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Jamaican Arawak
Native Jamaican circa 1890s.
Total population
unknown, at least 3,500 people
0.1% of the population
Regions with significant populations
 United States
Jamaican Patois
Jamaican English
Arawakan (historically)
Related ethnic groups

The Yamaye people are the descendants of Arawak peoples in Jamaica.[1] They also are typically mixed with African and European and sometimes, Asian ancestry.[2] They are commonly known as Arawak.[3] In the 1990s, people started to refer to all indigenous Jamaicans as Taíno[4] There is a minor population of Yamaye people in Jamaica,[5] most notably in Saint Elizabeth Parish, as well as mountainous regions throughout Jamaica and the Maroon community,[6]Canada,[7] and the United States.[8] It is unknown the exact amount of Yamaye people there are. It is estimated that there are around 3,500[9]


The term "Arawak" was a name that was originally applied to the Taino by the Spanish. As they believed that there were similarities with the language spoken by the Arawak Indians of Guianas. Irving Rouse (1992) relates that Daniel Garrison Brinton looked at the similarities between the Arawak people and the Taíno people in 1871 and determined that based on cultural and linguistic similarities. He came to the conclusion that the Taíno were of the same group as the Lokono Arawaks of northeast South America.

The term "Taino" was given by the Spaniards to the people they encountered and was later applied to the same ethnic group by Cornelius Rafinesque in 1836. According to Peter Hulme (1986), the name was thought to of mean "Good" and "Noble"[6]

However, due to recent linguistic investigation, the meaning of this word is "Relatives" as well as "Family".[10]



After AD 600, Jamaica was first colonized by the ancestors of the Yamaye, the Ostionoid culture (Rouse 1992).[1] These people were also known as the Redware people to local Jamaicans.[6] It is believed that these people lived in coastal areas, with two settlements being only 1km inland, making them the only exceptions. Three hundred years later, the next migration of people were from the Meillacan Ostionoid culture. Traditionally, it was a common belief that the Ostionans were colonized by the Meillacans and absorbed into the latter cultural group, and the Ostionan period was believed to have ended around AD 900. However, recent archaeological investigations across many sites across the island have indicated that the two groups possibly co-inhabited the island. The Melliacan people did not have settlement patterns like the Ostionoid people, as sites have been found all across Jamaica with no clear pattern.

The third migration was the Europeans in early May of 1494[11]. Due to multiple reasons, many Yamaye people died. The main people to survive were the Yamaye people who escaped to the mountains, where they mixed with the Africans and created a new population of people. Other Yamaye people survived through heavy assimilation.[5]

Chiefdoms / Tribes

It is unknown exactly how many tribes existed within Jamaica. However, some estimate at least a total of eight tribes: Aguacadiba, Ameyao, Anaya, Guaygata, Huereo, Maynoa, Oristan and Vaquabo.[12] However, only two tribes were able to survive; Ameyao and Huareo.[13] And eventually, even those tribes perished. In recent times, one tribe emerged again, a tribe known as Iucayeke Yamaye Guani with the current chief being Kasike Nibonrix, whom also is an Island Carib speaker. The most notable recent events involving Iukayeke Yamaye Guani involves The Run Yamayeka Run, also known as the Run Taino Run event.[14][15][16][17][18]


Columbus and his people did not record much of the Yamaye language. Based on the surviving words, and what words have been recorded, The Yamaye people spoke at least one Arawakan language.[19][20][21] Today, the Yamaye descendants mainly speak Jamaican Patois and Jamaican English.

Notable Yamaye people

Kasike Nibonrix [1] is known as the first modern day Cacique in Jamaica. He is mixed-race, with Jamaican Maroon and Yamaye ancestors.

Alexander Bustamante[22][23] was one of 13 children, born into poverty to an Arawak mother and an Irish father. At age 15, he was adopted by a wealthy Spanish army officer who was on vacation in Jamaica.[24] He became the first Prime Minister of Jamaica.

Colin Jackson[25][26] is a former British athlete, with parents of Jamaican origins. In 1992, Mr. Jackson won a silver Olympic medal.[27][28]


  1. ^ a b Allsworth-Jones, Phillip (2008). Pre-Columbian Jamaica. The University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817382551.
  2. ^ Atkinson, Lesley-Gail (2010). Taíno Influence on Jamaican Folk traditions.
  3. ^ "Jamaican Arawak History". diaryofanegress. 2012-09-30. Retrieved .
  4. ^ "Arawak/Taino Cave Art of Jamaica Artist Glenn Woodley images are interpretations of the cave art found all over Jamaica. Evidence of a people long gone, and a unique and precious part of Jamaica's National Heritage". Jamaicans.com. 2004-03-26. Retrieved .
  5. ^ a b "'I am not extinct' - Jamaican Taino proudly declares ancestry". jamaica-gleaner.com. 2014-07-05. Retrieved .
  6. ^ a b c Taino Indians: Settlements of the Caribbean. CiteSeerX
  7. ^ "The Jamaican Community in Canada". www150.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved .
  8. ^ Lasky, Melvin J. The Language of Journalism: Newspaper culture. Volume one. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412837552.
  9. ^ "'I am not extinct' - Jamaican Taino proudly declares ancestry". jamaica-gleaner.com. 2014-07-05. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Estevez, Jorge (2016-09-28). "Origins of the word Taino". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ "The History of Jamaica". Jamaica Information Service. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Swanton, John Reed (2003). The Indian Tribes of North America. Genealogical Publishing Com. pp. <pages>=</611>. ISBN 9780806317304.
  13. ^ Keegan, William F.; Hofman, Corinne L.; Ramos, Reniel Rodríguez, eds. (2013-03-07). "The Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archaeology". doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195392302.001.0001. ISBN 9780195392302. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ "Indigenous people celebrated at Run Taíno Run". www.loopjamaica.com. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "Inaugural run seeks to recognise Taino heritage". jamaica-gleaner.com. 2018-03-11. Retrieved .
  16. ^ Global, Jamaica (2018-06-04). "The Tainos Part II: We are Tainos". Jamaica Global Online. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "Support Cacike (chief) Ceremony for Jamaican Taino Tribe". FundRazr. Retrieved .
  18. ^ CVM Television (2019-02-20), CVM At Sunrise February 19, 2019, retrieved
  19. ^ "The Languages of Jamaica". www.jamaicaexperiences.com. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "History of Jamaica âEUR" The First People []". studylib.net. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Mühleisen, Susanne (2005-01-01). "Language in Jamaica. By Pauline Christie. Jamaica. Arawak Publications. 2003". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 20 (2): 395-398. doi:10.1075/jpcl.20.2.19muh. ISSN 0920-9034.
  22. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1977-08-07). "Sir Alexander Bustamante, Jamaican Leader, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved .
  23. ^ "Jamaica Gleaner Online". old.jamaica-gleaner.com. Retrieved .
  24. ^ "William Alexander Bustamante and Adoption". adoption.com. Retrieved .
  25. ^ reporter, Martha Kelner Chief sports (2017-09-02). "Colin Jackson: phenomenal athlete who came out at 50". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved .
  26. ^ "BBC - Who Do You Think You Are? - Past Stories - Colin Jackson". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved .
  27. ^ "Colin Jackson Bio, Stats, and Results". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Archived from the original on 2020-04-17. Retrieved .
  28. ^ "Colin JACKSON - Olympic Athletics | Great Britain". International Olympic Committee. 2016-06-17. Retrieved .

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