The Spanish Empire arrived in Quisqueya (Haiti/Dominican Republic) in search of gold for the Crown and souls for its God – and waiting to greet them were the peaceful and friendly Taino, who approached them bearing food and gifts.The soldiers later amused themselves by hacking off body parts from the unclothed bodies of their would-be benefactors.
The Taino of Quisqueya fought back against the Spanish, defending their families as best they could with the weapons at hand. But wooden clubs and spears and courage can do little against soldiers equipped with steel swords and guns, against cannon and cavalry and attack dogs. Surviving Indians were put to work in mines or forced to provide tribute – either gold or spun cotton – with failure to meet the quota punished by cutting off the offender’s hands.
Cacique (Chieftain) Hatuey escaped with 400 of his followers in canoes, taking the Windward Passage to Cuba with plans to mount a resistance.
Hatuey met with fellow Taino’s in Cuba, detailing the horrors the Spanish inflicted upon his people. He insisted the enemy were cowards, cowards hiding behind armor who would not fight like men.
Attempting to explain what drove the bearded White invaders, Hatuey said they worshiped a god who promised goodness and mercy, but they also worshiped another god-which he displayed by showing a basket filled with gold adornments.
Hatuey asked for their help in fighting an enemy who would soon be coming to their island as well, in search of one of their gods while forcing the Taino to worship their other god.
Only a few warriors chose to follow Hatuey; perhaps his tale of the terrifying strangers seemed too unbelievable.
Following the recommendation of his counterpart Cacique, Hatuey threw the gold into a nearby river; then hallucinogenics were ingested and dances were performed to implore the Taino god Yacayu (Spirit of cassava root and the sea) to intervene with the good Spanish God so that He would prevent the strangers from coming to seek their other god.
Later that year Diego Velasquez and Pedro Narvaez landed in Cuba, establishing a settlement and fort they named Baracoa. Setting out from Baracoa, Velasquez was attacked and driven back to the fort by Hatuey’s Taino warriors. For three months Hatuey fought a guerrilla war against an overwhelmingly powerful European army, confining the Spanish to their fort. Eventually betrayal led to his capture, and Velasquez sentenced Hatuey to be tied to a stake and burned alive.
Before the soldiers put him to the torch, a Spanish priest approached Hatuey and offered him eternal salvation if he accepted the Christian God. The priest explained he would be cleansed of his sins and he would go to his reward in Heaven. The priest further explained the alternative was to go to Hell, a place of misery and torment where those who do not accept the Christian God went upon their death. Hatuey took some time to consider this.
After some reflection Hatuey asked if the priest and the soldiers would go to Heaven when they die. The priest replied yes, those who accepted the Christian God went to Heaven.
Hatuey replied “Then I will go to Hell. I would rather be in Hell than in the same place as such cruel people as Christians“.