First Inhabitants of the Caribbean
The First Immigrants Arrived
Over 4,000 Years Ago.
The first settlers were an unknown race of Stone Age people who lived in the Caribbean about 4,000 years ago.
Apparently without permanent settlements, they were hunter-gatherers. They left behind no pottery, only stone tools which the Arawaks found useful 1,000 years later when they moved into the islands.
The Arawaks called this unknown race Ciboney, after the Arawak word "ciba" for stone. Modern archaeologists still have no idea where the Ciboney wandered in from or off to, but they were gone from the Caribbean long before the Arawaks arrived.
Paddling their big dugout canoes over from South America , the Arawaks spread out into the Caribbean from the Orinoco region of Venezuela about 500 B.C.
Thus the Arawaks had already discovered the Caribbean more than a thousand years before Columbus. Their prior claim was ignored. The Spanish quickly and completely obliterated the Arawaks.
The significant impact of the Arawaks on the modern world is not generally appreciated. They are credited with introducing Europeans not only to the hammock and its wonderfully restful properties, but also to tobacco and syphilis.
For at least a millennium the Arawaks, a peaceful race, lived a Caribbean idyll similar to the South Seas Islanders of the Pacific. They wore almost no clothing, hunted and fished as they needed, and grew crops such as yams and most importantly the cassava, which was ground to make bread.
The Arawak concept of beauty was an interesting one. The ultimate turn-on was a pointed head, so babies had their heads pressed between slats of wood to enhance their beauty. Not surprisingly, the Arawaks lived in conical-shaped shelters, made of thatch rather than pressed wood.
They liked to dance, play games similar to volleyball and badminton and party while under the influence of maize alcohol and a powdery drug ingested up their nostrils. Reportedly, the early Spanish were frightened when they first saw Arawaks puffing on firebrands of tobacco, one of the earliest versions of cigarettes.
Possessions apparently meant little to the individual Arawak unless someone tried to steal them. Theft was considered a major crime, and a culprit would be slowly skewered to death with a pole.
When the early Spanish explorers showed up, the Arawaks were happy to share what they owned. Columbus himself noted the Arawaks were generous, gentle and honest. The Arawaks should have skewered him.
Within 50 years of the discovery of the New World, the Arawaks as a race were destroyed, forced by the Spanish into slave labor to work their gold mines.
Though peaceful, the freedom-loving Arawaks were not the most cooperative of slaves. The Indians had a strong belief in an afterlife, in a place they called "Coyaba" where one feasted and danced all day long without the interference of hurricanes, sickness or the Spanish.
Many Arawaks committed suicide rather than submit to a life of servitude.
The Carib Indians, immortalized today through the names of the Caribbean region and island-brewed Carib beer, were not so easy.