Long before the boozy tourists in flip-flops, long before Christopher Columbus, there were the Taínos.
"They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people…They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing," Columbus wrote, according to BlackHistoryMonth.org.
It is to these indigenous peoples that @arrrtaddict is paying tribute with her "Somos Borincanos" mural on the Atlanta BeltLine. (She asked to use her artist name only). A native of Puerto Rico, @arrrtaddict wants "to show my culture and to highlight the vibrancy of Puerto Rico" and other islands where the Taíno originated, including Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bahamas and the Virgin Islands.
I really appreciate this tribute, as my brother-in-law came from Puerto Rico. I have watched these murals, part of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, go up piece by piece, and was fortunate to come across the artist at work. I am thankful that she took time to explain her amazing art.
To find it, head to Cold Beer on Dekalb Ave. You will see a yellow leopard pattern under the Edgewood Avenue bridge on both the left and right. On the left is a low wall painted with ancient gods.
The Taínos inscribed such gods on stones. The artist has replicated the ancient art, while making it her own. Each stone painted on the low wall represents a different god. There is one for fertility, for wisdom, for strength and hard work...even one for hurricane. Once the installation is complete, you will be able to scan a QR code on the mural to learn more.
On the other side is a tribe of women. The chief of the tribe, on the center pillar, is the artist's grandmother, who recently died.
Above from top left, clockwise, @arrrtaddict painting her grandmother as chief of the tribe, a screenshot of the artist's Instagram feed, pillars with women tribe members.
"I really wanted to capture an all-female tribe," the artist says. "Most of the time when you learn about indigenous tribes, there's a big focus on the men...Without the women in these tribes, the tribes wouldn't be able to sustain because the men are out hunting...The women are at home, breeding these new men, feeding everyone."
Hear more from the artist in this video.
Whether or not we are descendants of the Taínos, their influence is felt throughout American culture. The word barbecue comes from them, as does tobacco, hurricane, canoe and hammock.
Through her art, @arrrtaddict wants people to acknowledge our ancestors and "the people who really found the lands because before there was Christopher Columbus, there was people on these lands, and he didn't find it. I want them to understand who really started these lands," she says.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but hope to ramp up again in 2021, as soon as it’s safe.