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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Anaconda

Date of birth unknown; d. circa 1503, Haiti

The correct name of this person is ANACAONA, also spelled ANACOANA.

Anacaona ruled the kingdom of Xaraguá in what is now western Haiti at the time of the Spanish invasion led by Christopher Columbus in 1492. She was renowned among her people, the Taino, as a composer of areytos (ballads). In 1502, Nicolás de Ovando became royal governor of the West Indies and determined to subdue recalcitrant Indians. Anacaona, as ruler of the last independent kingdom of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), was an obvious target. Invited to attend a meeting with Ovando, she and some eighty caciques (chiefs) formed a welcoming party. Ovando surrounded them with troops, massacred the chiefs by burning the building in which they were assembled, and hanged Anacaona. Accounts differ as to her attitude toward the invaders. The earliest chronicle, by Bartolomé de Las Casas, extols her hospitality and condemns Ovando’s cruel treachery. More recent appraisals consider her a shrewd leader who resisted Spanish attempts to enslave her people; in contrast to the picture offered by Bartolomé de Las Casas of the innocent, trusting native, she agreed to a meeting with Ovando for the purpose of conducting diplomatic negotiations. Anacaona survives in oral tradition, folklore, and literature as a rebel warrior who defied the conquistadors and male kin alike.