Hatuéy was a great Taino cacique in Ayti,
the land of mountains, now known as the nation of Haiti. He had
first hand experience with the Spanish conquerors of his homeland,
who had enslaved the Taino people, committing atrocities upon
them and forcing them to labor, often to their deaths, in order
to satisfy the Spaniard's lust for gold. Rather than submit or
offer resistance to the well-armed oppressors, Hatuéy
chose to leave the land of his birth. He and his people escaped
across the Windward Passage to Cuba.
In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar,
who had participated in the massacre of the Taino in the province
of Xaraguá, and Pánfilo de Narvárez, a veteran
of the conquest of Jamaica, were chosen by the Spanish to begin
the conquest of the island of Cuba. The chronicler, Bartolomé de
Las Casas, sailed with Narvárez. When Hatuéy heard
rumors of this invasion, he proceeded to warn the caciques of
eastern Cuba about this serious threat to their very existence.
Hatuéy arrived in the village of the Cuban
cacique, Guamax accompanied by a small entourage and carrying
in his canoe a basket filled with gold and gold jewelry.
Addressing Guamax's people, Hatuéy explained
that the Christians so cruelly mistreated the Taino people because
the Christians had a God who they worshiped and revered. The
Tainos were murdered and enslaved in order to take that God away
Hatuéy then displayed the basket of gold
to the gathered assembly and explained that this was the God
of the Christians. He then asked the people to decide what to
do with Him.
Hatuéy suggested that the people perform
their ceremonial dance called the Arieto and the sacred and magical
Cohoba ceremony in which hallucinogenic herbs are ingested. Perhaps
the God would then be pleased and He would instruct the Christians
not to kill the Tainos.
After the ceremony, however, Hatuéy warned the assemblage
that if they were to keep the God amongst them, the Christians
would surely come and kill them in order to get possession of
the God. It was finally decided to throw the God into the river.
Hatuéy's warnings to the Cuban Taino precipitated
several major rebellions and began an overall pattern of resistance
against the Spanish in Cuba that was not completely subdued until
Hatuéy himself was finally captured, and
he and his warriors were burned alive at the stake. While tied
to the stake Hatuéy was approached by a Spanish priest,
who offered to baptize and convert Hatuéy, thus cleansing
his sins against the Christian God which would allow Hatuéy
to enter heaven and avoid hell.
Hatuéy asked for time to think about the
offer. After a time Hatuéy responded by asking the priest
where the Spanish went after they died. The priest told Hatuéy
that baptized Christians went to heaven. Hatuéy then made
his final decision. He told the priest not to baptize him because
if the Spanish went to heaven, he preferred to go to hell.
The story of Hatuéy's execution was recorded
by Las Casas and is now part of Cuban folklore. Hatuéy
has become a national folk hero representing Cuba's struggle
against foreign oppression, first from Spain and later from the
United States of America.