A Woman to Know: Anacaona

Who was so happy as Anacaona/ the beauty of Hispaniola/ the golden flower of Haiti …— Alfred Lord Tennyson

Who was so happy as Anacaona/ the beauty of Hispaniola/ the golden flower of Haiti …— Alfred Lord Tennyson

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

In the 15th century, Anacaona held a powerful position among the Taino, an indigenous tribe of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. As wife to one chief and sister to another, Anacaona earned her subjects’ respect as a ruler, a poet and an oral historian.

When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, Anacaona was among the chiefs who went to meet him. In the midst of tense negotiations, Anacaona pushed her brother and her husband toward peaceful relations with the white invaders. Columbus and his brother promised a fair treaty to come — but only if the Taino continued to greet their ships with gifts and celebrations. Anacaona rushed to appease the colonialists. Even after the Europeans imprisoned her husband and Anacaona assumed his chiefly duties, she went as far as to try and arrange a marriage between her daughter and a Spanish officer. She remained convinced that the two groups could live in relative harmony in Haiti.

But in 1502, Nicolas de Ovando, the Spanish-appointed governor of Haiti, announced he was ready to finally sign the peace treaty promised to Anacaona. The poet-chief prepared a celebration and awaited the governor’s arrival. But the Spaniards didn’t come in peace; they massacred Anacaona’s people, incinerating entire villages and burning people alive. Any Spanish officers who tried to help Taino escape were later enslaved. De Ovando captured Anacaona and put her on trial in Santo Domingo, sentencing her to public execution in 1503. She was 29 years old.

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