« Quisqueya » honors Taino culture whereas « Hispaniola » recalls the Amerindian genocide
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on June 13, 1917, Odette Roy Fombrun is a graduate in education from Haiti’s Ecole Normale d’Institutrices. Founder of the first Haitian pre-school, she is the author of numerous works on education, history, and civic affairs as well as novels and short stories for children. Her historical works include Ayiti of the Indians (L’Ayiti des Indiens, Port-au-Prince: Deschamps, 1992) as well as The Flag and the Arms of the Republic (Le Drapeau et les Armes de la République, Port-au-Prince: Deschamps, 1989). Inspired by the peasant custom of the coumbite (konbite), she proposes « Konbitism » as the base for a unifying social contract. Mrs. Fombrun has been a Citizen of the World since 1981. For further information, see <http://ile-en-ile.org/fombrun>
By Odette Roy Fombrun
The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a Caribbean island, one of the four islands of the Greater Antilles that the Tainos, before Columbus’s arrival, called Haiti, Bohio or Quisqueya –meaning « Mountainous Land » or « Great Land. » The island was baptized La Isla Española (Hispaniola) by the Spanish colonizers. French colonizers subsequently called it Saint-Domingue. When proclaiming its independence on January 1, 1804, the Western part of the island of Saint Domingue took back the Amerindian name of Haïti (Ayiti). From that date on, the entire island was known throughout the world as the island of Haiti.
In 1930, to avoid confusion between the name of the Republic of Haiti and that of the entire island, the U.S.G.B. (United States Geographic Board) decided, unilaterally, to name the island Hispaniola in homage to the Spanish colonizer, thereby erasing all traces of the Amerindians who occupied the island before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately, Haitian and Dominican authorities of the time did not protest this decision with enough force or perseverance, nor did they mobilize any interested parties against this assassination of the island’s Amerindian past. It is important to rectify this serious error as soon as possible: the Taino martyrs deserve immortality.
Such was the opinion of the historian Edmond Mangonès in 1934. At a conference held in Montevideo, he vehemently protested the arbitrary decision of the USGB that completely ignored the historical truths of the island (see the Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire et de Géographie d’Haïti, Vol 5, No. 15, Juillet 1934; see also Odette Roy Fombrun, L’Ayiti des Indiens (1992: 138,139)).
At a time when the Caribbean moves toward unification, when Europe speaks of sponsoring only those projects that take into account both parts of the island, and at a time when bilateral activities are planned in the tourism industry to take advantage of the Amerindian cultural heritage, it is important to adopt for our island a name recalls not the genocide of its aboriginal people, but rather a name that recalls the past of resistance to oppression, a past shared by the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti. These two Republics cannot renounce their valiant Amerindian ancestors such as Caonabo, Hatuey and Cotubanama, nor can they forget the abominable massacres of Vega Real and of Xaragua, the murder of Queen Anacaona, nor the triumph of Cacique Henri, as Marie-Hélène Laraque has shown in her life’s work devoted to the study of the cultural heritage of the American Indians. Laraque’s research has shown that the first Agreement signed between the Americas and Europe was The Treaty of Cacique Henri (Le Traité du Cacique Henri) in the 16th Century. Spain had to send an ambassador to meet with the Cacique. The emperor Charles the Fifth sent Barrio Nuevo as his delegate to sign the Agreement with Henri. Thus, the first Treaty ever signed in the Americas was signed on this island in the 16th Century. It was The Treaty of the Cacique Henri (Traité du Cacique Henri). It recognizes the right of freedom to the Cacique Henri and to his fellow companions.
In memory of this important history we share, I call upon:
- Dominican and Haitian leaders and historians
- all those who believe in the importance of the Taino cultural heritage
- other Caribbean countries
- organizations of Native-Americans and of other native populations throughout the world
- the United Nations
It is time to fight against this name that constitutes a serious injustice against these people, recognized as martyred, and a violation of the right of Haitian and Dominican people to their common Taino heritage.The goal of this mobilisation is for the U.S.G.B. to give back to this West Indian island a name that evokes its rich Amerindian heritage. We propose the adoption of:
« Quisqueya » recalls Taino culture whereas « Hispaniola » recalls the Amerindian genocide.
« Rename the Island: Quisqueya, not Hispaniola » is a translation by Thomas C. Spear of Odette Roy Fombrun’s original essay, « Renommons l’île: Quisqueya, non pas Hispaniola » (December 2000).
© 2000 Odette Roy Fombrun ; © 2003 Odette Roy Fombrun & Île en île for the translation