Manataka American Indian Council
A Mohawk Perspective
by Doug George-Kanentiio
The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 lasted about 35 seconds. But weeks of improbable rescues, tearful reunions and astonishing displays of resilience followed.
Haiti is a place of angry
spirits never released from the agony of their passing.
This land was called Ayiti by its Arawak-Taino native peoples who may, according to some, be the relatives of the Iroquois. We do have a place of common origin in the American south but while our ancestors migrated to the cool woodlands of the northeast others elected to enter the rich tropical waters of the Caribbean and gradually populate its islands before reaching the South American coast.
Haiti was populated by hundreds of thousands of Natives at the time of contact with the wayward explorer Cristobal Colon (mistakenly called Christopher Columbus) on December 6, 1492. He landed in the northern part of Ayiti and his description of the region is worth quoting from his journal:
As I approached the entrance of this harbour (St. Nicholas) I marveled at its beauty and excellence....From there it is level as far as the cape where there is a beautiful beach and a grove of a thousand kinds, all loaded with fruit.... There must be a lot of people in this region since I have seen many canoes."
On December 13 Colon wrote:
"Their land is so beautiful and fertile... Everyone fled when they heard we were coming leaving behind whatever they had. The village consisted of more than 1,000 houses and must have had a population of over 3,000...they (the Natives) gave beautiful things to everyone they met... My men told me that these people were more handsome and of better disposition than any that we had seen up to now but I do not know how this is possible.. As to the country, the best in Castile in beauty and fertility cannot compare with this."
So what did Colon and the Spaniards do to this paradise inhabited by Arawak-Tainos who may have numbered as many as three million on that island alone?
They slaughtered them by the tens of thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, by the million. They used disease, human-eating dogs, mutilations, mass burnings, hangings, and torture. They amputated the hands of those Natives who did not bring back a specific amount of gold from the island streams, they used others as practice for their swords, they raped children and women and murdered with impunity. They enslaved and worked to death countless natives and used the corpses to feed their animals. These "civilized" Christian men brought about a holocaust equal in horror to the Nazis and effected the extermination of an entire people without the convenience of machine guns, zyklon B cyanide gas, or carbon monoxide death vans. These men, who lived in fear of a wrathful God, hunted Natives as sport and used them as conveyances lest their silk slippers touch the earth.
The Native population collapsed before this savagery which the Spaniards, and their European imitators, would repeat throughout the Caribbean, in Mexico and into Central and South America. Of the millions of Natives who had made Ayiti into an ecological Eden only 60,000 survived to 1507. By 1531 only 600 Arawak-Taino were alive and a few years later none at all. Complete genocide by intent and design. Nothing remains of those people other than a weak DNA trail.
These were citizens of
Ayiti five nations. They engineered conical buildings made of biodegradable
materials capable of withstanding hurricanes. Their communities were
surrounded by park like forest teemed with wildlife. Each town had a central
plaza for ceremonies, athletic games and communal meetings. They had a rich
diet of fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat from mammals. Their land was
so fertile as to require a minimal of labour which in turn accorded them
great freedom to pursue the arts. They danced, sang and held elaborate
rituals to celebrate life. They ate an enviable diet based on corn, squash,
and beans. They consumed large amounts of peanuts, peppers, sweet potatoes,
Their builders and architects did not use stone when constructing their
homes. Stone was for carving, not for living in. They knew cones and
circles were ideal shapes for tropical climates since the winds went around
and over but not through. They were adept at managing their planting fields
using natural fertilizers such as fish to maximize crop yields. They did not
have to strip the forests or suck the land dry of nutrients. They lived in a
state of tranquility and peace but were alert to the incursions of other
people. But they made a fatal mistake with regards to Colon - they let him
leave to return to Spain even after they had come to blows with his men.
Colon returned with a
large fleet, heavily armed and with avarice in their hearts. They wanted
wealth, gold in particular, and damned the cost to the Natives of squeezing
it from the land.
This is what comes to mind when the latest tragedies are reported from Haiti. It is of a land where suffering is a constant, where human life is one defined by deprivation, where death is massive, overwhelming, and not mourned. The troubled spirits from 500 years ago cross the land having never been addressed or released. They are unquiet and because they remain here without recognition they will continue to wreak havoc in our time.
[Editors Note: While in the process of publishing this story in the March 2010 issue of the Smoke Signal News, we received the message below. The message criticizes the author about three words out of nine hundred and eleven words. "...Nothing remains of those people other than a weak DNA trail..." The reader should know there is scientific basis for the author's statement. However, more recent unconfirmed studies suggest the degree of true Taino DNA is much larger among current residents of Puerto Rico (Boriken) than originally thought. We see no issue here, but lets allow you, the reader to judge.
Historians and anthropologists generally accept the origin of the Taino people of the Caribbean to be South America, not North America.]
In the Spirit of Our Taino Ancestors I am writing you to address a statement that Mr. Doug George Kanentiio wrote in the article "Mohawk Perspective on Haiti" and the statement that what was left of the Taino people was a "weak DNA trail."
We the Taino People are the children of an ancestral prophecy. We heard the call of our ancestors in our visions; in the wind; in the mist of our mountains; in the sounds of conch shells that were felt in our veins.
It is obvious that he is not aware of the highly percentage of Taino DNA in our islands and families. Our traditions of indigenous practices have survived all kinds of attempts to erase who we are.
These types of statements written by Mr. Doug George Kanentiio only emphasize the lack of knowledge that still exist out there about our people.
I am surprise as I have heard that he was a friend and I am sure that he also shared in the sacred smoke the spirit of our people.
I hope that Mr. Doug George Kanentiio find in him way to apologize to our Taino community for such inaccurate statement.
With respect to our Native ways,
Ku Karey Spiritual Circle
Yamocuno Tanama Yucayeke Taino