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Arawakan Language in Jamaica




Arawak was the language of the first settlers on the island of Jamaica, the Tainos. The Tainos arrived in Jamaica somewhere near 600 AD. It is assumed that the Tainos were the natives of the northern coast of South America.

The Arawakan speaking Tainos belonged to the Stone Age. They were peace-loving people. They settled down in Jamaica and continued to live there for almost 900 years. The existence of the Tainos was threatened when the Spanish invaded Jamaica in 1494. The search of Cathay, the land of gold in the East motivated the Spanish Conquest.

The Tainos became an extinct race within 50 years of the arrival of the Spanish. People were killed, some died of hunger, some were unable to survive the diseases brought in by the Spanish. Many committed suicide to escape being enslaved by the Spanish.

With the extinction of the Taino from Jamaica, their language Arawak was almost led to complete annihilation. The ups and downs in the history of Jamaica was enough to erase the Arawak language. The language belongs to the Arawakan Group of languages. Though some parts of the Caribbean still has other dialects belonging to the group, the Arawak as spoken by the Taino is absent.

Arawak has however contributed certain words to the English language. The list of Arawak words adopted into English include words like 'hammock', 'hurricane', 'tobacco', 'barbeque', 'cassava', 'guava' and 'canoe'.

Interestingly the word Jamaica has been derived from the Arawak word 'xaymaca' which means the 'land of wood and water' or the 'land of forest and water'. Arawak as a language of the Tainos may not be in vogue but it has definitely contributed to the enrichment of the English language.