of the same island, differed somewhat in disposition and character. Some were peaceful and guileless and received the Spaniards with feelings of reverence, believing they had descended from heaven. ...

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pp. 33-35

In the social organization of the aboriginal West Indians there was a clan chief, called by the Spaniards a cacique, who exercised the function of leader in peace and war and often served also as priest. The political was closely knit together with the religious leadership, and the caciques apparently performed both functions. ...

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Political divisions

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pp. 35-40

As already stated, there existed in prehistoric Borinquen a number of provinces, or caciquedoms, over each of which ruled a cacique, with subordinate chiefs, also called caciques, who were heads of families, or allied nataios, composed of their blood kindred, and their slaves and dependents. ...

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pp. 41-47

The houses of the aboriginal Porto Ricans were like those of the Haitians and not very different from the cabins of the poorer people of the island to-day: especially those in the mountains, where old types of construction still survive. Naturally modern cabins present many modifications, as the use of iron nails in fastening the beams, but the materials used in construction are practically the same, ...

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Secular customs

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pp. 47-53

Descent among the Borinqueños was in the female line, and their names, of which the son of a cacique had several, were given in a ceremony that occurred immediately after birth. Such names as "Heavenly," "Highness," "Bright One," were borne by some of the chieftl, whom it was customary to address by all their titles. ...

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pp. 53-76

A prominent writer states that the aborigines of Porto Rico were wholly destitute of a religion. This is a mistake. If the word religion be limited to a belief in ethical gods, in a beneficent creator and a malevolent devil, the Borinqueños had no religion, but the word should hot be so limited. ...

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The name Borinquen

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pp. 76-78

In his lettera to the Catholic monarchs Columbus states that the natives of the islands that he had discovered did not differ in customs nor in language (en Ia Iengua). In this diary, as given by Las Casas, he says that the Indian women taught the Spaniards to carry on trade in their language, which is "one in all those islands (la qual es toda una en todaa estas islas de India)," ...

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Archeological sites

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pp. 78-89

In addition to the preceding information regarding the prehistoric Porto Ricans, obtained from historical accounts or from ethnology and folklore, we have that afforded by a study of prehistoric objects found in the soil, in caves, or on village sites. These can often be interpreted by the writings of the Spanish historians, and they also present evidence in themselves of the character of the long-extinct people that manufactured and used them. ...

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Archeological objects

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pp. 89-214

By far the most important means now available for the interpretation of the culture of the prehistoric Porto Ricans is a study of archeological objects that are being brought to light by chance discovery or scientific exploration. When the extent to which prehistoric objects may aid us in an interpretation of aboriginal life is more generally penetrated and found to be solid, without traces of artificial remains. ...

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pp. 214-220

When we examine as a whole in a comparative way the archeological objects from Porto Rico and Santo Domingo, we find them quite different from those of North, Central, or South America. Types like the stone collars and three-pointed idols are not known to occur on the American continent, but are limited to Porto Rico and Santo Domingo, ...


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pp. 221-234


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pp. 249-343

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382490
E-ISBN-10: 0817382496
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817355746
Print-ISBN-10: 081735574X

Page Count: 330
Illustrations: 138
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Caribbean Archaeology and Ethnohistory