Social Issues

Landmark DNA study confirms survival of indigenous heritage in Cuba

By Juan Palop

Havana, Dec 15 (EFE).- The results of a genetic test confirming his grandfather’s tale that the family were descended from the Taino people who inhabited Cuba at the time of the Spanish conquest brought tears to the eyes of 87-year-old Francisco Ramirez Rojas.

The document shows that contrary to what generations of Cubans have been taught, the Tainos were not exterminated by the conquistadors.

And Francisco is not alone. Members of 27 different families in 23 communities in eastern Cuba have a percentage of Amerindian heritage more than double that of the average for all Cubans.

The octogenarian’s genetic profile is 37.5 percent Amerindian, 35.5 percent European, 15.9 percent African and 11 percent Asian, while the breakdown for the population as a whole is 71 percent Europan and 8 percent Amerindian.

One of the most striking findings is that the 74 people identified by the study as indigenous owe their Taino DNA to female ancestors.

In fact, all of them are descended from “between 900 and 1,000 women” who lived in the 16th century, geneticist Beatriz Marcheco told EFE.

Those women, residing in rural areas of eastern Cuba, survived the “demographic debacle” suffered by Taino men in the wake of the conquest, she said.

Enslavement, the brutality of the conquerors and exposure to European illnesses they were ill-equipped to resist combined to reduce the population from an estimated 112,000 when Columbus arrived to barely 5,000 five decades later.

The genetic analysis is both the culmination and the “cornerstone” of a project, Indigenous Cuba, that began five years ago with historical documentation, ethnographic studies and anthropological research, coordinator Hector Garrido told EFE.

The families always had “full consciousness of being descendants of indigenous people” and felt “pride in what they are,” the Spanish photographer said.

Julio Larramendi, who edited the book accompanying the project, predicted that the revelations will be received by Cuban society with “approval.”

“We have that living root, a root that must be fed, watered, given the opportunity to grow and reproduce, to show which traditions have survived, to show that it’s part of our culture,” he said. EFE jpm/dr

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