Rekindling the conflict between Columbus and the Taino chief Caonabó through historical fiction

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Andrew Rowen is a historical novelist who dramatizes the story of 1492 through the eyes of Indigenous and European protagonists. His new novel, Columbus and Caonabó: 1493-1498 (coming November 9, 2021), depicts Columbus’ invasion of “Española” on his second voyage and the fierce resistance mounted by his Taíno peoples, led by Chief Caonabó. Rowen’s first book, Unexpected encounters: 1,492 told (2017), presents the life stories of Caonabó and other Taino chiefs alongside those of Columbus and Queen Isabella, and depicts their respective astonishment and goals during Christopher Columbus’ first voyage.

The late Professor James Loewen considered one of the great lies of the traditional “Columbus story” to be that the collision of European and Native American civilizations that was then beginning was between “civilized” and “primitive” societies. My historical novels attempt to correct this lie by telling the “story of Columbus” from the point of view of Amerindians and Europeans, through protagonists of equal gravity and dignity, each proud of the traditions, moral beliefs and religions of their respective civilization.

I believe that this effort is laudable, quite simply, because many Taino peoples of “Española” resisted the conquest of Christopher Columbus, determining strategies and taking countermeasures themselves. Or a “story of European colonial usurpation / atrocity”. Although often overlooked, Caonabó was the first known indigenous leader to stage the war against European colonization of the Americas that began in Española in 1493 and continued for four centuries. Columbus himself used the following words (translated from Spanish) to describe the chief: “the most important chief on the island; “” No one is more daring or more daring in war; “And” all the chiefs of the island are watching closely what he is doing and are no longer afraid, being emboldened by his murder of Christians. ” Traditional accounts of Columbus’ travels and legacy – whether pro or anti-Columbus – often do not credit Caonabó and the resistance he led, tending to treat the Taínos as passive victims. My new book puts the plots, strategies and actions of Caonabó and Columbus on an equal footing for their conflict. Caonabó has been conquered; but the age-old story of an event should not be written about the conqueror alone.

The presentation of both the Taino and European perspectives of “the story of Columbus” is also a reminder that Europeans violated not only Tain sovereignty, but also the ideals, traditions and sacred beliefs honored by Taino civilization. While the 15th century Taínos lacked the writing, weapons, and many other technologies of 15th century Europeans, the Taínos had religious beliefs and a moral code that were no less true in the eyes of the believer or valid than those of the Europeans they were fighting. . The scientific revolution had not arrived on either side of the Atlantic, and religion was at the heart of the perception and moral conduct of both peoples. My new book presents and contrasts the principles and moral prohibitions of the Taino religion and Christianity, putting them on an equal footing as well. The dialogues between protagonists lead the reader to consider the extent to which the modern ascendancy of European religions in the Americas is simply rooted in conquest, rather than sophistication, validity or attractiveness.

The above points may have special significance for those who consider themselves Taino or with Taino roots (not myself) or who practice an indigenous or polytheistic religion. Over the past few decades, the number of people in the Caribbean, the United States, and elsewhere in the Americas who identify themselves as Taíno has increased dramatically, and a bicultural narrative of “the story of Columbus” provides an ancestral story often still. erased or unknown. Caonabó and his wife Anacaona are remembered in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but much less elsewhere. Chief Guarionex – Caonabó’s peer, renowned for his spirituality – is even less well known, and his study of Christianity with the missionaries of the Second Voyage and his rejection of it are generally overlooked in accounts of the effort. Columbus and Caonabó depicts this upbringing and rejection, which might have special meaning for those who made a similar choice.

My books present the actions and thoughts of the European and Taino protagonists as I think they would have experienced them day to day, in the immediacy and chaos of their present moment, without imposing retrospective historical conclusions or inventing a story. global literary. intrigue, seeking above all a historical validity. To this end, I have reviewed the main accounts written by the European conquerors who witnessed the events, knew the participants or lived in the sixteenth century (as far as is credible) and, as they had no written history, studies of the Taíno by anthropologists, archaeologists and other modern experts in search of a more unbiased understanding. My research also included visits and surveys to sites in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Spain and other countries where the protagonists lived, met or fought, which tested and added to my understanding of the historical record. .

I try to speculate and place each protagonist’s thoughts in the context of their 15th century perspective and leave moral judgments to the reader. As for Columbus, the scenes of my novels depict those of his qualities often recognized as admirable: perseverance in adversity, rise from a humble origin to nobility and extraordinary skill as a sailor. But, on behalf of his rulers and with the approval of the Pope, he violated the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples, and he also enslaved them and the men under his command committed atrocities – as I also describe. As for Caonabó, my novels trace his foresight that Europeans were an enemy and his resolute and courageous attempt to organize his people to repel them, all without the experience of the following centuries to guide him.

My first decision was to write historical stories or novels, and I chose the latter for two reasons. In my opinion, I had to write novels because the Taino had no written history and more speculative latitude of a novel was needed to achieve the dignity and seriousness of the Taino and European protagonists. Equally important, I wanted to write them in the form of novels so that readers can experience the story through the eyes of the protagonists of both peoples, and not just understand the events.


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