Tuesday, September 5, 2023



Ancient Caribbean myths that Enticed the Spanish on to the American Mainland

© 2023 by Michael Auld

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ARTIST: I am an artist and author who was born into a Tri-Racial family in Jamaica in 1943, then under British Colonial educational rule. Politically force-fed British history, and not knowing much about my African and Indigenous Yamaye Taíno heritages, my quest at 19 years old upon the island's Independence and my arrival on Howard University's campius, was to do research on those neglected heritages and deal with this missing portion of my being via visual art and writing. This story addresses my Taíno ancestor's impact on the world after 1492. It's aboui connecting the dots-.-.-.-.

Prior to the time of Jesus the Christ

Storytelling is one of the most powerful art forms of education, and the Caribbean’s Taíno people did it well. This is how they recorded their history. Today we have print, movies, the Internet, and other media to relay our stories. The Taíno used the areito, a performance-based set of historical poetic storytelling to record their myths and to recount their history, both on spiritual and temporal levels. This article is about the repercussions of Taíno storytelling on the Spanish actions in the Americas which had everlasting world impacts.  

Above: “The Storyteller”

Above: Indigenous Map of the Caribbean Territories 

By their actions, one thing Taíno knew about the strangers, was that 15th Century Spanish men were greedy for gold, women, and sexual rejuvenation. Subsequently, Spanish men died in the hundreds in search of Taíno myths in attempts to satisfy their lusts, based on stories which the Indigenous people revealed about their homelands in the “Bagua”, which we today call the Caribbean Sea. The exported Taíno myths began with note-taking by Father Ramón Pané, a Spanish cleric in Kisleya/Ayti Bohio, which the imperialist Spanish had the god-like gaul to rename “Hispaniola”. They thought that discovering human beings into existence was their “Christian right".

The island’s very politically advanced Kiskeya/Ayti Bohio Taíno began to escalate attacks on Columbus’ men who had proven themselves liars, gold thieves, and sexual predators against the Taíno women and children. The first Taíno attack on the Spanish seamen, occurred just after Columbus first arrived on the northern shore of the Caribbean’s second largest island of Kiskeya/Ayti Bohio. One of the Admiral’s seaworm-eaten ships sank, and the men on it and all its goods were rescued by kacike (leader} Guacanagari’s local Taíno, whom the Spanish marveled at their honesty. “Not a thimble was stolen,” Columbus had said.

However, the Spanish acted disgracefully towards their Taíno hosts by later demanding more Taíno women and gold, to satisfy their unquenchable lusts. After Columbus had left his stranded men behind at a hastily built fort of La Navidad (i.e. “Christmas") to go to Spain for a return to the island with 17 invading ships, his unruly men were killed by Caonabo, the nearby kacike in a scorched earth attack on La Navidad. Included in the Taíno attack was the first recorded use of fiery pepper bombs, which blinded and disoriented the enemy. Today, the military call this weapon, a crowd-controlling chili or pepper grenade. The Taíno were disgusted at the Spanish depravity in their demands for more and more women and gold. Although La Navidad was located in Kacike Guacanagari’s domain, Caonabo, a Lucyan-born (Bahamian) leader, and the neighboring kacike, had made the attack against La Navidad. Caonabo was married to the famous Anacaona, who after Caonabo’s abduction by Columbus, and his death at sea on the way to Spain, had returned to her brother, Behichio’s domain in Xaragua (in today’s Haiti), where she became its kackie after Behechio’s death. Unfortunately, the beautiful, areito master, Anacaona, was martyred by being hanged. (See etching below).

Governor Nicolas de Ovando had replaced the "incompetent" Christopher Columbus, and devised this method of killing Indigenous leaders in order to take over Taíno territory. The Spanish on the Mainland Central and South America, later used this technique to defeat empires by murdering their leaders, such as Mexica (or Aztec) Emperor Moctezuma II, and the Inca empire’s Emperor Atahualpa. The Spanish ally in the destruction which weakened the Amerindian civilizations, was an introduced a type of unexpected "germ warfare", namely the rapid spread of European diseases such as smallpox, and later typhus from imported rats (later by British ships on the East Coast of North America), which, in total,  killed over 100 million Amerindians in the Americas. Enslavement and outright murder further decimated Amerindian populations. European plagues were similar to today’s COVID. The Venezuelan pearl trade, additionally killed many Lucayan conch divers, who were used off Margarita Island of Venezuela to dive relentlessly for pearls. The largest pearl in the world , called “The Orphan” since it was found out of its shell by a Lucayan Taíno conch diver, turned pearl diver. Actor, Richard Burton acquired The Orphan and gave it to Elizabeth Taylor.

Above: "The Orphan" & Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Taylor.

Taíno Realization: The Barbaric Spanish

When the disappointed Taíno began attacking the Spanish intruders more frequently, Governor Christopher Columbus sent Father Pané, (who had learned some of the Taíno languages), to live among them to learn more about the “Indios”. From Pané’s writing, we know the following stories.

Above: The author’s life-sized wood/mixed media sculpture, and illustrations of Guahayona in his canoa/canoe. 

Above: A silk screenprint by the author, of Guahayona leaves the women on Matinino (Meaning "No Fathers")--18" X 24"

Above: Sister print of Guahayona as he leaves the women on Matinino and goes to its twin Island of Gold, "Guanin". To the Taíno, the glittering feathers of the colibre (hummingbird) represented gold.. -- 18" X 24" 

The above images are 18 x 24 inch prints on hand-made paper and are of the Island of Women, and the Island of Gold. The female images are from Borikén  (Puerto Rico) and are Taíno images from an ancient ball-court stela of Atabey, the Goddess of Childbirth & fresh waters (She is the virgin mother of Yucahù, God of the yuca/cassava and the Bagua (the Caribbean Sea).

Above: The author’s mixed media sculptures made from wood, stone, inlaid shell, vines, and goldleaf, (7’ tall).

Guahayona, who was fascinated by cobos (pink conch shell pearls) then went off to explore other islands after leaving Guanin.

Early Taino impressions of the arriving Spanish

The Kasike, Hatuey, Cuban Hero

The Catholic priest said to Hatuey, whom the Spanish had tied to a stake and was about to burn him, explained,   “If you convert to Christianity your soul will go to Heaven.” 

Hatuey asked, “Are there Cristianos in Heaven?” 

“Yes,” the priest said. 

“Then, I do not want to go there." 

So, they burned him.

Above: (Top) The Burning of Hatuey.-- 6' 3" tall X 18" wide.-- made from cedar, by the author

Above: Detail of Hatuey
Earlier, the Taíno kacike, Hatuey had held up a small basket filled with gold and showed it to the village of Cubanakan (Cuba) Taíno.

“Here is their Lord, whom they serve and adore! To have this Lord, they make us suffer.
For Him they have killed our parents, brothers, all our people and our neighbors, and deprive us of all our possessions,” he said.

Hatuey, the legendary hero later martyred in Cuba, was the kacike of the province of Guahaba (Gonave), the small island located next to Ayti Bohío or Haiti.

The first recorded meeting between indigenous Americans and Europeans was, however, more amicable. The Caribbean’s “Good” or “Noble” people and Spanish sailors under the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus met on the Bahamian island of Guanahani [2]. The Taíno Encounter occurred on Friday, October 11, 1492. The above speech by Hatuey reflected how relationships had deteriorated between the Taínos and the Conquistadors by 1503. The speech, was reported by the priest Bartholomew de Las Casas, known as the “Defender of the Indians”, whose father had come to the Caribbean with Christopher Columbus on the Second Voyage of 1493. Las Casas was a repentant slaver of the Indios. Before his capture in Cuba, Hatuey had expressed the sentiment held by the indigenous Caribbean people who had observed Spanish insatiable search for guanín[3] or gold.


Above: An etching of the Ayti Bohio kacike, Anacaona (Golden Flower), "Queen of Xaragua", showing a Spanish image of her.

Above: An etching of the Spanish hanging of Anacaona in 1504.

Above: Three views of the author's version of Anacaona, -- Carved cherrywood, vines, macaw feathers, cotton, & conch shell.  --3' 2" tall X18" wide X 4' 4" deep.

The misinterpretation of Taíno myths began with Christopher Columbus in his 1492 expedition to the Caribbean. Thereafter, the exaggerations of the stories about free gold and women took on lives of their own. He classified the Taínos as Indios and mistook these indigenous Caribbean people as Indu Island inhabitants off the Indian subcontinent. Columbus had obviously not arrived in India but in the northern territory of the Taíno civilization whose highest estimated population was six million relatively peace-loving people. They lived in a veritable paradise. Columbus marveled at their spectacular health and Ponce de Leon, by his actions, believed that they must have drunk from the fabled Fountain of Eternal Youth.

Before the birth of Christ, some ancestors of the Taínos were members of an Arawakan speaking society of river-going farmers who had left the Orinoco River Basin in South America. They brought with them many mainland myths, technologies, plants, and animals. They traveled over the unpredictable Caribbean Sea to become successful seafaring navigators. These Taíno ancestors intermarried with the earlier island inhabitants who had populated the Caribbean territory during the previous 4,000 years. 

In 1492, remaining descendants of these early Caribbean people, who the Taíno called Guanahatabeys (“cave dwellers”), had migrated across from the nearby Mexican Yucatan peninsula. They shared Cuba with the Taínos. Another group of very early people had entered the northern pristine Caribbean islands from Florida. By 1492 Taíno chiefdoms had been established within the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, and southern Florida. It has been stated that the Taíno chiefdoms were on the verge of becoming city states.

Upon the first day of their arrival in the Caribbean, Columbus and his men’s eyes immediately fell upon gold ornaments worn by some Lucayan (Bahamian) Taínos. He lost no time in inquiring about the source of their guanin (14k gold/copper/silver alloy). The Taínos pointed in another direction away from their island and Columbus recorded words from a Taíno epic story that seemed to speak of another very large island of women warriors and gold. The Spanish spent the next 28 years mainly on Caribbean islands. They made their first serious occupation of the continental Americas in 1521 after the 1519 invasion by Hernan Cortéz of the Mexica (Me-shee-ka, or Aztec) of Tenochtitlan (Mexico). During those first 28 years all concrete knowledge (and myths) about Native Americans came from Caribbean ventures. The information came especially from the Taíno and "Island Carib" or Kalinago cultures.

In the Caribbean, the Spanish learned of an ancient cautionary story about the Taíno hero Guahayona (“Our Pride”) and his travels to the islands of Matinino (“No Fathers”), and Guanin (“Gold”). In his letter of March 1493 to the monarchs of Spain, Christopher Columbus wrote of a Taíno island of women which he called [10] Mateunin (a version of the Taíno word Matinino). Matinino lay in the direction of the eastern Caribbean Island that was later named Martinique. On Mateunin "the women acted like men" and were armed with “bows and darts” and “they protect themselves with sheets of copper, of which there is great abundance among them”. Columbus was also told of an island, which he described as larger than Hispaniola “which abounds in gold above all the others.” As early as 1492, the lust for Amerindian gold and women had enhanced the mystique of the Caribbean.

To satisfy his backers who had become increasingly disappointed with the scant quantities of gold found in the Caribbean, [11]Columbus “decided to fill the ships of Antonio de Torres with Indians (Taínos) to be taken back to Spain and sold as slaves.” This turn to force against the Taínos backfired when the first seemingly docile people began sporadic rebellions and attacks on the Spanish forts of Hispaniola. The Taínos had been angered by the cruelty of the Spanish in exchange for their civilized welcome. That same year (1495) Columbus had decided that he should know more about the “Indios” and in early April he had enlisted the help of a priest, Fray Ramon Pané . He directed Pané to live with the Taínos to learn more about them and their strategies since the friar had come to understand one of the Caribbean languages. Pané had come on Columbus’ second voyage and like his fellow clerics, was suspiciously tolerated by the Taínos. He was a skeptic who stayed at kacike (chief) Guarionex's yucayeke (village) in Magua where he recorded the following more detailed portion of the Taíno myth.

[12]The Flight of the Gueyo Women

He [Guahayona] said to the women, “Leave behind your husbands and let us go to other lands and carry off much gueyo [a green chewing tobacco mixed with salty ashes].
Leave your children and let us take only the herb with us and later we
shall return for them.”
Guahayona, OUR PRIDE, left with all the women and went searching for
other lands.
He came to Matinino, NO FATHERS, where he soon left the women
behind, and he went off to another region called Guanin.

According to Stevens-Arroyo, Taíno stories employed symbolic thought and were often too subtle for the “literal-minded invaders and the naïveté of the Spanish fueled Old World myths.” When the Spanish heard a Taíno story or local explanation, they assumed that the tale was proof of a European occurrence which had somehow taken place in the Americas. For example, the Taíno’s mythical island of No Fathers or Matinino was proof that the Caribbean was the abode of the Greek Amazons. This Taíno theme about unattached women plus gold played an important role in some notable Spanish expeditions into the Americas. If the sequence of Guahayona's travels to Matinino and Guanin was correct, once Amazons were sighted gold was not far behind.

La California

How did myths impact on encouraging early Spanish expeditions to the Americas? The name of the Spanish Pacific coastal territory that became part of the United States in 1850 was derived from a mythological Spanish story. The colorful legend was about an island called “La California” by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo (1440-1505). The island was described in his Spanish novel as having steep cliffs guarded by griffins, whose human inhabitants were black women warriors and the only metal found there was gold.


Above: (L) A painting of the mythical Queen Calafia, ruler of an island of Amazons whose only weapons were of gold.-- By the artist, Steve Simon.


Above: A 1937 depiction of Queen Calafia in a part of a mural by Lucile Lloyd, on the California Capitol.

The term “black” used to describe the women in the La California story did not necessarily mean African, as some believe, and is similar to the term used by today’s [9]British or Russians to mean not “us” but “them”. The Taíno in the source story of the Gueyo Women in Ayti Bohio/Kiskeya, are ethnically Amerindian, and genetically Asiatic. However, the 16th century novelist Montalvo, was mainly accustomed to “the Other” such as Moors who ruled Spain for 700 years, and black Africans. His Queen Calafia is a derivative of the Islamic title, Caliph, and in a later rendering of her story, she joined the Christians and is converted to Christianity. This next, is how La California was returned to North America.

Hernán Cortéz, the ill reputed “conqueror of the Aztecs” who called themselves “Mexica” (Mé-she-ka), is credited with the naming of the territory now called California. It is said that after the conquest of the Aztecs, he later saw the California Mountains from Baja California. Upon seeing the mountains, he called them the “Island of the Calafa” (or the “Island of Queen Calafia”). To him, the distant mountain appeared to be like the mythical island from the most successful printed romantic novel of 16th century Spain. The story about the mythical island of La California was in Las Sergas de Esplandian (the “Adventures of Esplandian”) that was a sequel to Amadis de Gaula. Some sixteenth century Spanish explorers were often romantics who renamed places with terms from European fables. The 1510 published tale of Espalandian’s adventures had elements of the ancient Taíno story of Guahayona’s travels. (These details were possibly [13]copied from data described by Columbus, or the Pané manuscript).

The Adventures of Esplandian

Above: Cover of the Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo's republished(?) 1510 novel of Esplandian, in which La California is described.

The Adventures of Esplandian states:

[14]“Know that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons. They were of strong and hardy bodies of ancient courage, and great force. Their island was the strongest in the world, with its steep cliffs and rock shores. Their arms were of gold, and so was the harness of the wild beasts they tamed to ride, for in the whole island there was no metal but gold.”
The story of La California included griffins that would tear apart men who ventured on Calafia’s Island of black Amazons. Griffins were mythical Greek beasts that had the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. The Greeks believed that griffins were guardians of gold and laid their eggs in nests lined with that precious metal. Additionally, in the story La California was to be found “on the right hand of the Indies”, possibly the location of Matinino (or Martinique) or near the American mainland. The Spanish associated the Caribbean with Atlantis while the Adventures of Esplandian took the hero close to the “Terrestrial Paradise”, a discription of the Caribbean by clerics. Similarly, unable to justify the theological existence of the Americas, some of Columbus’ contemporaries believed that the Caribbean’s nude indigenous people and its earthly beauty were evidence of the Biblical Paradise. Also, according to the logic of that time, gold was the color of the sun and territories closest to the sun (the tropics) had more abundance of that metal. Ironically, despite the myth about the island of La California, the California Gold Rush of 1848-1849 did prove that there was gold in those mountains.

In 1524, Hernán Cortéz was also responsible for sending an alluring myth about California to Emperor Charles V of Spain. The myth originated from a report in Colima by Gonzalo de Sandoval who sent it to Mexico where Hernán Cortéz resided. The report carried to the emperor was that California was indeed an island “rich with pearls and gold and inhabited by women only.” It is not surprising that Cortéz thought of California as an island since the first 12 years of his life in the Americas were spent on the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Cuba. Why did Cortéz romantically attach the California myth to these mainland mountains?

Hernán Cortéz was just a lad of around eight years old when Columbus first landed in the Caribbean. His vision of the Americas (the Indies) was based on the fantastic stories, people and goods brought back yearly from the Caribbean to Spain. By [15]1498 when Cortez was about 14, Fray Ramon Pané had completed his report on Taíno myths and customs in Hispaniola as mandated by Christopher Columbus. In 1506 at age 22, Cortez arrived in Hispaniola (Kiskeya/Ayti Bohio) which was the center of operations for the expanding Spanish American empire. Cortéz was described as a member of the “Generation 1500, many of whom strongly believed the Americas were indeed the islands of their fantasies.”

How did Hernán Cortéz come to read a novel which included a mythical island called “La California”? By [16]1500 there were about 10 million books in Europe with editions on many subjects. This printing revolution, initiated in 1448 by Johann Gutenberg and his financial partner Joann Fust, gave rise to the popularization of the romance novel. Many Europeans, some who became conquistadors, read the works of Spanish writer Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo who wrote the novel Las Sergas de Espaladian. In addition to reading Mobtalvo, some Europeans were well acquainted with the [17]"works by Sir John Mandeville about men with two heads, Amazons, and the Fountain of Eternal Youth which would revive the fading sexual powers of elderly men, and which even rational people would expect to find in the Americas beyond the next cape."

Other Searches Influenced by the Taíno Origin Myth: 

From El Dorado to the Fountain of Youth

Both the search for El Dorado and the European naming of the Amazon River were influenced by the Taíno myth of an island of women (Matinino) and an island of solid gold (Guanin). El Dorado means “gilded man” and is a South American inspired story about an alleged ruler who was so rich that he covered his body with gold dust each day and washed it off each evening in a lake. During the 16th century El Dorado was believed to have originated among the Chibcha of Bogota, Columbia, in South America. Their chief was reputed to have carried out the above-mentioned practice in sacred Lake Guatavita. This sacred ceremony, thought to be associated with the sun, only happened when a new leader was installed.

El Dorado

Expeditions to find El Dorado began in earnest in 1530. Two of the greediest undertakings were by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada who founded the city of Bogota. He went on an inland South American expedition in 1536 in search of the location of the fabled El Dorado. Starting with 900 men he struck it rich nine months later. Jimenez found, conquered and plundered gold and emeralds from the kingdom of Chibcha in Columbia. Not satisfied with his find he again set out in 1569 in another attempt to discover the true location of the elusive El Dorado. He spent three more years on this second futile search. Broken and ill with leprosy, Jimenez returned to Bogota where he later died bankrupt. Cervantes is believed to have modeled Don Quixote after Jimenez.

Above: The author’s illustration of a mythical El Dorado, the City of Gold

El Dorado was a mythical South American location (in Columbia) whose story drove the Spanish explorers on frenetic searches for the place ruled by an Indian (Indio) man reputed to be gilded in gold dust. The Amazon River was named during a search for El Dorado. Las Siete Ciudades Doradas de Cibola, or the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola was based on a combination of an Iberian myth and an embellished Mexican story which cost the enslaved African Moor, Esteban, (Little Stephen) and many Zuni people their lives. Juan Ponce de Leon left Boriken (Puerto Rico) on an expedition to Bimini upon hearing a Taíno myth about rejuvenation which seemed plausible to him. He was mortally wounded in La Florida during his second search for the Fountain of Eternal Youth. These tantalizing 16th century myths and the resulting Spanish quests for gold and women were either based on or coupled with Taíno stories which originated in the Caribbean Islands eons before 1492.

Seven Golden Cities of Cibola (Las Siete Ciudades de Cibola) was a 1530 Myth embellished with the Taíno Origin Story. It was a myth that caused the Conquistadors to traverse the American continents from Peru to Nebraska in a frenzied search for gold. According to Dr. Adrian Bustamante, the encounter of both the gold rich Aztec empire by Hernán Cortéz and the plunder of the wealthy Inca metropolis by Francisco Pizarro proved that cities of gold did exist in the Americas. The origin of the story of the Seven Cities had two sources, one in Europe and the other in Mexico. 

This story also overlapped with the Taíno myth of Matinino and Guanin. The first segment of the tale began with a European legend. Antonio Stevens-Arroyo stated that the legend started with [18] “seven refugee Portuguese bishops who had fled [along with their congregations] with golden church ornaments from the Iberian Peninsula in previous centuries in order to escape the coming of the Moors.” By the 16th century the story of the seven bishops became the Las Siete Ciudades de Cibola or the “The Seven Cities of Gold”.

The Mexican based part of the tale of the Seven Cities of Cibola came from an enslaved Mexican Indian, called Tejo by the Spaniards. In 1530 Nuno de Guzman, President of New Spain (Mexico), owned Tejo, by whom he was told the story of the northern location of a place where his father, a trader, had brought back [19] “a large amount of gold and silver. ” Tejo, when he was young, had accompanied his father once or twice on trips to the location where [20] “he had seen seven very large towns (which he compared to Mexico and its environs) which had streets of silver workers.” Nuno de Guzman mounted an unsuccessful expedition with “nearly 400 Spaniards and 20,000 friendly Indians of New Spain” (or Mexico) to find the Seven Cities. Instead of being able to locate the Seven Cities, Guzman established the town of Culiacan. After Guzman's return from the expedition Tejo died without revealing the precise location of the Seven Cities.

In 1536 Cabeza de Vaca, three other Spaniards and Esteban (Stephen), or Estavanico (Little Steven),, an enslaved African Moor, arrived in Culiacan, Mexico after an ill fated 1527-28 Narvaez expedition to Florida. They were the sole survivors of the Narvaez expedition. They gave an [21] “extended account of some powerful villages, four and five stories high, of which they had heard a great deal in countries they had crossed.” This account of their overland survival trek from Florida to Mexico seemed to corroborate the earlier story of the Seven Cities. Esteban (who was able to diplomatically pave the way with the Indians) was then sent with Friar Marcos de Niza and two other friars, on the search for the Seven Cities. Esteban, with an escort of 60 Indians, arduously forged north ahead of the friars into the territory of the Zuni people of New Mexico. His entourage also included “many pretty women and turquoise” that some local Indians had given him. There Esteban met his death at the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh after demanding more women and turquoise from his new hosts. The rattle that he wore, on which an owl was depicted, may have contributed to his death. An owl may have been construed as a harbinger of death.

Not having even entered the Zuni pueblo, and fearing for their own lives, Marcos de Niza and the other two friars hastily retreated to Culiacan where they painted vivid accounts of “treasures”. It is from these friars' accounts that a more embellished version of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola was given. The new version of the Seven Cities included segments of earlier myths [22] “about the South Sea and islands [Taíno?] and other riches”. News of the Seven Cities quickly spread, even from the [23]pulpit, and an armed force of conquest was brought together. The 27 year old Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was sent out by his friend the viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) to find Cibola. The large, highly financed expedition cost millions of dollars. Coronado’s expedition was attacked at Hawikuh in 1540. Many Zuni were killed; however, the Spanish found no treasures.

The Amazon

Primed with the Taíno reference to an Island of Women called Matinino the Spanish explorers in the Americas literally searched for these Amazons and actually found them. Beginning his journey in February of 1541, Francisco de Orellana, the first non-Amerindian to accidentally traverse the second longest river in the world, thought that he had found Amazons. Orellana named this South American river for the women warriors who attacked his desperate party of hungry survivors. Orellana, who had arrived in the Caribbean in 1527, joined the Gonzalo Pizarro expedition to find precious metals and the [24]“Land of Cinnamon”. Orellana was sent on the adventure from Peru by Francisco Pizarro, the “Conqueror of the Inca”. His job was to secure the services of 23 men and horses. The expedition started with 4000 Amerindians and over 200 Spaniards. While trying to scale mountains the expedition floundered when 3000 Amerindians and 140 of the Spanish died or deserted the venture. 

Orellana was later separated from the remnants of the main party when he and 50 men were sent down river to find food. Swept along by the strong current in a brigantine which they had built, and unable to return upstream, they resorted to a series of food raids on Amerindian villages along the large river. On June 24, 1542 his party of marauding desperados was shot at by [25] “Indians led by ten or twelve Amazons.” According to the eyewitness account written by the group’s friar, Gaspar de Carvajal, the Spanish boat was shot up with so many arrows that it “looked like porcupines.” The Spanish retaliated and “killed seven or eight Amazons.” Orellana named the river the Amazon.

Being shot at with arrows by Amerindian women was not an unusual occurrence for the conquistadors. The first of many recorded events of this kind happened off the coast of [26]St Croix in the Virgin Islands on Columbus’ 2nd voyage of 1493. (See above). Three accounts stated that an arrow was shot by a Carib (actually, a Kalinago) woman with such force and dexterity that it penetrated a Spanish wooden shield, embedding itself three inches into the chest of the attacking seaman. He, of course, died a few days later from the arrow’s curare poison.

Orellana, upon his return to Spain, told exaggerated stories at court about the Amazon adventure. He obtained financing for a return trip of exploration of the Amazon River where he was attacked. Poison arrows killed seventeen of his men. In November of 1546 he either died of illness and a broken heart or drowned when his boat capsized. His wife remarried and moved off to live in Panama.

Another Taíno Myth

Bimini: Life of the Spring Waters and the Fountain of Youth

Above: (L) A 1546 painting by Lucas Crannich the Elder of The Eternal Fountain of Youth whose story has been around for thousands of years. 

Above A 19th Century German artist’s painting of Ponce de Leon and the Florida fountain.— Wikipedia.

Juan Ponce de Leon believed a story about a Taíno “island” called Bimini. Bimini was the Taíno name for their territory on North America's Florida peninsula. There, he thought, old men would be turned sexually young again by drinking the waters of a spring. Ponce de Leon believed that the Bahamas was the location of Sir John Mandeville's published tale of the fabled Fountain of Eternal Youth. He first set off from Boriken (Puerto Rico) on a private expedition to search for a mythical Taíno site which seemed to confirm the existence of the European's fabled source of a 15th century form of Viagra.

The Ponce de Leon expedition traveled on to the nearby peninsula, which he thought was also a Bahama Island, and named it La Florida.This was because his expedition arrived on the mainland during the week of Easter or Pascua florida (season of flowers). According to Dr. Jose Barreiro, author of The Indian Chronicles, the American location of the Fountain of Youth was another Spanish misinterpretation of a complicated Taíno reference. The Taíno connotation in their myth about "Life of the Spring Waters" alluded to the rejuvenation of their expanding civilization which was moving further north island by island into Bimini (Florida). In 1521 Ponce de Leon again sailed for La Florida where he tried to set up a Spanish colony between today's Fort Myers and Tampa. During a skirmish with the indigenous Calusa, whom the Spanish disrespected, he was mortally shot with an arrow. Taken back to Cuba he died there of his wounds.

Taino Contributions

During the second half of the 2nd Millennium AD, Europe, Africa, and Asia benefited from both Caribbean myths and products. In addition to pearls (the largest, named “The Orphan” (above), and gold, Caribbean medicines, woods, plants, and technologies became an integral part of Old World cultures and cuisines. For example, the Szechuan province of China adopted the Taíno aji or “chili” peppers. The same can be said about Hungarian “paprika”. Tropical Africa and Asian subsistence were enhanced by the Taíno yuca or cassava. Taíno maisi from which the word maize is derived continue to fatten European cattle. The Taíno and Island Carib cultures were conduits for faunal products, some of which originated in Central and South America. In Europe the existence of the Taíno and their myths spawned fanciful stories of a “new” world and began debates about the “Noble Savage.” William Shakespeare, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Daniel Defoe, and other writers based some of their works on the Taíno and Island Carib mystique. Today the descendants of these island cultures live in the Caribbean, North American and European cities as Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Cubans, and Virgin Islanders. If one is of Kalinago (a.k.a. Carib) it would be from Dominica, Martinique, and other islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Interestingly, only the Kalinago of Dominica has an inbroken line of chiefs and a reservation called “The Carib Reserve”, where chiefs and a council are elected every four years.


The Contemporary Taíno Impact

Above: The "Taíno Creation Story" is a contemporary composition showing elements of the wor;ls's Origin, items of Nature, the origins of life from the cave/Womb of the Earth Mother (in the form of a sacred circle), how life is sustained, and the afterlife. -- By the author who used his laminated prints, vines, carved wood, shell, feathers, and paint. Size 44" wide by 54" tall,

Above: A Key to the above Taino Creation Story composition.

Above: The background print of the Watchman of the above Cave of the Jagua, the primordial Cave/Womb of the Earth Mother, is "He Who Does Not Blink", placed outside the cave to protect the First People. Above him are images of the sources of life. IguanaBoina, as Iguana-el, the Sun, and his twin, Boina, the Black Snake Raincloud


[1] The Taíno name for Cuba was Cubanakan. Although called Arawaks in the English speaking Caribbean the people who met Columbus in 1492 called themselves Taíno. Taíno means the Good or Noble People.

 [2] Guanahani means  “Island of the Iguana”.

[3] Guanin was 14k gold alloy and like a silver nose ring seen in Cuba was probably imported by the Taínos from mainland South or Central America. Caona was the name for pure gold. --The Early Spanish Main, Carl Orwin Sauer, p. 24.

[4] When the Spanish finally captured Hatuey they tied him to a stake. Before they executed him, a priest asked Hatuey if he wanted to convert to Christianity so that he may go to Heaven. “Are there Christians in Heaven?” Hatuey asked. “Yes” the priest said. “Then I don’t want to go there”, Hatuey said. So, they burned him. Hatuey is a folk hero in Cuba.

[5] Sauer, p. 51

[6] Anacaona had done the same with the previous governor Bartholomew Columbus when she had presented him with a gift of fourteen elaborately carved dujos (ceremonial stools) of highly polished black hardwood. The dujos, sent back to Spain were highly praised there by Peter Martyr. The “thrones” were from her warehouse stocked with dishes, basins, bowls, and other containers, and were the prized product of Taíno workshops on Guahaba (Gonave).

[7] The Taíno believed that Guahayona was the first shaman who also introduced the sacred cojiba (tobacco, Nicotania tabacum). 

[8] Caribal(es) is the source of the word “cannibal”.

[9] As is true today, “black” is a loose term that could also mean “not white”, as in England where Indians and Chinese are loosely lumped in the same color category as Africans and West Indians. (See: Califia  on Wikipedia’s website http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Califa

[10] Paewonsky, Michael. Conquest of Eden 1493-1515, p.22-23. Columbus thought that Martinique was the fabled island of Mateunin.

[11] Stevens-Arroyo, Antonio M. Cave of the Jagua, p. 71 

 [12] Ibid, p. 157

[13] Etimología de California, http://etimologias.dechile.net/?California

[14] Chronology of California History, http://www.walika.com/sr/cal-c0000hron.htm, p. 1.

[15] Pane, Fray Ramon. translated by Griswold, Susan C. Account of the Antiquities of the Indians,

p. xi

 [16] Grabbe, J.Orlin. Internet and the Death of News Monopoly, p. 1

[17] Hugh, Thomas. Conquest, p. 61 

 [18] Antonio M Stevens-Arroyo, Cave of the Jagua, p. 6

 [19] Castaneda, Pedro de, of Najara. The Journey  of Coronado, p.1 http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/wpages/wpgs610/corona2.htm

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibidp.2 

[22] Ibid., p.3

[23] The pulpit would have been a likely place for the spread of this myth since the gold, from the original Iberian story  of the fleeing bishops, belonged to the church. 

[24] In 1492, cinnamon was a prized spice that the Spanish imported from the East Indies. This Turkish embargoed East Indian spice was one of the items that sparked Columbus’ search for a sea route to the Indies. Gonzalo Pizarro and Orellana mistakenly thought that cinnamon could be found in the Americas.  

[25] Orellana and the Amazons, Athena Review, p. 2, http:www.athenapub./orellan1.htm

[26]  Michael Paiewonsky,  Conquest of Eden, p. 42-51



  • [Author’s Anacaona Blog: http://yamaye-mike.blogspot.com/2023/03/remembering-anacaona.html]
  • [4]Hatuey was a survivor of the Spanish massacre of his beautiful Taíno kacike, Anacaona, and over one hundred of her chiefs on the island of Ayti Bohio in the autumn of 1503. The famed Anacaona, Queen of the suzerainty of Xaragua, was the leader of that island’s “most polished in manner and speech, its noblenza the most ordered and numerous.”[5] That year Anacaona had invited the new Spanish governor, the Christian Father, Frey Nicolás de Ovando to a reception[6] in his honor. Upon a prearranged signal, Ovando’s crossbowmen surrounded Anacaona’s large bohío (round house). With her assembled chiefs inside, Ovando’s men then burned Anacaona’s house to the ground. The crossbowmen shot anyone who thried to escape the flames. Ovando had first removed his host, Anacaona, and then hanged her. She had refused on the spot to become a concubine. Anacaona means “Golden Flower” and today there are still songs in the Caribbean about her.
  • Gold was a commodity treasured by the Taínos. They used it as jewelry (kaona = pure gold, guanin = 14k gold) for their nobles, and as inlays for the eyes of some sculptures. An Island of Gold was part of an ancient myth associated with the epic hero [7]Guahayona. Columbus’ search for gold began upon his arrival in the in the Caribbean. This lust for the precious metal weighed heavily on his mind and two days after arriving in the Bahamas he wrote:
  • “I was bent upon finding out if there was gold and saw that some wore a bit of some suspended from a hole pierced in the nose and by signs I learned that going to the South or making a turn about the island to the South there was a king who had large jars of it and possessed a lot.” October 13, 1492
  • Columbus also learned about islands called Matinino and Guanin. The island of Matinino (later thought to be Martinique) was the fabled “Island of Women”. Guanin (gold) was the second island in the Guahayona myth. In Columbus’ words, he had arrived in an Eden which the Spanish labeled the “Terrestrial Paradise" of mostly naked, well built, tanned, welcoming and generous people. The ensuing conquistador lust for Amazons and kingdoms of gold followed Columbus’ first reports on the Indies. As will be seen later, both “islands” played a great role in the Spanish wanderlust in the Americas.
  • "Very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise" was also used to describe the location of La California, in Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo's novel 
  • California, El Dorado, the Amazon River, The Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, and the Fountain of Youth, all share a common source. They all are Spanish American constructs which were interwoven with ancient Caribbean myths. Myths, especially those indigenous to the pre-Columbian Caribbean, were part of the powerful force that eventually drove the Spanish conquistadors deeper into foreboding territories of the Americas. Beginning in the Caribbean the conquistadors went gold hunting island by island during the 15th century. The 16th century saw more intensive expeditions into the hinterlands of the continental Americas. Trekking through crocodilian and snake infested mosquito swamps, crossing searing deserts, scaling frigid mountains, drowning in hurricanes, and being shot by poison arrows were some of the risks Spanish conquistadors took in their search for often elusive American riches. Added to these risks was Christopher Columbus’ inventive myth about man eating [8]caribales which increased the fear index for those in search of Caribbean gold and later, pearls. Some of the seductive myths about Atlantis, Amazons and the Fountain of Eternal Youth had originated in Europe. Other myths indigenous to the Americas, such as, the Flight of the Guyeo Women, El Dorado and one about the “renewal of life” via a Fountain of Eternal Youth, near Bimini (the original Taíno name for their North American territory later called “La Florida” by Ponce de Leonwho had learned about the Florida peninsular from the Puerto Rican Taíno).

  • Saturday, March 4, 2023

    Remembering Anacaona

    In National Women’s Month, we honor the first acknowledged Queen of the Americas, Anacaona.

    A major part of America's Invisible Indian Syndrome, she paid with her life and must be remembered for her role in Women's History.

    Uniquely considered diplomatic, poetic, and beautiful, she was the Queen of Haragua, the large western island province in Ayti Bohio, or Haiti, until her murder in 1504, just 11 years after the Spanish invasion of the Americas. When the invading Spanish arrived Anacaona was a 19-year-old mother and the wife of Caonabo, a kacike (ruler) of a neighboring province who had encountered Columbus when he first arrived on their large island. Today, we call this shared second largest Caribbean Island, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. one French Creole-speaking and the other, Spanish.

    She was also the first royal, along with over 100 of her kacikes, massacred by the arriving, pompous Spanish barbarians, whose megalomaniac ego, made them believe that they had "discovered" an Ancient “New World” into existence. In search of a circumventing route past the Islamic blockade to the exotic spices of the East Indies, and obsessed with their own self-importance, the deluded lost Iberians thought that the Italian, Cristobal Colon, or Columbus, had arrived in India, China, the Biblical Terrestrial Paradise, occupied by people whom they ironically debated whether or not these Amerindians had souls.

    Clues to the contrary, which their Christian clerics missed, was that the Taino were more religious than the Spanish who believed in many saints. While the Taino actually equally believed in a variety of saint-like gods along, with a Supreme Being, Yucahu Bagua Marocoti, lord of the Bagua/Caribbean Sea, and the life-giving yuca (cassava/manioc}, bread of life tuber. He was the result of a virgin birth by Atabey, Goddess of Childbirth, similar to the Catholic, Virgin Mary.

    Above: My sculptural interpretation of Anacaona in a spiritual, ancestor contacting cohoba trance, seated on her dujo (throne) inside of a bohio, representation of an Iguana-Boina (Sun & Raincloud source of life imagery). I used Jennifer Lopez’s Puerto Rican Taino facial Amerindian physiognomy for the sculpture’s facial features.

    So, how was Anacaona depicted upon her murder?

    : The Hanging of Anacaona

    Anacaona’s crime? She was a Caribbean monarch in the way of barbarous Spain’s bloodletting course in their invasion of the Western Hemisphere. 

    Above: Anacaona was mythically viewed by the Spanish Queen and King of barbarous Spain at the beginning of the European-introduced pandemic that heralded in the 100 million Amerindian Holocaust, which was further aided by murderous Conquistadors.

    Above: A more stately Anacaona, carried on a liter, as depicted by the 16th-century Spanish.

    Who was the real Anacaona?

     After her husband, Caonabo was forcefully shipped to Spain by Christopher Columbus, and when her brother Behechio died, Anacaona ruled so well she was hanged for it.” (Click here to see her story and culture.)

    Her murderer was performed by visiting invader, the Spanish barbarian Governor Nicolas de Ovando,  the second Spanish government official, who succeeded the inept (their words) Italian, Cristoforo Colombo, a.k.a. “Cristobal Colon” to the Spanish, and “Christopher Columbus” to us.

    By 1492, the extensive Taíno Civilization was on the verge of becoming nation-states, a step away from the empires of their Central American neighbors, with whom they traded. Their territory included over one thousand islands in the Northern Caribbean and Bimini on the North American continent, which became today’s SW Florida. Some writers estimated that there were approximately six million Tainos at the time of the Encounter. Taíno tradition required Queen Anacaona to extend hospitality to foreigners. So, she invited Ovando to a welcome party with her over 100 sub-kacikes, or regional and village leaders.

    Upon his arrival at Anacaona’s large bohio (roundhouse), Ovando had her seized and strung up. He offered her the “opportunity “ to become his concubine. Anacaona refused this barbaric offer. Ovando had her Bohio surrounded by his crossbowmen, who set the bohio ablaze and shot any kacike who attempted to escape the flames. He then hanged Anacaona, a woman known for her recital of traditional historical poems, called areitos. Only Hatuey, a kacike of next door Gonâve Island, escaped to Cuba because he was late for the reception. He is now a Cuban hero because upon his capture, and pending burning at the stake, Hatuey refused the Spanish priest's offer to be converted to Christianity. 

    "If you become a Christian, you will go to Heaven," the priest said.

    "Are there Cristianos in Heaven?" Hatuey asked.

    "Yes, " answered the priest.

    "Then I don't want to go there!" Hatuey answered. So they burned him.

    The barbaric Spanish Empire continued Ovando’s set example to massacre Amerindian leaders from the Mexica or Aztec’s Montezuma of Mexico to Peru's 13th Inca emperor, Atahualpa.

    Today’s results of Anacaona’s murder? The Western Hemisphere became: (a) “Hispanic”, (b) Anglo, and (c) Francophile speakers who continued to plunge our hemisphere into the lie of the conveniently extinct and, therefore, “Invisible Indians”. The natural wealth of the Americas was plundered by Europe. allowing them to build their own empires.

    Is there an Anaconda Look-alike?

    Could any of these Amerindian-descended images look like  Anacaona?

    Congresswoman Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez of Puerto Rican Taíno descent?

    Or, this Amazonian Indigenous woman?

    Or is she like Haiatin-born, Edwidge Dantecat’s book cover illustration of her local homegirl heroine?