Haiti History 101: Guacanagaric, Anacaona, Caonabo, The First Haitians, Part 2

Written by  Kat with  11 Comments

Haiti History 101…in which we learn about Haiti’s History.


In our last installment, we left off with the Cacique Caonabo taking revenge on the Spaniards and bringing Fort Navidad to ashes (being a little dramatic here, but the fact remains, it was destroyed).

According to historian Emile Nau’s account, in late winter of 1493, Columbus returned to Haiti, this time bringing with him a hoard of adventurers from Spain to settle in the eastern part of Hispaniola, since they arrived to find La Navidad annihilated. Haiti became divided, the Spaniards vs. the Taino Indians (Arawaks/Caribs). Justin Placide, an earlier historian cited by Jacques Nicolas Leger, concluded that chieftain Caonabo was more resentful than ever in regards to the presence of the foreigners on his land took it upon himself to lead the Tainos into a full-pledged revolt. According to Leger, Columbus recruited the services of Alonzo Ojeda, who tricked Caonabo into being taken as Columbus’s prisoner (they used a trinket that the Tainos thought sacred as a ruse to lure him, and from there they bound the Arawak chief).

In the book The Peoples of the Caribbean: An Encyclopedia of Archeology and Traditional by Nicholas J. Saunders, Caonabo’s name is defined as meaning “He Who is Like Gold”, or “King of the Golden House”, but his end was far from golden. The Haitian historian Nicolas Leger makes the point that there has been conflicting accounts of Caonabo’s demise. The lines below are from a Haitian history book published by Haitian publisher Henri Deschamps, written by Thomas Madiou:

Caonabo fut mis en prison a Isabella
Et quelque mois plus tard il fut embarqué pour L’Espagne
Il disparut avec le bateau qui le portait

Caonabo was jailed in Isabella
And a few months after he was on his way to Spain
He disappeared with the boat that was carrying him

E. Robin maintains that the above account was true, while another historian J.C. Dorsainville, cited by Leger, says that Caonabo starved himself to death on the ship. One thing that is clear, however, is that he did not make it to Spain, although the vessel did arrive in Spain itself.

In the book Haiti and Her Detractors by Jacques Nicolas Leger, the fate of Haiti’s indigenous peoples is well chronicled. Leger asserts that after Caonabo’s demise, the Arawaks dispersed to the mountains and caves of Haiti; those who remained were subject to the conquistadors’ harsh treatment. Manicatoex, Caonabo’s brother led the Arawaks in their rebellion against the conquerors, who imposed a tribute on Haiti’s indigeneous peoples, and hunted them down with an imported army sent from Spain, complete with hunting dogs. Still according to Leger, the Tainos were to cultivate the land, and dig for gold, and unaccustomed to such hard labor, they died by the hundreds either through exhaustion and sickness or the sword.

Nau contends that Columbus took yet another little trip to Spain, and upon his return found the island in complete quagmire. When it wasn’t The Tainos vs. the Spaniards, it was the Spaniards vs. Spaniards. To appease men like Jimenes-Roldan who had risen against him, Columbus established this system called repartimientos, in which the Taino chiefs gave a quota of natives from their tribes to work the land for the Spanish soldiers, which led to more problems for the Tainos. Soon though, Columbus was replaced by Bobadilla, and the Tainos protested his treatment of them to Spain, that the Spanish crown sent over a new person Nicholas Ovando.

Citing earlier historians, Nau’s account states that Nicholas Ovando had an army of nearly 400 men, and had his eye on bringing an end to Anacaona, the poetess-songstress ruler of the Xaragua territory. Anacaona was naive enough to throw a big bash for Ovando, complete with dances and poetry readings with her subjects. While they were still in performance mode, Ovando had the Tainos killed, Anacaona arrested and later hung.

Nau contends that Cotubanama another Taino chief was ruling in the Higuey area, and for a while, he successfully resisted the Spaniards, until he suffered the same fate as Anacaona. But there was one Taino who was to be known as one of the most resilient ones of all. His name was Cacique Henri. Henri escaped to the mountains and wagered guerrilla warfare on the Spaniards to the point where Spain’s monarch Charles V had to send a peacekeeping force to the island and granted Cacique Henri and his adherents the right to live peacefully and without persecution from the Spaniards.

Was it a little too late? According to historical records cited by both Nau and Leger, when Columbus arrived in Haiti, Bohio, ahem Hispaniola in the late 1490s, there were about 1 million Tainos on the islands, and by 1510 about 14,000 and in the time that Cacique Henri ruled in Bahoruco, about 3000. The Spaniards resorted to bringing in Tainos from surrounding islands, and started importing slaves, who were just as rebellious as the Tainos in resisting Spanish rule.

Source: Haiti History 101: Guacanagaric, Anacaona, Caonabo, The First Haitians, Part 2 – Kreyolicious.com

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