Fla. Museum archaeologist’s new book explores role of myth in Taíno Indian history

June 19th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History archaeology curator William Keegan explores the roles of myths and beliefs in his new book, “Taíno Indian Myth and Practice: the Arrival of the Stranger King,” published and recently released by University Press of Florida.

Keegan began investigating Caribbean prehistory nearly 30 years ago, and he infuses his accumulated knowledge about the Taíno, an indigenous pre-Columbian people, with archaeological theory to explain how myths and beliefs not only affect cultures but may also be used thousands of years later by archaeologists interpreting culture.

“Historical events have multiple meanings that are dependent on the different perspectives of the different observers,” Keegan said. “What I have tried to do is sort through a diversity of opinions to gain a clearer perspective on how people of the past and present interact in the creation of history.”

Keegan said many cultures around the globe have a tale that is one version or another of the “stranger king,” but the basic story line typically involves a foreigner who comes from across the water, weds the ruler’s daughter and deposes the ruler. In his book, Keegan examines the myth of the “stranger king” and its multiple meanings to interpret events surrounding the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the island of Hispaniola in the 15th century, where the most important Taíno chief was a man named Caonabó.

Keegan uses evidence from Spanish colonial documents along with evidence from the archaeological record to create a new interpretation on the legendary encounter of these two leaders. He also offers a new theoretical framework in which oral myths, primary source texts and archaeological studies work synergistically to reconstruct a detailed and holistic view of the past.

“A path-breaking work, rich and mature, complex but readily accessible,” said Geoffrey W. Conrad, of the William Hammond Mathers Museum at Indiana University. “It unites the many facets of 25 years of innovative research and leads us out of the once-irresolvable dilemmas of contemporary archaeology.”

The book may be ordered from the University Press of Florida, www.upf.com, where it can be found under the “Anthropology and Archaeology” category. The 6-by-9 book, ISBN number 9780813030388, is 256 pages and sells for $39.95

Writer: DeLene Beeland
Media contact: Paul Ramey, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu