Bella Vida by Letty

How Close Are We to Our Ancestors? The Taína in me is revealed.

Yesterday, I was browsing through photos from last weekend’s outing when I was struck by the image of a woman I didn’t recognize. The photo captured the profile of a Taína with long black hair, high red cheekbones and a straight nose. It reminded me of Taíno cacique Hatuey, an image I actually was familiar with.

According to Bartolomé de Las Casas, Hatuey gave the following warning to Cuba:

“Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…”

Eventually the Spaniards succeeded in capturing him and on February 2, 1512, Hatuey was tied to a stake and burned alive. Before he was burned, a priest asked him if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. La Casas recalled the reaction of the chief:

“[Hatuey], thinking a little, asked the religious man if Spaniards went to heaven. The religious man answered yes… The chief then said without further thought that he did not want to go there but to hell so as not to be where they were and where he would not see such cruel people. “

This however was not an image I was familiar with. Who is this woman? I certainly don’t spend much time in the mirror and much less checking out my profile.  I was bewildered because I’d never seen this woman before. If I had any Taíno ancestors I do not know of them. I’ve never heard their names or their stories but here they are reflected in my cheekbones and straight nose. I’ve been unknowingly carrying them with me my entire life. Could I be a long lost daughter of Hatuey?

My curious nature insists on learning more and my rebellious spirit is angered at the thought I’ve been denied my true history. But that is the life of Puertoricans. We are told bits and pieces of our history for example how we are mesh of many cultures but our blindness to colonization reveals itself in these moments when we fail to be able to name our ancestors. In the process of absorption and assimilation we have lost our identity. Many of our Puertorican ancestors left no trace because they were poor and kept illiterate. The Taínos had an even worse fate, they had to run away to the highest mountains and hide to escape slavery and death. Only recently is there a movement to reveal their true history.

My family tree has many hidden branches with a few exceptions. I’ve been told of my paternal Italian great great grandfather, I recently found a Portuguese paternal great great great great great grandmother but little is known of my maternal great great great grandmother other than she looked Native Indian and was married to a European.

How far back are you able to trace your family tree?
Do you look like one of your ancestors?

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The Taínos were pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. The seafaring Taínos are relatives of the Arawak people of South America whose language is member of the Arawakan language family, which ranges from South America across the Caribbean.

Links to explore

Tribal Government of the Jatibonicu Taino People of Puerto Rico

Interview with Professor Juan Manuel Delgado, a historian, discusses the fallacy of the Taino extinction. This is part 1 of 2 of a one hour interview.
Entrevista con Profesor Juan Manuel Delgado, historiador, analiza la falacia de la extinción Taína. Parte 1 de 2 entrevista de una hora.

Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado is Professor of Genetics at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus and has made important research contributions in Genetics to the study of Population History and Anthropology in Puerto Rico. Amerindian contribution to the Puerto Rican gene pool.

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