Culture

New Study Finds Taíno DNA Is Still Present Despite Paper Genocide Perpetrated By European Colonizers

The island now named Puerto Rico was once home to between 30 and 70 thousand people collectively known as Taíno. They all descended from various ethnic groups that settled on the island as far back in history as 3,000 B.C. In the 15th century, after the colonizers arrived, the official story was that a century of conquistadores wiped any trace of these indigenous peoples. They were thought to be extinct —or so said the official recordings.

A DNA study last year found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans and roughly a third of Cubans and Dominicans have Native American mitochondrial DNA.

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It was a common belief —until now— that Puerto Rico’s indigenous Taíno people were exterminated shortly after the Spanish conquista took place in 1511. “[The indigenous people] show the most singular loving behavior… and are gentle and always laughing,” Columbus recorded. Conquistador Diego Velázquez’s arrival in 1511 would change that forever. Those Taíno who had never before been put to the sword or worked to death fell victim to smallpox, influenza, and measles. The diseases from Europe presented a biological attack the native people could not survive. Within 100 years of Columbus’ landfall, virtually the entire indigenous population – heavily concentrated in the fertile lowlands of eastern Cuba – had perished. Yet contrary to popular belief, Taíno bloodlines, identity, and customs were never completely extinguished.

The overall population of the Taíno people fell dramatically after being submitted to forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery. Colonizers killed off the population during the savage and brutal conquest of the New World. They even removed them from censuses. “Christian converts”, “Wives of colonists” and “other” were some of the categories they were put into. These official records and other colonial documents have reinforced the narrative that the indigenous peoples were completely extinguished. 

The tribe’s supposed extinction was a ‘paper genocide,’ according to experts.

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Recently, people from all over the Caribbean have spoken out to National Geographic, declaring that they identify as Taíno and that their people survive to this day. Chief Jorge Baracutei Estevez, the head of the Taíno organization Huguayagua, describes the historical wipe-out of the tribe’s existence as a ‘paper genocide.’

According to Estevez, people were made to disappear on paper: “The 1787 census in Puerto Rico lists 2,300 pure Indians in the population, but on the next census, in 1802, not a single Indian is listed,” Estevez writes. “Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Spaniards who were reluctant to free their Indian slaves simply reclassified them as African on the census, Estevez writes.”

“We’re told our past is a thing that went extinct,” says Maria Nieves-Colón, an anthropological geneticist at Arizona State University, told The Atlantic.

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Growing up in Puerto Rico, the story was different. Her friends and neighbors would share oral histories about traditions that were passed down to them from Native ancestors, who must somehow have survived to share these customs. Over the past 10 years, Nieves-Colón has been working to collect tiny fragments of DNA from ancient remains. From three archaeological sites on the island, she and her colleagues acquired 124 skeletal remains, which all dated between A.D. 500 and 1300. They then searched teeth, bones, and dental plaque for genetic fragments—a difficult task, since DNA breaks down quickly and readily in tropical conditions.

Nieves-Colón was able to confirm through genetic research, that pre-Columbian populations share DNA sequences with modern-day Puerto Ricans. 

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Her team managed to completely decipher the mitochondrial genomes from 45 precontact people, and partial nuclear genomes from two of them. These sequences confirmed that indigenous Puerto Ricans were strongly connected to Amazonian groups from Venezuela and Colombia, and likely originated from that region. They also contained genetic evidence connecting pre-colonial populations with modern ones.

Modern-day Taínos have fought to correct the historical record and claim their identity.

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“Through marriage certificates, baptismal records and a scant few census reports, I was able to identify a few family members (in the mid-1700s) who were officially ‘identified’ as Negro one year, but categorized as ‘Indio’ just a few years prior,” Maritza Luz Feliciano Potter told National Geographic. “While I don’t deny my European or African ancestry, I deeply feel it’s long due that my family relearns, remembers, and reclaims our birthrights as Indigenous Boricuas [Puerto Ricans]. We Are Taíno! We are still here!,” she continued. The modern-day Taino have fought to correct the historical record by lobbying for accurate census categories that allow them to be counted.

This research provides the first concrete proof that indigenous ancestry in the Caribbean has survived to the present day.   

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“This shows that there really are ties to populations that are indigenous to the island, and survived through colonization, and are present in modern peoples,” researcher Benn Torres told National Geographic. “This is something that some people have said all along, based on their oral histories and other ways of knowing.”

READ: Ecuador Was In Chaos After Massive Protests But The Government Has Reached A Deal With These Indigenous Activists

Photographer Diego Huerta Took An Update Photo Of The Most Beautiful Girl In Mexico

Culture

Photographer Diego Huerta Took An Update Photo Of The Most Beautiful Girl In Mexico

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Diego Huerta is a photographer who has used his talents and time to document indigenous communities to preserve the culture and history. One of Huerta’s most famous photos was one of a young girl that he called the most beautiful girl in Mexico. He recently shared a new photo of the girl as a woman.

Diego Huerta shared an updated photo of the most beautiful girl woman in Mexico.

Huerta first met the girl when he was traveling through Mexico years ago. The first photo, posted in 2016 but taken in 2011, highlighted the young woman that he dubbed the most beautiful girl in Mexico. The latest photo shows the girl grown up and still living in her same pueblo in 2017. She is still a stunning reminder of the beauty that exists in southern Mexico.

The woman lives in Chiapas, the last Mexican state before entering Central America by way of Guatemala. There are multiple indigenous communities in Chiapas. While Huerta does not mention the indigenous community the woman belongs to, the clothing appears to represent the Zoque people.

The woman is still creating wander and interest among Huerta’s fans.

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Her quiet and still composure makes her seem like a Mexican Mona Lisa, tbh. Her stoic face in the photographs has captivated Huerta fans for years. The first photo of the young woman was seen around the world and her beauty was celebrated by everyone who saw the photo.

The young girl’s eyes are what drew in the love and praise from people around the world.

Huerta made it a point to call out the young girl’s eyes in the photo. It isn’t because of the color of her eyes. He was intrigued by her eyes because she is deaf and her eyes are one of the ways she is able to communicate with the world around her.

“In my journey through South Mexico, in a town located in the middle of the Chiapas’ mountains I found the most brilliant eyes that I have ever seen,” Huerta wrote in the original post. “The beauty of this girl was similar to the panoramic views I was able to appreciate every time I turned around. She´s deaf, the way to communicate with her was by signs. It is no mystery that the beauty of the true Mexican woman is way above all beauty contests.”

People are obsessing over her beauty that seems to improve with age.

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Nine years makes a big difference in a young person’s development. It can be the difference between 11 and 20, which is a huge difference. Her silent beauty is proof that indigenous communities hold some of the most beautiful people in the world. There is no reason to praise and adhere to Euro-centric beauty standards.

The Instagram posted is filled with messages of appreciation celebrating the photo and the young woman we saw grow up.

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Huerta currently has a documentary about the Tehuana people in Oaxaca. His photographs and film collection highlighting and exalting the indigenous community of Mexico is beautiful and necessary. He is collecting an important and vibrant part of human history by giving the first people to inhabit the land a chance to shine and show who Mexico truly is.

READ: Photographer Diego Huerta Is Giving Everyone A Look Into The Tehuana Culture In Oaxaca, Mexico

Photographer Diego Huerta Is Giving Everyone A Look Into The Tehuana Culture In Oaxaca, Mexico

Culture

Photographer Diego Huerta Is Giving Everyone A Look Into The Tehuana Culture In Oaxaca, Mexico

Diego Huerta / Instagram

Tehuana culture is rich in colors, traditions, and vibrantly patterned clothing. Diego Huerta, a photographer, has spent a lot of his time traveling throughout Mexico photographing indigenous people to preserve their history, culture, and customs. His love for Oaxaca was so powerful that he created a documentary celebrating the women.

Photographer Diego Huerta is highlighting the Tehuana woman in a documentary about the Oaxacan people.

The Tehuana traditional clothing is a very identifiable look. Frida Kahlo made the Tehuana style her signature look. The black and white dress with brightly colored flowers embroidered on the dress is something we have all seen.

For Huerta, being a Tehuana woman is like being a goddess.

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Tehuana. Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. 2017

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In the documentary, Huerta calls being a Tehuana woman similar to being a goddess.

“The Tehuana woman is a goddess, a queen,” Huerta says in the documentary.

“Tehuana is all of that,” an elderly woman responds. “It’s a set of feelings and ideas and creativity too. Survival, fight, courage.”

Indigenous communities around the world are often under attack and are a vulnerable population.

Currently, COVID-19 is threatening several indigenous communities around the world with extinction. These communities are not immune to many common western ailments and a disease we have no immunity too could cause untold damage to indigenous communities. For some, it could mean total extinction.

Huerta has been working to tell the stories of these indigenous Mexican communities to immortalize their culture and legacy for years to come.

The photographer’s work has captivated audiences around the world who have never seen or experienced these cultures. His work will no doubt live on to tell the stories of some of the most celebrated First Nations people in Mexico.

You can watch the full trailer for “Tehuana” below.

READ: Diego Huerta Is On A Mission To Photograph Mexico’s Indigenous Populations To Preserve Their Stories