It was Inomoca who was first to see them—far from shore, in a canoe as vast as the biggest hut in the village. It carried with it the billow of a cloud the very color of cassava flesh.
It was Inomoca who ran tall to the beach to greet them—those strange men with their bird-colored legs, who covered their bodies in women’s aprons. It was Inomoca who traded his sister’s earrings for a silver hat as hard as the mountain.
It was Inomoca who outsmarted Guama, and won the right to make all future trades. It was Inomoca who made his new hut the grandest in all the Taíno villages. It was Inomoca who took more wives than even Anacoana.
And it was Inomoca who was first to lose a hand when the men came back, and he had failed to fill the hawks bell up with gold.
As is sometimes the case in writing, I could not get this story to go exactly where I wanted it to go, and so I had to settle with a cautionary tale of greed.
When Columbus landed on the Caribbean islands in 1492, he said this of the Taíno people:
“They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will … they took great delight in pleasing us … They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people … They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.”
On his second voyage, Columbus began to retire tribute from the Taino. Each adult was expected to deliver a hawks bell full of gold every three months. If the tribute was not paid, the Spanish cut off the hands of the offending Taíno, and left them to bleed to death. Then, by early 1500, small pox arrived to finish the job. Within sixty years, only a few hundred Taíno remained.
Remnants live on, both in fragments of DNA found in islanders, and echoes of their language, which can be heard whenever we eat barbecue (barbacoa), paddle a canoe (kanoa), smoke tobacco (tabaco), or hunker down for a hurricane (juracán).
As always, thanks for reading!