During this month of march we are taking great pride in bringing you a mixture of Haitian women in Business and Haitian Women in History. We begin our celebration with the incomparable Anacaona.
Who was Anacaona?
Anacaona (from Taíno anacaona, from ana, meaning “flower”, and caona, meaning “gold, golden”; 1474-1503) was a Taíno cacica (chief), born into a family of chiefs, and sister of Bohechío, chief of Xaragua. Her husband was Caonabo, chief of the nearby territory of Maguana. Her brother and her husband were two of the five highest caciques who ruled the island of Kiskeya (now called Hispaniola) when the Spaniards settled there in 1492. She was celebrated as a composer of ballads and narrative poems, called areítos
Anacaona was born in Yaguana, (today Léogâne), the flourishing capital of Xaragua, the most prosperous and populous kingdom of the island. During Christopher Columbus’s visit in late 1496, Anacaona and her brother Bohechío appeared as equal negotiators. On that occasion, described by Bartolomé de las Casas in Historia de las Indias (1), Columbus successfully negotiated for tribute of food and cotton to be paid by the natives to the Spanish under his command.The visit is described as having taken place in a friendly atmosphere. Several months later, Columbus arrived with a caravel to collect a part of the tribute. Anacaona and Bohechío had sailed briefly aboard the caravel, near today’s Port-au-Prince in the Gulf of Gonâve as his guests. At first relations between natives and Conquistadors were cordial, the natives realizing too late their lands were actually being stolen and their subjects enslaved.
“She seems to have lived only in short intervals near her royal spouse … on the other hand the Queen is reported almost always present alongside her old brother, the assistant in the direction of the kingdom of Xaragua and already exercising authority For example, in her pressure to obtain from her brother the inhesion of Xaragua to the general revolt against Guacanacaric the cacique of the Marien who had imprudently opened his borders to the Spanish conqueror. ” (2) Anacaona’s high status was probably strengthened by elements of matrilineal descent in the Taíno society, as described by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera. Taíno caciques usually passed inheritance to the eldest children of their sisters. If their sisters had no children, then they chose among the children of their brothers, and when there were none, they fell back upon one of their own.Anacaona had one child, named Higuemota, whose dates of birth and death are lost to history.
The Final Days of Anacaona
Anacaona became chief of Xaragua after her brother’s death. Her husband Caonabo, suspected of having organized the attack on La Navidad (a Spanish settlement on north-western Hispaniola), was captured by Alonso de Ojeda and shipped to Spain, dying in a shipwreck during the journey — as many other Taino leaders died on Spanish ships away from their native lands. The Taínos, being ill-treated by the conquerors, revolted and made a long war against them.
In July of 1503 Nicolás de Ovando was invited to a celebration being held in Yaguana by Anacaona (is considered the first “Thanksgiving” of the New World). Ovando led an expedition of 300 men plus dozens of rival natives into Jaragua. Ovando enticed several caciques “into a batey (large hut) to witness a tournament by Spaniards; when he touched his pectoral cross – a prearranged signal – Spaniards seized and bound the caciques, while others fell on the Indians milling outside.” (3) Cacica Anacaona and her Taíno noblemen were arrested — all accused of conspiracy for resisting occupation and executed. Eighty of the noblemen were executed by being burned alive inside the batey.
Prior to her execution, Anacaona was offered clemency if she would give herself as concubine to one of the Spaniards which was common in the era. Standing with her fellow Tainos in solidarity, the cacica chose execution over colluding with her Spanish enemy, her refusal cementing her legend. Anacaona remained rebellious and independent until her violent public death. Because Anacaona refused the sexual offer of the Spanish intruders while others were shot, Anacaona was executed by hanging. She was only 29 years old. Her last words are reported to have been, “It is not honorable to kill; nor can honor propitiate the tragedy. Let us open a bridge of love, so that across it even our enemies may walk and leave for posterity their footprints.”
(1) Bartolomé de las Casas (1527). Historia de las Indias.
(2) Jean Fouchard (1972). Langue et littérature des Aborigènes d’Ayiti. pp. 86.
(3) Floyd, Troy (1973). The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 61–63.