Who was Anacaona?
She was a Taino Amerindian woman born about two decades before Columbus’ 1492 “discovery of the Americas”.
She was a cacique (a native Indian chief), married to Caonabo, the cacique of the nearby province of Maguana in Xaiti – then Hispaniola, now Haiti.
Caonabo, accused by Columbus of opposing the Spaniards, was seized and spirited off to Spain. He drowned when the ship sank in a storm. Anacaona would incite and lead the first “Indian War” against the invading Hidalgos.
Deceitfully invited later by the Spaniards to a “peace meal”, she and her supporters were summarily executed. What had happened to bring about this state of iniquity?
Generally, from the beginning, the arrival of the Europeans resulted in vast death for the Amerindians. This was first by diseases, to which the Amerindians had no immunity. Genocide quickly followed. The Amerindians affected included the Caribs, after whom the “Caribbean” is named, and the Tainos, considered to have been “more peaceable, and less warlike”.
The Spaniards themselves described them as being “well-built, comely, friendly, curious, well-disposed, generous…with much lovingness…and can be made good (slaves)”.
Thus, on October 14, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal, “they are artless and generous…and with 50 men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them”.
It is further noteworthy that the first edifice built by Europeans in this hemisphere was not a school, a hospital, nor a library.
It was a fort. A prison.
It is estimated that at the time of Columbus’ arrival in Xaiti, the population numbered more than a million. Infectious diseases and genocide gradually reduced them into museum artifacts.
Following this conquest there is documentation – in language foreign to the Amerindians – that Columbus felt required at least to inform them of the terms by which he would seize their lands and life:
“I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and…we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them…”
The Spaniards immediately set about creating conditions best described in a report written decades later by Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. Officially appointed by Philip II as “Protector of the Indians,” his extensive writings included the most famous, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.
This account, in addition to his Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies. They focus particularly on the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the Indigenous peoples.
These were the conditions which forced Anacaona, her people and other caciques to war. They destroyed the Spaniards left behind and the Spanish fort, ironically named La Navidad – the Nativity. On his return, Columbus exacted vengeance on the Tainos.
Anacaona was later memorialized by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem, “Anacaona, Queen of Haiti”. The Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat, in Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490, describes how she had been groomed to be a warrior; a right of Amerindian women in a matrilineal culture. The Spanish had also depicted her as being unfaithful to her husband, thereby contributing to her death. Danticat disputes this forcefully.
Three final noteworthy points: one is that de las Casas, hailed today as the “first Human Rights activist”, because of his efforts to end the enslavement of the Indians, had ironically recommended the enslavement, instead, of Africans.
The second is that the summative history of Europeans in this hemisphere is “the theft of peoples of Africa to cultivate lands stolen from peoples of the Americas”.
The third point is that after the enslaved Haitians, under the leadership of patriots like Makandal, Toussaint, Dessalines and Christophe, had liberated themselves from slave-owning France, Britain, Spain, et al., in order to memorialize Anacaona, they renamed the island “Haiti”, phonetically identical to its original Amerindian name: Ayiti – land of high mountains.