The indigenous inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola, on which the Dominican Republic is located, were the Taíno Amerindians. The Taínos were a seafaring branch of the South American Arawaks. Taíno means "the good" or "noble" in that native language. A system of cacicazgos (chiefdoms) was in place, and Marien, Maguana, Higuey, Magua and Xaragua (also written as Jaragua) were their names. These chiefdoms were then subdivided into subchiefdoms. The cacicazgos were based on a system of tribute, consisting of the food grown by the Taíno. Among the cultural signs that they left were cave paintings around the country, which have become touristic and nationalistic symbols of the Dominican Republic, and words from their language, including 'hurricane' (hurrakan) and 'tobacco' (tabakko).
The islands was subsequently explored and claimed by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage in 1492, and Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland. In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865. Later the United States ruled Dominican territory with a military government from 1916-1924.