Friday, September 30, 2011

The origin of the words barbecue, canoe, hammock, hurricane and tobacco

The words barbecue, canoe, hammock, hurricane and tobacco are said to have their roots in the culture of Taíno people, who spoke an Arawakan language named after them. Robert M. Poole is tracing the Taíno culture, of which one can still find elements in the current architecture, craftsmanship, farming, fishing and healing practice on Caribbean islands including Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico and the Bahamas [1-4].

The Taíno evolved as a distinct people only after centuries of traveling and merging with other populations in the Antilles [1]. The Taíno almost disappeared after the Spaniards arrived and took hold in the Caribbean. Robert Poole refers to Jorge Estevez, a self-described Taíno from New York City,  who describes the diverse ethnicity of the Taíno. Estevez says that his ancestors were from a plethora of different tribes. He makes an interesting comparison with the ethnicity of Christopher Columbus and his ship crew—a mixture of Spaniards, Moors, Sephardic Jews and Basques.

So, how do we identify indigenous Taíno people or those who have discovered their inner Taíno? Maybe by simply watching out for those who enjoy paddling a canoe, napping in a hammock, savoring a barbecue, smoking tobacco or tracking a hurricane.

A brief glossary based on entries in the Online Etymology Dictionary
barbecue: from Arawakan (Haiti) barbakoa, meaning “framework of sticks,”
canoe: from Arawakan (Haiti) canaoua, meaning “rough-made or dugout boat,”
hammock: from the Taíno word amaca, apparently meaning “fish nets,”
hurricane: from an Arawakan word that appeared as furacan and furacão in 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese texts, respectively;
tobacco: probably from the Taíno word tabaco, said to mean “a roll of tobacco leaves,” but some scholars argue for the origin from the Arabic word tabbaq referring to medicinal herbs.

Keywords: linguistics, Arawakan language, Caribbean islands, etymology, anthropology.

References and more to explore
[1] Robert M. Poole: What Became of the Taíno? Smithsonian Magazine October 2011, 42 (6), 58-70 [].
[2] New World Encyclopedia: Taino:
[3] Welcome to Puerto Rico! - Taino Indians Culture:
[4] The Taino Indians - Native Americans of the Caribbean:

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