The Story of Cacique Hatuey, Cuba's First National Hero

By Tony Castanha castanha@hawaii.edu
11 October 1999

It's no coincidence that the act of burning is being replicated today as was a Spanish custom of the not so distant past. The children of the "Taino" or CARIB whom those bulls were first directed against are now unraveling the many myths passed down through the centuries about their ancestors. The story below was printed in "La Voz del Pueblo Taino (The Voice of the Taino People), Offical Newsletter of the United Confederation of Taino People, U.S. Regional Chapter, January 1998.

THE STORY OF CACIQUE HATUEY, CUBA'S FIRST NATIONAL HERO

In the 16th century, Hatuey was a powerful Taino Cacique or chieftain, who has since been considered by many as Cuba's first national hero although he was originally from the island of Quisqueya (Domincian Republic).

As a witness to the atrocities by the Spanish Conquistadors against his people and other Taino communities throughout the island, Cacique Hatuey and his remaining followers fled to Cuba to escape persecution and a death sentence imposed on them by the Spanish Crown. After some success assisting in the Taino resistance in Cuba, Cacique Hatuey was finally captured and sentenced to death. His execution sentence: being burnt alive at the stake.

A Spanish friar who was present on the day of Cacique Hatuey's execution attempted to convert him to Christianity while he was bound and Spanish soldiers with lit torches approached. The friar explained to the chief- tain about conversion, baptism and the Catholic concept of heaven and hell. He offered to baptize Cacique Hatuey, explaining that this action would cleanse him of all his sins against the Christian God.

The chieftain is said to have requested some time to think about this offer and after a few moments he gave his legendary response. Cacique Hatuey first asked the friar, "After being baptized, where does one go to after death?" To this the friar responded "To Heaven." The chieftain, continuing his inquiry questioned "And the Spanish, where do they go?" The friar replied "If they are baptized, of course they will go to heaven like all good Christians. To this the chieftain bravely responded "If the Spaniards go to heaven, then I certainly do not want to go there, so do not baptize me, I would prefer to go to hell!"

This story of Cacique Hatuey's execution was originally recorded by Father Bartolome de Las Casas and is still part of the oral tradition of the eastern provinces in Cuba. There is a continuing tradition of pilgrim- age to the site of this horrific deed, a place called Yara which is close to the city of Bayamo. This tradition speaks of the "light of Yara" that appears to visitors and the power of physical vigor associated with this belief. Not so coincidentally, a major Cuban rebellion against the Spanish, called the "Cry of Yara," began in the very same area near the city of Bayamo in 1868.

Running Fox
Elder