Encyclopedia Womannica

Leaders: Anacaona

Episode Summary

Anacaona (1474-1503) was a Taíno leader who stood up to colonizers.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today we’re talking about a leader who stood up to invaders in her land. She shared poems and stories that kept her culture alive, even when it was under attack. Let’s talk about Anacaona.

Anacaona was born in 1474 into a family of chiefs in what is now Haiti. She was part of the Taíno tribe, the prevailing people inhabiting the Caribbean during the 15th century. The Taino tribe extended throughout modern Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Both Anacaona’s brother and husband were major chiefs of nearby territories. This close association with the primary rulers of the island made Anacaona herself one of the most important figures on Kiskeya -- that’s what they called modern day Hispaniola.

The Taino people were skilled farmers and navigators, but they were also known for their art, including music, poetry, and unique sculptures. Anacaona herself was a well-known composer of ballads and story poems. This was a crucial role, since these stories helped pass on the heritage of her people.

In 1496, Christopher Columbus arrived to Anacaona's territory. She and her brother went to meet him as negotiators and peacekeepers, and the meeting was later described by European historians as amicable. Anacaona's tribe paid the Spanish a tribute of food and cotton. When Columbus arrived later to collect the goods, Anacaona and her brother even briefly sailed aboard his ship.

After her brother passed away, Anacaona took over rule of his territory. She continued a peaceful coexistence with the Spanish colonizers for some time -- but that didn’t last.

The Spanish rulers soon suspected Anacaona’s husband of organizing an attack on a Spanish settlement on the Northwest side of the island. In retribution, the colonizers kidnapped him and put him on a ship headed for Europe, but he died on the journey. Many Taino leaders were subjected to this treatment.

When her husband was killed, Anacaona took on his leadership role as well, officially making her head of two major territories on Kiskeya.

After the acts of colonialist brutality, the Tainos and Spaniards engaged in a full-on war.

Despite the conflict, Anacaona still tried to use her power to establish peace with the Spaniards through cultural integration. Though the Tainos outnumbered the colonizers, Anacaona knew the advanced European weaponry could likely overpower them. To keep some semblance of peace, she encouraged marriages between high ranking Spanish soldiers and Taino royalty.

In 1502, a new governor took over the Spanish colony, who was convinced that Anacaona was simply using overt kindness as a ploy for a rebel cause. He plotted a visit to Anacaona’s territory and told her to invite 80 chiefs to the meeting. Hoping for peace, Anacaona agreed and threw a celebration for the governor and his soldiers -- but the colonizers turned on the Taino, locked many of them up in the meeting house, and set the building on fire, killing everyone inside.

Anacaona and her noblemen were arrested and executed. It was the year 1503, and Anacaona was 29 years old.

By 1550, the Taino were greatly dwindling in numbers due to colonial violence and disease. However, the influence of their culture lives on in the Caribbean today, assisted by the stories and poems shared by Taino including Anacaona.

Join us tomorrow to hear the story of another incredible woman who stood up against European imperialism. Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please rate and review us wherever you listen. It really means a lot and helps others find us. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!