[N.B.: I originally published this post on 2013.01.17. I revised it for clarity and to replace broken links. Although there are new developments on this topic, this post will not address them; however, I may address them in future posts.]
This is the first post in my Hispanic HBD series (for an introduction, see the primer). As a reminder, you may click any photo in this post to enlarge it.
We begin the Hispanic HBD series with an in-depth look at the people of the island of Quisqueya (“the cradle of life”); the island was also known as Ayiti (“land of the mountains”) and Bohio (“the rich villages”) in pre-colonial times. Cristobal Colon and Co. renamed the isle Hispañola soon after arriving in 1492 AD; that said, I’ll refer to the island as Quisqueya throughout this post. Anyhow, to understand how today’s Dominicans came about, we must first look at Quisqueya’s pre-colonial history.
I. Indigenous People of Quisqueya
Prior to Cristobal Colon and Co.’s arrival in the Caribbean, the Taíno inhabited
Quisqueya (and most of the Caribbean – primarily the Greater Antilles); there were also a few Island Caribs there – more on them later. The Taíno descend from two principal waves of migration – the first from Central America and the second from South America. According to hispaniola.com (a source I’ll draw from regularly in this post):
Anthropologists have traced multiple waves of indigenous immigration from two principal places. Some of the early Amer-Indians came from Central America (probably Yucatán and Belize) and some came from South America, descendants of the Arawakan Indians in Amazonia, many of whom passed through the Orinocco [sic] Valley in Venezuela. It is from the blending of these waves of indigenous immigrants that the Taíno Indians, the people who welcomed Columbus on his arrival, are believed to have originated.
The Central American wave apparently dates back beyond 4000 BC; the Amazonian wave was more recent – around 2500 BC (source):
The first wave is believed to have occurred as early as 4000-5000 BC from the Yucatan Peninsula of Middle America. It is believed that the colonists took advantage of the Caribbean Counter Current and were able to reach Cuba and move eastward into Hispaniola. Keegan (1995) explains that the second wave is believed to have been around 2500 BC and moved along the coastal areas of Venezuela and the Guianas to settle the West Indies.
Pertaining to the pre-colonial Taíno population in the Greater Antilles and the northern part of the Lesser, Walker and Ribeiro’s Bayesian phylogeographic analysis shows that they descended from the Arawak in South America; let’s take a closer look at their findings:
Note that the Taíno emerge as part of the Circum-Caribbean clade with 93% posterior probability (i.e. the probability that they truly migrated there from a given region). From Walker and Ribiero’s paper:
Interestingly, the Marawa and Waraicu languages located near the Amazon River form a deep clade with Circum-Caribbean languages (posterior probability of 0.93). These languages do not show especially high conservatism…This suggests that this ancient clade may have originated around the main branch of the Amazon River, with a potential migration up the Rio Branco towards the Guyanas and later the Caribbean, and not a migration originating from Northwest Amazonia…
Further in the paper, the authors find that the likeliest homelands for the Arawak are either in Western Amazonia (probability 44%) or the northeastern (or southern) parts of South America (probability of each 16%). More interesting than this, however, is the set of traits that define the Arawak:
Ethnographers have identified a set of cultural practices considered together as being distinctively Arawak, albeit with considerable variation. These cultural traits include socio-political alliances with ethnolinguistically distant peoples; strong emphasis on religion, class and descent; and limited endo-warfare that contrasts with cycles of vendetta and within-group warfare common for many lowland Amazonians. At one extreme were Arawak chiefdoms in the Circum-Caribbean, the Taíno and Lokono, with strict hierarchical orderings, divine ancestry and chiefly elite lineages…Post-marital residence in Arawak societies tends more towards virilocality (whereby females transfer) in contrast to the common lowland pattern of uxorilocality (whereby males transfer)…
The first of these – namely, “sociopolitical alliances with ethnolinguistically distant peoples” – is something even Cristobal picked up on when he and his entourage sailed to the Caribbean (again from hispaniola.com):
Columbus’ journal is full of descriptions indicating how beautiful the island paradise was, including high, forested mountains and large river valleys. He described the Taíno as very peaceful, generous, and cooperative with the Europeans…
I’ll get to Colon and the colonial period of Quisqueya in Section II. But first, let’s backtrack a bit to Arawak post-marital residency and their “sociopolitical alliances with ethnolinguistically distant peoples” – I’ll address the former first. If these notes are correct (see Sec. 4 of that list), then the Taíno practiced cross-cousin marriage; Section 5 of the same notes suggest that married Taíno resided in the maternal uncle’s residence (which, to me, implies a mother’s brother’s daughter – or MBD – arrangement). hbd chick has a series of interesting posts on MBD marriage (and other cross-cousin marriage paradigms); her research shows that kids born of parents in an MBD arrangement are somewhat less inbred than, say, kids born of parents in an FBD arrangement. In an earlier post, she showed that successive inbreeding accelerated familial altruistic evolution (particularly its genetic markers) and decreased genetic variation in familial altruism within inbred families; thus the more inbred a family, the more altruistic they were toward cats in the family – but not toward cats outside the family! As such, the Taíno MBD arrangement (which resulted in less inbreeding) likely promoted extrafamilial altruism. (To clarify, MBD societies exhibit more extrafamilial altruism than FBD societies but less than fully outbred societies, on average.)
Taíno extrafamilial altruism, however, didn’t begin with Cristobal and Co.’s arrival; they also interacted with the Island Caribs with whom they traded. In contrast to the Taíno, however, the Caribs (by multiple accounts <– two links there!) were a fierce people. A January 2009 article in the Caribbean Property Magazine gives more insight (link removed from post since it’s dead; excerpt retained):
The Taínos were historical neighbors and enemies of the fierce Carib tribes, another group with origins in South America who lived principally in the Lesser Antilles. The relationship between the two groups has been the subject of much study. For much of the 15th century, the Taíno tribe was being driven to the Northeast in the Caribbean (out of what is now South America) because of raids by fierce Caribs.
Contrary to the Arawaks/Taínos which were peaceful and only defended themselves against attack from others, the Caribs were warriors belonging to a culture that valued exploits in combat above all else. The Caribs seem to have owed their dominance in the Caribbean basin to their mastery of the arts of war. Extremely warlike and ferocious, they seem to have overrun the Lesser Antilles and to have driven out the Arawak about a century before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
The Island Caribs often took Arawak/Taíno women captive during their raids; they acquired some Arawak language this way (either by exposure, by mating with the Arawak/Taíno women, or both). I’ll expound on the Island Caribs in detail in a future post; for now, let us return to the Taíno.
II. Colonial Occupation of Quisqueya
Rather than recount the many events that took place during this period, I’ll focus only on those events that help explain how today’s Dominicans and Haitians came about. As I mentioned earlier, Cristobal Colon and Co. first reached Quisqueya in 1492; though they initially “befriended” the Taíno, they wasted no time in enslaving them and gaining control of the island. The mostly Taíno population of Quisqueya, reportedly 8 million strong before Cristobal’s arrival (though estimates vary wildly), suffered great decimation through slavery, sickness, famine, and abuse. A Spanish priest named Bartolomé de las Casas logged some of the atrocities in his 1561 book History of the Indies; here are some excerpts (courtesy of the Caribbean Property Magazine; link removed since it’s dead):
…there were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived in 1508], including the Indians; so that means from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?
[The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mothers breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks…they spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords….and by thirteen’s, in honor and reverence for our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive.
About that bit about the Redeemer and the Apostles…have to mention that Cristobal and Co. “introduced” the people of Quisqueya to Christianity (via Catholicism); if this summary is any indication, the Taíno were likely forced into it. Now, recall from Walker and Ribiero’s paper that the Arawak (from whom the Taíno descend) placed strong emphasis on religion; indeed, the Taíno were ritualistic, as this excellent article in the Smithsonian Magazine describes:
More than 1,000 years before the Spaniards arrived, local shamans and other pilgrims visited […] caves to glimpse the future, to pray for rain and to draw surreal images on the walls with charcoal: mating dogs, giant birds swooping down on human prey, a bird-headed man copulating with a human, and a pantheon of naturalistically rendered owls, turtles, frogs, fish and other creatures important to the Taíno, who associated particular animals with specific powers of fecundity, healing, magic and death.
The cohoba ritual was first described by Friar Ramón Pané, a Hieronymite brother who, on the orders of Columbus himself, lived among the Taíno and chronicled their rich belief system. Pané’s writings—the most direct source we have on ancient Taíno culture—was the basis for Peter Martyr’s 1516 account of cohoba rites: “The intoxicating herb,” Martyr wrote, “is so strong that those who take it lose consciousness; when the stupefying action begins to wane, the arms and legs become loose and the head droops.” Under its influence, users “suddenly begin to rave, and at once they say . . . that the house is moving, turning things upside down, and that men are walking backwards.” Such visions guided leaders in planning war, judging tribal disputes, predicting the agricultural yield and other matters of importance.
It’s little wonder that Cristobal, in a journal entry from 1492, thought the Taíno “seemed to have no religion” when commenting on the expected ease of exposing them to Christianity; what he failed to realize, however, was how spiritual the Taíno really were.
Now back to the Taíno decimation…while war, slavery, and hard labor all contributed, illness contributed the most; the Spanish introduced such illnesses as smallpox and measles – illnesses which were evolutionarily novel in Quisqueya. That is, the Spanish (and other European colonizers like the French) likely evolved resistance to the illnesses, whereas the Taíno did not (or rather, could not); see this research article for an insightful look at how biological, genetic, and social factors contributed to Taíno depopulation (plus an interesting take on so-called “virgin soils” theories; also see this older paper).
Now, if the Spanish nearly wiped out the Taíno though their acts and through resultant illness and famine, what became of Quisqueya’s population? As was the case when the Island Caribs raided Taíno villages, the Spanish conquistadors took Taíno women as wives; from the aforementioned Smithsonian Magazine article:
In time, many Taíno women married conquistadors, combining the genes of the New World and Old World to create a new mestizo population, which took on Creole characteristics with the arrival of African slaves in the 16th century. By 1514, barely two decades after first contact, an official survey showed that 40 percent of Spanish men had taken Indian wives. The unofficial number is undoubtedly higher.
The story does not end here, however – for I must explain (in admittedly simplified terms) the evolutionary divergence in Quisqueya which gave rise to two distinct people – Dominicans and Haitians. In the book Natural Experiments of History, the editors (Jared Diamond and James Robinson) devote half a chapter to the Dominican/Haitian divergence. To further condense what the editors wrote, western Quisqueya (present-day Haiti) was more mountainous and less fertile than eastern Quisqueya (present-day Dominican Republic). Moreover, as Spanish interest shifted away from Quisqueya and toward their richer colonies, French, Dutch, and British cats established themselves on Tortuga Island (Turtle Island); these cats, along with some runaway slaves, became the infamous Pirates of the Caribbean. Long story short, Spain ceded control of western Quisqueya to France in the 17th century…
…resulting in the above map. By this time, the French and Spanish parts of Quisqueya each underwent demographic changes. The Spanish already intermarried with the Taíno and birthed mestizo (generally part White part Amerindian) children in the 16th century; the Atlantic Slave Trade introduced African slaves to Quisqueya. Now here’s where it gets interesting – according to Diamond and Robinson:
- 85% of French Quisqueya’s population consisted of African slaves; this contrasts with Spanish Quisqueya, where only 10-15% of the population were slaves.
- By the late 18th century, French Quisqueya had as many as 500,000 slaves, compared with 15,000-30,000 in Spanish Quisqueya.
French Quisqueya, as Diamond and Robinson note, was actually one of the richest nations in the world in colonial times. While deforestation began during this era, Haiti was still richer (i.e. more economically prosperous) than the D.R. until the early 20th century. Present-day Haiti is over 99% deforested, while the present-day Dominican Republic is roughly 72% deforested.
The rapid resource depletion in French Quisqueya, which became clear in the early 20th century, contributed to a problem that still exists today – immense poverty in present-day Haiti. In any case, it’s clear that the sheer difference in the African slave populations in French and Spanish Quisqueya helped shape current demographic profiles in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti. Let’s dig a lil’ further.
III. Post-colonial and Present-Day Quisqueya
The slaves of French Quisqueya revolted against their captors in 1791 and ultimately gained their independence from France in 1804; the nation now known as Haiti was the first independent Caribbean nation and the first post-colonial Black republic in the world. The people there developed their own language – Haitian Creole – which didn’t gain much traction beyond Haiti; indeed, an estimated 90% of Haiti’s population can only speak Haitian Creole (the rest speak French). Methinks this language barrier adds to the difficulties present-day Haiti now faces. Taken together, this information suggests that Haitians primarily descend from African slaves. For those under Spanish rule in eastern Quisqueya, however, independence wouldn’t come until 1821 – 17 years after Haiti’s independence; even then, it was short-lived. The Haitians, having killed off the remaining Whites for fear of a renewed subjugation (according to Diamond and Robinson), outnumbered the Spanish settlers of eastern Quisqueya and conquered them; the Haitians gained complete control of Quisqueya for over 22 years (between 1821 and 1844). ‘Twas in 1844 that eastern Quisqueya officially became independent; it became the nation now known as the Dominican Republic.
Now, if the mestizos of eastern Quisqueya weren’t already mating with the African slaves during the colonial period, they likely were during the 22-23 years of total Haitian control (incidentally about the space of a generation); this would give rise to a mulatto people (that is, part Black, part White, and possibly part Taíno/Amerindian). These, for the most part, are your Dominicans.
- Demographics: D.R. – 73% mixed, 16% White, 11% Black; Haiti – 95% Black, 5% Mulatto/White
- Official Languages: D.R. – Spanish; Haiti – Haitian Creole, French
- Religion: D.R. – 95% Roman Catholic, 5% other (though some practice a form of voodoo); Haiti – 80% Roman Catholic, 16% Protestant, 3% other, 1% none (though roughly half the population also practices voodoo)
- Infant Mortality Rate: D.R. – 21.3/1000; Haiti – 52.44/1000
- Life Expectancy: D.R. – 77.44 years; Haiti – 62.51 years
- Total Fertility Rate: D.R. – 2.41; Haiti – 2.98
- Literacy: D.R. – 87%; Haiti – 52.9%
Lastly, Lynn & Vanhanen’s Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences gives estimated average IQs for each country; the estimate for the D.R. is 82 while Haiti’s estimate is 67. Incidentally, the spread between the two averages – 15 points, or 1 standard deviation – is exactly the same as the hypothesized difference in average IQ between American Whites and American Blacks (100 vs. 85, respectively). However, there are many caveats. As I noted in the Hispanic HBD primer linked above, Dominican IQ data quality (according to L & V) is 6 out of a possible 25; L & V used data from biologically similar neighbors to estimate Haiti’s IQ. Moreover, the data may not be representative of Dominicans and Haitians outside of Quisqueya. Jason Malloy’s research suggests an average IQ of 92 for the Dominican Republic – however, due to lower scores on achievement tests and limited sample sizes in studies of Dominican IQ, this result isn’t final. Also, Malloy’s research suggests Haiti’s average IQ is 68.
In closing, the D.R. and Haiti may have the island of Quisqueya in common, but they are very different nations. While I’ve outlined many differences in this post, please visit the links I posted for more details on the history and evolution of these nations. As an aside, I’ll blog about Puerto Ricans in the future, since they also have Taíno ancestry; given that, I hope to compare them with the Dominicans. Stay tuned!