Date: Fri, 12 Nov 1999 00:29:53 -0400
Sender: Taino-L Taino interest forum <TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: TAINO-L Digest - 9 Nov 1999 to 11 Nov 1999 (#1999-118)
To: Recipients of TAINO-L digests <TAINO-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Aia Na Ha`ina I Loko o Kakou (The Answers Lie Within Us)
From Tony Castanha <castanha@HAWAII.EDU>
10 November 1999
"Boricua Migration to Hawai`i and Meaning of Caribbean Indigenous
Resistance, Survival and Presence on the Island of Boriken (Puerto Rico),"
edited, by Tony (Akoni) Castanha, Paper Presented at the 1999 World
Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education, Hilo, Hawai`i, August 1-7,
1999. (Copyright, 1999)
Aloha kakou y Guatiao,
"Guatiao" is a traditional indigenous Caribbean way of welcoming and
greeting of friendship among peoples and friends. The guatiao was also
used as a survival strategy by the principal cacique or chief of the
island of Boriken (the indigenous name of the island also known as "Puerto
Rico"), Agueybana, when he exchanged names with the Spanish colonist Ponce
de Leon and became "blood brothers" with him. This assured that the cacical
system on the island would continue and not be destroyed as it had been in
Quisqueya (also Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
My presentation today is based on my doctoral work which looks at certain
themes of Caribbean indigenous resistance, survival, identity and presence
particularly on the island of Boriken, and in the Caribbean Antilles, in
general. Through personal travel to the region, oral tradition revealed,
and academic research and sources, my thesis presents mainly an historical
analysis and critique of Caribbean writings. I seek to dispel certain
European myths laid upon the indigenous Caribbean during the 15th and 16th
centuries which subsist until today. Furthermore, I'll talk about the wave
of indigenous Boricuas or Jibaros who came to Ka Pae`aina Hawai'i in the
early 1900s. The combined movement of labor to satisfy capitalistic demands
of haole sugar planters and the devastating environmental effects of
huracan (hurricane) San Ciriaco in Boriken led to the inmigration of the
Boricua to Hawai`i. I am a Boricua, a descendant of the "Taino," or the
Caribe or Carib peoples of Boriken. I would like to take this time to say
that I am personally very grateful to the Kanaka Maoli people, for my
involvement and activism in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement for the past
seven years has greatly assisted me in the recovery of my Boricua identity
and cultural past. Finally, I wish to dedicate my presentation today to a
good friend of mine, a brother and roommate who recently passed on, Alan
A Global Resurgence
Since the notions of "extinction" and "indigenous Caribbean peoples"
are synonymous in the minds of many, the reidentification and cultural
revitalization among the Caribe/Taino peoples today should not be seen
in a vacuum. This revitalization follows a clear pattern of indigenous
resurgence worldwide beginning in the late 1960s and early '70s. The
American Indian Movement (AIM) in North America grew and called for
international recognition of traditional rights and practices. Indigenous
consciousness arose in Central America and the Pacific, and the Kanaka
Maoli political and cultural renaissance of the time has much to do with
decolonization and malama 'aina today. During the 1980s, this global
resurgence strengthened at the international human rights level culmin-
ating in the 1993 UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
and proclaimed International Year and Decade of the World's Indigenous
In the Caribbean, the year 1992 could be seen as a time of indigenous
"reawakening," for the quincentenary of the European invasion into the
"Americas" was a time of reflection for many, rather than unwarranted
celebration. My view as to why it has taken 500 years for indigenous
Caribbean revitalization to occur has everything to do with colonialism.
Since the first wave of colonization in the "New World" was so severe,
it has apparently taken many descendants or children of the Caribe/Taino
that much longer to reawaken in relation to other indigenous groups.
However, this indigenous resurgence was prophesized over 500 years ago
by the daughter of a cacique, named Aura Surey, at the height of the
Spanish atrocities. She decreed that "in the twenty-fourth generation
our people would rise again in consciousness to their connection and
responsibility to the EarthMother (Atabei) and all life."1 Indigenous
Artisan Margarita Nogueras Vidal writes of this prophecy:
The prophecy of Aura Surey is signaling that a process of
transformation is already taking place within the EarthMother
and within ourselves. We can still better our lives and be a
conscious part of planetary well-being. Let us use our gifts
and talents to enrich life. Let us project healthy thoughts
into the eter of life (place where all things are created
and take form). We are all learning just to be human. We are
learning about human relationships. We are learning about
relating to other life and we are learning that we are here
together, under one sun, one moon, one air, one earth. We can
be part of the solution and let go of the drama.2
In Caribe/Taino tradition our ancestors believed they evolved from caves
or from the earth.3 The Earth Mother or goddess of fertility, Atabei, is
mother of Yucahu Bagua Marocoti, the Caribe/Taino "supreme" or absolute
being who has no father and no beginning. The concept of Yucahu is appar-
ently similar to the Maya belief in a monotheistic "Absolute Being" named
Hunab K'u. Pre-conquest Maya defined Hunab K'u as "measure and movement--
measure of the soul and movement of the energy which is spirit."4 Some
have suggested that Hunab K'u is a post-conquest Christian invention meant
to emulate Christianity, but HUNAB "does not convey the same idea as the
Christian concept of God."5 Indeed, the concept of Hunab K'u or Yucahu
reveals a "god" that is essentially OMNIPRESENT, rather than the notion
of a "supreme" hierarchical being above it all.
There is clearly a strong Maya and Central American influence in the
Caribbean and on Boriken. Western archaeological carbon datings reveal
earliest human habitation in the Caribbean region from about 3,500-4,000
B.C.6 The first peoples to arrive in Cuba, Hait and the Dominican
Republic are believed to have come from the Yucatan peninsula or from
other areas of Central America.7 Evidence of Central American artifacts
grounded in indigenous tradition are also found in Boriken.8 The earliest
carbon datings here date back to 3,000 B.C.9 It's further acknowledged
that the "Taino" were partly descended from these first peoples of the
Antilles, the so-called "Casimiroid peoples" or the "Archaics."10 If so,
Caribe/Taino peoples of today would be descendants of the Maya, and likely
other indigenous groups of both North and South America.
In terms of cultural traditions and customs passed down over the centuries,
our language has survived in certain forms and is being revitalized, and
many words make up a part of the Castillian or Spanish dialect spoken in
Boriken today. For instance, numerous names of geographical places, plants,
foods and instruments are indigenous in origin. Moreover, native plants
are still used for medicinal purposes, the same foods are grown and eaten
(e.g., yuca, batata, maize, pina and papaya), and the same instruments are
played (e.g., the guiro and maraca). Stories of pre-European cultural
tradition passed down in the form of areitos (traditional dances and
recitations) are known through family oral tradition. Nogueras-Vidal
mentions those who hold the keys of knowledge about this tradition: "the
'so-called' elderly, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our aunts, uncles,
and our parents have acquired the special talent of being the caretakers
and bearers of our cultural tradition. They hold the keys of wisdom about
who we are as a 'people.'"11 Also, indigenous symbolism in the form of
hieroglyphics has been passed down. In principle, this form of "writing"
is no less distinguishable than western written form in that "both are
texts that must be read."12 However, since the academic discipline of
anthropology has been unable to decipher the meaning of indigenous
symbolic writing, pre-western indigenous societies were thought to be
void of history. Thus, the anthropological invention of "prehistoric
society" or "prehistory."13 But the lines of communication with the
indigenous past and the Caribbean ancestral world remain open:
Our symbolism is conceptual and encompasses a series of
expressions that tell a story. As stone people our ancestors
inscribed messages on stone for a time when we would be ready
to receive them. The time of awakening is in process and we
are all being summoned to join in and be part of the circle
Indigenous Resistance, Survival and Presence
Part of the historical problem with many western interpretations of
indigenous ways and thought is that philosophical world views of both
groups were and are very different. The myth created by Spanish chron-
iclers that the indigenous peoples of Boriken and other Caribbean islands
had been "exterminated" by the mid-16th century was based on the
chroniclers' own world view and perception. For example, Bartolome de Las
Casas assumes that the same devastation that occurred in Haiti and the
Dominician Republic had occurred on the islands of "San Juan" (Boriken)
and "Jamaica" (Xaymaca). He writes:
Before the arrival of the Spaniards there had lived on these
islands more than six hundred thousand souls, it has been stated.
I believe there were more than one million inhabitants, and now,
in each of the two islands, there are no more than two hundred
persons, all the others having perished without the Faith and
without the holy sacraments.15
Today, writings on indigenous resistance and survival in Cuba, the
Dominican Republic, Boriken, St. Vincent and Dominica are commonplace.
Jose Barreiro's The Indian Cronicles is a fascinating account of "Taino"
life and Guarocuya's (Enriquillo) war against the Spanish crown and
subsequent victory resulting in the first peace treaty signed in the
Americas.16 Barreiro also pointed out in 1993 that "an estimated one-
third of Puerto Ricans have strong Taino ancestry," and the indigenous
resurgence among "boriquas" resulted in the "ceremonial restoration of
the Taino Nation on November 19, 1992."17 In 1997, Sammuel Wilson edited
"The Indigenous People of the Caribbean," an anthology of writings on
the indigenous Caribbean which partly acknowledges the continued presence
of Caribe/Taino descendants. Wilson notes:
On many islands some people trace part or all of their ancestry
back to those who lived here before Columbus's voyages. On nearly
every island, the modern inhabitants relate to the environment in
ways they learned from the Indians: they grow some of the same
plants for food and other uses, fish the same reefs in the same
ways, and follow the same seasonal patterns. Also, on nearly
every island--even those where none of the indigenous peoples
have survived--the Indians are powerful symbols of Caribbean
identity, national identity, and resistance to colonialism.18
Resistance to colonialism in Boriken commenced the moment Juan Ponce de
Leon stepped onto its shores in 1508, fifteen years after Cristobal Colon
christened the island "San Juan Bautista" on his second voyage. Agueybana
(The Elder) was well aware of Columbus' arms and exploits in Quisqueya and
prepared to accommodate Ponce de Leon on his arrival. In the beginning the
two leaders entered into a "treaty of friendship and alliance."19 In
order to make peace and resist colonialism, Agueybana apparently had in
mind what the Iroquois had employed since time immemorial when invaded by
outsiders, i.e., "to transform them symbolically and physically into
kinspeople."20 According to Francisco Miscoso,
Agueybana, the great chief of Guaynia, had news of the devasta-
tion of the Tainos of Hispaniola. The historian Fernandez de
Ovierdo affirmed that in order to avoid such a fate in Puerto
Rico, Agueybana opted to be a guatiao or bloodbrother, with Ponce
de Leon. He agreed to make conucos [farming] to provide cassava
bread to the Spaniards and instructed his subchiefs to assist
Some tactics of survival in Boriken included intermarriage or the "absorp-
tion" of the Spanish and African people, as Loida Figueroa Mercado concludes
in her book, "History of Puerto Rico,"22 and the naturalization of the
Spanish language into the indigenous tongue;23 for instance, there is "a
kind of 'make-believe' that treats native language terms 'as if they
were Spanish',.. which means of course that morphemologically they don't
signify anything on their own, but only as they are defined by another
language which makes them epistemologically disauthorized."24 Further the
adoption of Christian symbols which physically substituted for indigenous
ones,25 meant that native spiritualism (espiritismo) remained a life-
force. All of this is not to say that the massacres and burnings, torment
and misery, and depopulation from epidemic diseases on a similar scale as
here in Ka Pae`aina did not take place in Boriken. They did. And contrary
to the European created dichotomy of the "peaceful Arawaks" and "maneating
Caribs" ("cannibal" or "Canibales" originally derived from "Carib" or
"Caribes"), our ancestors also fiercely fought back the Spanish encroach-
ment. The implementation of the encomienda system led directly to the
uprising of 1511. Fernandez de Ovierdo notes this resistance and "how they
[the Indians] killed half of the Christians that were on the island of
San Juan . . ."26 (slightly exaggerated?) This led to outright war
between the two groups, three wars of that year culminating in Ponce de
Leon's decisive victory at Yageca27. It is apparent that at this moment
many Boricuas fled to the mountain regions, where many dwelt already.
Federico Ribes Tovar indicates that after Yagueca and the death of their
leader, Agueybana II (The Brave),
the Indians abandoned the struggle. Some of the rebel caciques
surrendered and others fled to the Luquillo Mountains and neigh-
boring islands to continue their campaign against the Spaniards,
but, from that moment on, native resistance was reduced to isolated
skimishes, ambushes and raids...28
The Spanish did not begin to colonize the mountain region of Boriken
until the early 1800s, according to Boricua-Jibaro scholar and cultural
practitioner Oki Lamourt-Valentin, culminating in the 1868 "El Grito de
Lares" (The Cry of Lares).29 Lamourt also indicates that the "Indian"
language was the "first social language" of the region at least until
this time.30 Therefore, who lived in the mountain regions of the island
or in the "Indieras" (place where the Indian lives) since the wars
of 1511? Spanish censuses of the late 18th century reveal that the
indigenous population had indeed lived on. The results of the 1778 census
show 2,302 "pure natives" who had settled in the Indieras, the Indieras at
that time comprising the entire Cordillera region, not just Maricao as it
is known today.31 Puerto Rican historian Juan Manual Delgado Colon says
the above figure was "10 percent of the reality," since census data then
were primarily measured through church baptism records.32 Figueroa
finally determines that:
In the census made at the end of the XVIIIth century by order of
Carlos III, proof is given that the natives were not exterminated
in the first half of the XVI century, since in 1778 there was a
contingent of 2,302 pure natives living in the country, which seems
to have settled in the Central Cordillera, in those places known up
to now as Indieras.
If we take all this data into account it is evident that the time
has come to throw overboard the fallacy of the extermination of the
Boricua Migration to Hawai`i
It has been said that perhaps the least understood and appreciated
major ethnic group to come to Ka Pae`aina were the Boricuas or Puerto
Ricans.34 The sugar planters who recruited them as "indentured slave
laborers" were apparently only interested in profits, false promises and
"kidnapping."35 When the Boricuas rebeled - the first migrant group to
physically take up arms against the planters - they became commonly
labeled as "criminals," "vagrants" and "vindictive." But the Boricuas or
Boriqueos or "Borinkees" who came here were basically the indigenous
peoples of their land, who had sowed the yuca root for millennia, who had
experienced severe economic and social hardships, and were merely trying
to make life better for themselves and their families.
From 1900 to 1901, eleven expeditions brought over 5,000 Boricuas to
Hawai`i.36 Most came from the mountain regions of Yauco, Lares, Utuado
and Ajuntas, and many were coffee farmers whose crops had been devastated
by huracn San Ciriaco in 1899. The Boricuas who came here were proud of
their indigenous heritage, initially identifying as "Boricuas" or
"Boriquenos," not as "Puerto Ricans" or "Porto Ricans," since they
considered themselves Indians.37 It was the Boricua or Jibaro who had
been "the foot soldiers of every revolution on the island" since the
uprising of 1511.38 They led the "Grito de Lares" in 1868 and eventually
drove the Spanish out in 1898, only to be recolonized shortly after by the
Americans. Ron Arroyo writes that the Boricuas who came to Hawai`i were
free spirited independence fighters who refused to be enslaved:
. . . these were people who were Boricua indians. They were proud
of their indian culture as inhabitants of the island of Boriquen.
Their heritage was based on a love of freedom and independence.
The Spaniards called them `jibaros' which meant men of freedom.
They were also called `Los Macheteros' for their use of cane
knives as weapons in the fight for freedom and independence.
An early commander of the island's Spanish regiment referred
to the jibaros as `the free coloured inhabitants of Porto Rico.'
So the most significant aspect of the Porto Ricans who
migrated to the plantations in Hawaii was that they were free
persons. Their attitude of freedom was to determine their behavior
in a slave-like environment on those plantations. The haoli (sp)
(white) landowners, in their ignorance of culture and history,
seeking laborers for their sugar cane, sent agents to Puerto Rico
to recruit to a slave condition a group of people who had
historically fought for and fiercely protected their freedom.39
In this chapter of my work, I also attempt to link the Boricua presence in
Ka Pae`aina to Kanaka Maoli socio-history, culture, and what comes to make-
up a "local" identity here. The pre-European political and cultural systems
of both lands were similar. Like the ali`i system here, the Caribe/Taino
cacical system had developed "elaborate and complex social and political"
like their Hawaiian counterparts, the natives of pre-Columbian
Puerto Rico were expert fishermen and sailors. Moreover, the
inhabitants of each island in the Caribbean were linked culturally
to the people on nearby islands in the Antilles, so that like the
Pacific islands, we can only appreciate the richness of native
culture and society by seeing it as a mosaic of interacting villages
U.S. colonial exploits in the late 19th century come to create a unique
situation in Hawai'i, one which plays a large role in what "indigenous"
identity has come to mean today, where Kanaka Maoli, Filipino and Boricua
people come together as pawns of the Spanish-American war venture. The
collective experiences of indigenous Hawaiians and the groups that
migrated here come to develop a strong relationship of shared values
that comes to characterize what is meant by "local":
With the majority of Hawaiians who were planters and fishermen,
they shared a respect for the land and a strong reliance on
extended family relations. Loyalty, respect, and caring for
family elders and the overall well-being of all family members
were important values that came to characterize "local" people.
In rural plantation communities, the immigrant workers shared
the common experiences of oppressive working conditions, living
in plantation camp housing, and being in constant debt to the
plantation store. Children of immigrant and Native Hawaiians
alike attended Hawai'i's common public schools. There they
were socialized by the American school system. The children
learned together, ate and shared meals together, and communicated
across cultural barriers in pidgin dialect.42
Today, on the eve of the centennial of the coming of the first "Boricua
Hawaianos" to Ka Pae`aina, many important contributions made by them to
the Hawaiian community have been acknowledged. The newly formed Puerto
Rican Centennial Commission is preparing for next year's celebration of
the arrival of the Puerto Ricans to Hawai`i.43 Mazie Hirono offered her
thoughts when signing the bill that created the commission:
The Puerto Rican community has been very instrumental in
improving the quality of life here in the islands. As is
the case with many of the other ethnic groups that call Hawaii
`home' today, the early Puerto Rican migrants toiled on the
plantations to create a better life for themselves and their
future generations. As is also the case with the other groups,
they brought their traditions, culture and foods with them.
Pasteles and gandule rice are well-known dishes in today's
Hawaii. I welcome this opportunity to help recognize and
celebrate the valuable contributions made by Puerto Ricans
to our society.44
1 Margarita Nogueras Vital, "Taino Indian Symbolism: Honoring Taino
Tradition," September, 1996, p. 3.
2 Ibid., p. 4.
3 Jose Barreiro, "The Indian Cronicles," p. 53; Irving Rouse, "The Tainos:
The Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus," New Haven/London:
Yale University Press, 1992, p. 16.
4 Hunbatz Men, "Secrets of Mayan Science/Religion," New Mexico: Bear and
Company Publishing, 1990, p. 24.
5 Eric J. Thompson, "Maya History and Religion," Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1970, pp. 203-204.
6 Wilson, "Introduction to the Study of the Indigenous People of the
Caribbean," in Wilson, ed., "The Indigenous People of the Caribbean," p. 4.
8 Interview with Baracutey, Indigenous educator and cultural practitioner,
July 24, 1998.
9 Interview with Puerto Rican archeologist Roberto Martinez Torres, July
10 Wilson, "The Indigenous People of the Caribbean," p. 58.
11 Margarita Nogueras-Vidal, "A Vision . . . A Prophecy: Honoring Tano
Indigenous Tradition," Jayuya, Borike, 1996, 1998, p. 2.
12 Peter Hulme, "Colonial Encounters: Europe and the native Caribbean,
1492-1797," London: Methuen & Co., 1986, p. 56.
14 Margarita Nogueras-Vidal, "Tano Indian Symbolism . . . To Feel is to
Perceive," Jayuya, Borike, 1996, 1998, p. 3.
15 Bartolome de Las Casas, "The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief
Account," (1552), Translated from the Spanish by Herma Biffault, Baltimore
and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992, p. 43.
16 Jose Barreiro, "The Indian Cronicles," Houston: University of Houston,
Arte Publico Press, 1993, p. 11.
17 Jose Barreiro, in "State of the Peoples," (A Global Human Rights Report
on Societies in Danger), by Cultural Survival, Boston: Beacon Press, 1993,
18 Samuel M. Wilson, "The Legacy of the Indigenous People of the
Caribbean," in Wilson, ed., "The Indigenous People of the Caribbean,"
Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997, p. 206.
19 Federico Ribes Tovar, "A Chronological History of Puerto Rico," New
York: Plus Ultra Educational Publishers, Inc., 1973, p. 20.
20 Matthew Dennis, "Cultivating a Landscape of Peace: Iroquois-European
Encounters in Seventeenth Century America," Ithaca, New York: Cornell
University Press, 1993, p. 8.
21 Francisco Moscoso, "Chiefdom and Encomienda in Puerto Rico: The
Development of Tribal Society and the Spanish Colonization to 1530," in
Adalberto Lopez, ed., "The Puerto Ricans: Their History, Culture, and
Society," Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc., 1980, p. 18.
22 Loida Figueroa Mercado, "History of Puerto Rico: From the Beginning to
1892," New York: L.A. Publishing Company Inc., 1968, p. 75.
23 Oki Lamourt-Valentin, "Cannibal Recipes," A socio-linguistic account of
indigenous Boricua-Jibaro culture, Iowa State University, Unpublished,
1979, pp. 6-7.
24 Ibid., p. 4.
25 Ibid., p. 11.
26 Gonzalo Fernandez de Ovierdo y Valdes, Chronicler to King-Emperor
Charles V, "The Conquest and Settlement of the Island of Boriquen or
Puerto Rico," (1535), Translated and Edited by Daymond Turner, Avon,
Connecticut: The Cardavon Press, 1972, p. 18.
27 Ribes Tovar, "A Chronological History of Puerto Rico," p. 37.
29 Interview with Lamourt-Valentin, July 27, 1998.
31 Interview with Delgado Colon, June 27, 1999.
32 Interview with Delgado Coln, July 15, 1999.
33 Figueroa Mercado, "History of Puerto Rico," p. 74.
34 Andrew Lind, in Ron Arroyo, "The Borinkees: The Puerto Ricans of
Hawai`i," Ph.D. Dissertation, Cincinnati: Union Graduate School, 1977?,
35 In "The Borinkees: The Puerto Ricans of Hawai'i," Ron Arroyo provides
transcripts of interviews with Puerto Ricans from the first expedition to
Hawai'i who were lured into making the voyage by verbal promises of higher
wages, being told that Spanish was the primary language of communication
in Hawai'i, and many were led to believe that they were only being taken
to the other side of the island. Claims of kidnapping surfaced. A New York
Times headline read: "Porto Ricans Go To Hawaii: Men say they were
kidnapped for the Spreckles Sugar Plantations - Closely Guarded on Train,"
Dec. 7, 1900. See appendix 1.
36 Blase Camacho Souza and Alfred P. Souza, "De Borinquen A Hawaii Nuestra
Historia: From Puerto Rico to Hawaii," Honolulu: Puerto Rican Heritage
Society of Hawaii, 1985, p. 24.
37 Interview with Ron Arroyo, November 22, 1998.
38 Arroyo, "The Borinkees: The Puerto Ricans of Hawai'i," p. 3.
40 Wilson, "Hispaniola: Caribbean Chiefdoms in the Age of Columbus,"
Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990, p. 2.
41 Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, "The Tainos: From Burenke to Puerto Rico,"
in "Change and Continuity: Puerto Rico and Hawai`i," Puerto Rican Heritage
Society of Hawai`i, and Hawai'i Heritage Center, Honolulu: Puerto Rican
Society of Hawai`i, 1992.
42 Davianna Pomaika`i McGregor, "Sovereignty: Hawaiians and Locals," A
Paper presented at the Association of Asian American Studies Conference,
University of Michigan, 1994, pp. 12-13.
43 Jose Villa, "Hawaii Honors Puerto Rican Contributions," Hawaii Hispanic
News, July 1999, p. 1.