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All eyes have been on Haiti of late six months after the deadly earthquake. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, especially those who had so very little to begin with. Many of us have thought of Haiti as being a desperately poor, severely undeveloped, politically corrupt and brutal, socially unstable and environmentally devastated place.
While all of these things are true, Haiti has always been a country rich in natural beauty, cultural uniqueness and well deserved pride. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the first black-led republic in the world when it gained independence as part of a successful slave rebellion in 1804.
Perhaps the most valuable Haitian treasure is the generation upon generation of strong willed, out-spoken, effective, ethical and influential women leaders starting with Anacaona, Queen of Hispanola
Anacaona, or Golden Flower, was born in 1464 in Yaguana (today the town of Léogâne), the flourishing capital of Xaragua, the most prosperous and heavily populated of the indigenous Taino kingdoms at the time of the European invasion. Her brother and later her husband were two of the five most powerful chiefs. And she, herself, had a powerful matrilineal heritage. Anacaona and her brother Bohechio negotiated as a team with Columbus when he demanded tribute from the local tribes. Their talks were friendly and successful.
She became Queen of Xaragua after her brother’s death. Her husband Caonabo, suspected of having organized the attack on La Navidad, the Spanish settlement on northern Haiti, was captured and shipped to Spain, dying in a shipwreck during the journey.
Queen Anacaona was widely admired for the ballads, ballets, poetry and plays that she composed as well as for the elegance of her court. Her realm of Xaragua was the only Taino territory on the island that had not succumbed to Spanish conquest.
in 1502 a new Spanish governor arrived with some 2500 troops. He requested a meeting with Anacaona, and, in 1503, the Queen and chieftains of the province prepared a lavish reception for him and his men. In the middle of the entertainment, the governor gave a signal, and the Spanish seized the Xaraguayans, tied them to poles and killed them. Eighty Taino leaders were slaughtered. Anacaona was saved but was captured, and in September 1503 she was taken to Santo Domingo where she was hung.
Queen Anacaona is still very much revered in Haiti, where she is considered to be a primordial founder of their country. Immortalized in the intertwining histories of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, many places in both countries bear her name. The renowned Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat wrote Anacaona Golden Flower, an award-winning novel in dedication to the fallen chief.
Anacaona, captive-bred Indian
Anacaona, the primitive region
Anacaona, I heard your voice
As she wept as she moaned
I heard Anacaona
From your anguished heart
Your freedom never came…
- From a song by Cheo Feliciano
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to email@example.com.