A dark Taino Indian maiden dressed in all but flowers enjoys a languorous time in the orange groves of Hispaniola, while the sun kisses her already tanned skin.
This golden flower of Haiti, or Anacaona dances in a blossomed area of the island, with cinchona garlands serving the purpose of her regal position. This happy princess of Haiti welcomes the white men from Spain, since they are tall and handsome, and fair compared to the dark skinned and short men of her own island.
The white men smile their friendly smiles at Anacaona, knowing her position and thus she shows them “pleasant places” as they wore knightly apparel. The tallness of the white men and their skin colour lured Anacaona from the darkness of her Island, into the non-existence resulting from the execution she faced at the hands of handsome, fair skinned men from Europe.
This is the description that Alfred Lord Tennyson gives us, in his poem “Anacaona” dedicated to the Queen of Haiti. Signs of colonial discourse, sexism and racism may quite be deduced from this seemingly well-meaning poem, in which he laments the destruction of Anacaona and her happiness at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. Anacaona was the Native Indian queen of the Taino people in Haiti, who was known to be friendly with the Spanish.
Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 by Edwidge Danticat similarly tells the story of Anacaona and how she died a terrible death at the hands of the Spanish colonizers. While it may be disputed whether she truly loved her husband or she strayed after encountering the Spanish, she certainly was betrayed by the Spanish.
At a dinner party, Anacaona and her people were invited by the Spanish, fed with food and wine and once they were all intoxicated, they were murdered. Anacaona was later executed in a gruesome manner by the Spanish who systematically decimated the local native Indian population in Haiti.
Anacaona was no flower wearing, dancing belle-bimbette of an Island, but was groomed to be a warrior right from the day she started her education. Being born to a chief, she was to rule over a part of Haiti but married Caonabo, the cacique of the nearby province of Maguana.
Edwidge Danticat indicates that Anacaona was more than happy with her husband, and she felt betrayed when her husband Caonabo was shipped off to Spain on charges of on charges of attacking a Spanish settlement in northern Haiti. The book reveals how the discovery of the friendly Island by the Spanish led to the destruction of the native people through betrayal, deception and cold blooded murders, much like it happened in many other colonized regions.
Anacaona may have been pretty, and may have been friendly with the Spanish but she did not necessarily welcome the “tall, fair and handsome men” from Spain, nor did she dance her way to allow the colonization of the Island. Lord Tennyson’s romantic poem may certainly paint the picture of a damsel in distress, but it could be deemed sexist and racist at the same time.
The idea that she danced and was happy in a blissful and languorous lifestyle before the arrival of the Spanish hints at sexism, for she was a warrior, and a Queen who performed her military and political duties efficiently. When Lord Tennyson points out that she welcomed the Spanish rulers because they were “fair and tall” and assuming that she found them physically more attractive than the native men of Haiti is simply racist.
Though Alfred Lord Tennyson rues that Anacaona was destroyed by white people, he seems to have unwittingly led himself to believe that the Haitian queen was not content until the arrival of the Spanish, and that she was betrayed by them later. It almost hints at colonial discourse. In fact, the Tennyson poem alludes to modern Haiti, with Anacaona being a metaphor for the nation of Haiti.
After the gruesome murder of Anacaona and her people, the nation was populated by black slaves from Africa, and their descendants. Haiti was the first nation to free itself from slavery and it declared independence from France in 1697. The French and the Spanish left the Island ravaged, while the natives no longer existed. The Haitian nation was now populated with blacks and the new Haitian nation did not have it easy either.
Continued to be ruled by dictators and even the U.S., modern Haiti has seen immense political and military trauma. Much like Anacaona had to bear the brunt of the seemingly friendly Spanish, modern Haiti has suffered from dictators, corporate and, foreign powers and of course natural disasters. Anacaona is a woman, who is revered in Haiti even today, by the blacks and creoles alike.
Many voodoo traditions invoke Anacaona and her seduction and execution is a deconstructed metaphor for the seduction of Haiti several times over, and its destruction several times over. Perhaps, Lord Tennyson referred to Haiti, when he said Anacaona, for it was a happy island until the colonizers arrived. After the colonization, the betrayal of Haiti has reached epic proportions every other time.
Lord Tennyson’s Anacaona rues the betrayal of a happy woman and Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 by Edwidge Danticat seems to speak of Anacaona as a strong willed woman who loved her country and her husband. While both may stray a bit from history that is known and unknown, Anacaona is certainly a startling metaphor for the nation of Haiti.
Unfortunately, after the earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, at 21:53 UTC, the metaphor seems to have fulfilled itself in the form of a natural disaster. This time around, though no colonizers were there to seduce and execute Anacaona, nature itself seduced and ravaged Anacaona’s beloved Haiti.