Jamaica Unit Study: Taino Natives Symbols [Fine Motor Activity]

I have been quite intrigued with our study the indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Taíno. The ancestors of the Taíno originated in South America, and eventually migrated to these island homes. During the late fifteenth century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of the Caribbean, including Jamaica. The Taíno were the first New World peoples to be encountered by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 voyage.

In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, the Taíno were almost completely wiped out due to harsh enslavement by the colonists and European diseases that caused the majority of deaths. A smallpox epidemic in Hispaniola in 1518–1519 killed almost 90% of the surviving Taíno, with the remaining survivors absorbing into the cultures of the settlers and slaves that came in coming years. For many years the
Taíno was considered extinct by the end of the century, but recently attempts has found indigenous Taíno identity in rural areas of the Caribbean.

The Taíno left behind innumerable pictographs (painted) and petrographs (carved) on the walls of caves and rocks. Each symbol is a representation of god or force of nature, or a tale of everyday life. The Taínos did not have a written language, and anthropologists have studied these symbols without complete understanding for decades.

I decided to get out my trusty sharpie and draw some of the more basic symbols I had seen on the internet and make some learning cards for my oldest. In previous units, my oldest has LOVED using our tracing tray filled with salt and a small stick I found on a nature walk one day, and trimmed to size. I thought this would be a perfect activity to use this again!

You can download these symbol cards FREE HERE!

My youngest is at the age that she feels that she needs to be involved regardless if it’s something that is her age-group. I try to find activities that include her, but this can be a challenge as two years between ages seems a lot when you are one and three.

As you can see, I chose eight different symbols which have agreed upon meanings – Sun, Bird, Turtle, Frog, Water, Mask, Shaman & Baby. They can be printed on cardstock paper so they can stand up in our little tray. You can make a tray from almost anything and fill with sand, salt or other tracing medium (I’ve even seen skittle used!) This tray originally housed some tracing boards from Melissa & Doug, in case you want to find a similar one.

I especially liked this activity because it allowed my daughter to practice holding a writing utensil as she traced/drew the symbols. Some of the symbols were easier than others, so this collection allows a range of difficulty.

She absolutely loved this! And my youngest was content to watch the artist at work – a huge win in my books (she often destroys activities as my oldest is working on them, lol)

We talked about the concept of language is not always ABC’s in other countries, but may have different letters or even symbols to represent what the person is trying to say. My daughter said that she’d like to write in pictures when she grows up! 🙂

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