There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #5

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…at the heart of each story is the sense of how easily–and how eerily–the world can be changed.

  
 Today’s the day, dear readers! Substitution Cipher is out, ready for you to grab a copy and see what I’ve been talking about for the last several weeks. So much super reading in store for you! My story is just one of six cool tales of espionage and alternate history.  And I’m not saying that just to get you to buy the book. My publisher sent me comp copies last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the other contributors’ tales. A beautiful glass orrery in clockwork Venice and Eleanor Roosevelt as president of the U.S. are just a couple of the cool plot elements you might enjoy. Links where you can buy the book are at the bottom of this post.

So, this will be my last post about the real history that lies in “So The Taino Call It.” The previous four posts have been about the explorers, the men who traveled west to find the East and found something completely different. Today’s post is about what and who they found.

There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation concerning Columbus’s first voyage to the Caribbean. No one has ever confirmed, for example, which island he first landed on, other than that it was located in the Bahamas. Even Juan de la Cosa’s map (drawn by a man who was actually there) doesn’t make it clear where the island was located. The jury is still out, and I kind of like the mystery.

It is known, however, that Columbus met groups of natives who called themselves the Taino (good people). Distantly related to the Arawak, another Caribbean people, the Taino lived in densely populated villages on the islands of Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. They had originally emigrated to the islands from South America.

When I first started writing “So The Taino Call It,” I was intimidated by the prospect of writing about people I really knew nothing about, but I love research, so I strengthened my nerve and leaped in. Fortunately, the internet and Smithsonian magazine, among other resources, came to my aid and I was able to discover quite a lot about the Taino people, their culture, and what transpired when they met Columbus and his crew. The October 2011 issue of Smithsonian has a fascinating article, “What Became of the Taino”, that I learned a lot from, including such cool tidbits as the Taino’s knowledge of how to extract cyanide from yucca plants and how they used pepper gas as a weapon. It also has some great photos that are definitely worth taking a peek at. These pictures were a large influence on my writing, especially the one of Mácocael, the unfortunate sentinel of the Taino’s ancestral caves.

None of the Taino characters in my story are based on actual people, although a couple of their names are, most prominently, Anacaona. In “So The Taino Call It,” Anacaona is a young woman who befriends my narrator and teaches him her language and about her people. In real history, she was a Taino cacica (chief) who lived on the island now called Hispaniola (where Haiti and the Dominican Republic share space). Also known as the Golden Flower, she was a composer of ballads and narrative poems as well as a ruler of her people, and is revered as a national hero in Haiti.

cover of Anacaona Golden Flower

Cover of the YA novel Anacaona Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat–part of the Royal Diaries series

Anacaona actually met Columbus in 1496, according to several sources, including Bartolomé de las Casas in his book A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. She and her brother Bohechio negotiated with him over what tribute they would have to pay to the Spanish invaders. That meeting didn’t end well for either of them. According to the book Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti, it’s believed that Bohechio died partly from remorse for not being able to protect his territory of Xaragua from the Europeans. Anacaona’s cause of death is more clear.

In 1494, her husband, Caonabo, also a cacique, was taken prisoner by Alonso de Ojeda, one of Columbus’s men, and died enroute to Spain. A long war ensued as many of the Taino people tried to force the Spanish off of their island. Anacaona was still on friendly terms with the Europeans, or so she thought. Around 1503, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, invited her and 84 caciques to a feast supposeedly to be held in Anacaona’s honor. Once they were there, de Ovando ordered the meeting house set on fire. Anacaona and her noblemen were charged with conspiracy and executed with Anacaona either being hung or burned.

The young woman named Anacaona in my novella has a different story-arc, but I bore the history of her namesake in mind as I wrote about her and hope she holds up as a different nation’s hero.

In honor of both of them, here’s a video of the song that Puerto Rican salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso wrote to honor the real Anacaona. (Sadly, I can’t find any of the songs she actually wrote being performed on Youtube anywhere.)

Where can you buy Substitution Cipher? Lots of places!

Candlemark & Gleam: my publisher. Buy directly from them and all your money supports indie publishing.
Barnes & Noble.
Amazon (U.S.). (Right now Amazon is saying the book is out of stock. It isn’t. That’s just Amazon being Amazon.)
Amazon (Canada).
Kobo Books.
Book Depository.

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3 thoughts on “There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #5

  1. Freaking *awesome*!

    And huge congrats!

  2. Pingback: Pressing Matters: December 21, 2012, Edition | Candlemark & Gleam

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