"The People Columbus Encountered" by Irving Rouse, Ph.D. (1913-2006).

An excerpt from Rouse’s The Taínos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus (1992). Rouse was an archeologists, a professor of anthropology, and a curator at the Yale Peabody Museum. He led numerous excavations all over the Caribbean.

Columbus encountered large, permanent villages in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, each governed by a chief, or cacique. They contained an average of one thousand to two thousand people and ranged in size from a single building to twenty to fifty houses, all made of wood and thatch. Several related families lived together in the same house.

The villages were loosely organized into district chiefdoms, each ruled by one of the village chiefs in the district, and the district chiefdoms were in turn grouped into regional chiefdoms, each headed by the most prominent district chief.

The villagers were divided into two classes (nitaíno and naboria), which the chroniclers equated with their own nobility and commoners.

Columbus took special notice of the Taínos’ goldwork because it offered him an opportunity to repay his debt to his patrons, the king and queen of Spain. The Taínos mined nuggets of gold locally and beat them into small plates.