… or “Arawakan Spoken Here.” All right. So you’ve
never heard of the Arawakan people. Nevertheless, you have used the Arawakan
language if you’ve ever held a barbecue, owned or used a canoe, rested in a
hammock, feared a hurricane, roasted an ear of maize, eaten a potato, used
tobacco—or visited the Florida keys. Well, You, my imagined reader, probably have heard of the Arawakans, but I had not, not until I got to wondering about
the origin of that word “key”—now that we are about to visit Florida.
Geography, and geographical designations, are shaded by much mystery in my
case. I discovered that key comes from cay, an Arawakan word; the Spanish
rendered it as cayo, slightly modifying a word used by
the Taino, a sub-group of the Arawakans, people who lived on the string of
Islands extending downward from the tip of Florida, beginning with the Bahamas,
Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and then curling down toward South America (the Lesser
Antilles). Needless to say, the Taino lived in the Florida Keys too.
Arawakan-speaking peoples also occupied many regions of what we today call
Latin America. I am showing a Wikipedia map (link) of their settlements on that
subcontinent, showing the Nordic and the Southern versions of that language in
light and dark colors. My next mystery is the archipelago. I can already hint that
it’s another lulu, but since that takes us to quite another location, I’ll
defer unveiling my discoveries for now.