Rename the Island:
Quisqueya, not Hispaniola
"Quisqueya" honors Taino culture whereas "Hispaniola"
recalls the Amerindian genocide
By Odette Roy Fombrun
The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
share a Caribbean island, one of the four islands of the Greater Antilles
that the Tainos, before Columbus's arrival, called Haiti, Bohio or
Quisqueya meaning "Mountainous Land" or "Great Land."
The island was baptized La Isla Española (Hispaniola) by the
Spanish colonizers. French colonizers subsequently called it Saint-Domingue.
When proclaiming its independence on January 1, 1804, the Western part of
the island of Saint Domingue took back the Amerindian name of Haïti
(Ayiti). From that date on, the entire island was known throughout the
world as the island of Haiti.
In 1930, to avoid confusion between the name
of the Republic of Haiti and that of the entire island, the U.S.G.B. (United
States Geographic Board) decided, unilaterally, to name the island Hispaniola
in homage to the Spanish colonizer, thereby erasing all traces of the Amerindians
who occupied the island before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Unfortunately,
Haitian and Dominican authorities of the time did not protest this decision
with enough force or perseverance, nor did they mobilize any interested parties
against this assassination of the island's Amerindian past. It is important
to rectify this serious error as soon as possible: the Taino martyrs deserve
Such was the opinion of the historian Edmond
Mangonès in 1934. At a conference held in Montevideo, he vehemently
protested the arbitrary decision of the USGB that completely ignored the historical
truths of the island (see the Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire
et de Géographie d'Haïti, Vol 5, No. 15, Juillet 1934;
see also Odette Roy Fombrun, L'Ayiti des Indiens (1992: 138,139)).
At a time when the Caribbean moves toward unification,
when Europe speaks of sponsoring only those projects that take into account
both parts of the island, and at a time when bilateral activities are planned
in the tourism industry to take advantage of the Amerindian cultural heritage,
it is important to adopt for our island a name recalls not the genocide of
its aboriginal people, but rather a name that recalls the past of resistance
to oppression, a past shared by the Dominican Republic and the Republic of
Haiti. These two Republics cannot renounce their valiant Amerindian ancestors
such as Caonabo, Hatuey and Cotubanama, nor can they forget the abominable
massacres of Vega Real and of Xaragua, the murder of Queen Anacaona, nor the
triumph of Cacique Henri, as Marie-Hélène Laraque has shown
in her life's work devoted to the study of the cultural heritage of the American
Indians. Laraque's research has shown that the first Agreement signed between
the Americas and Europe was The Treaty of Cacique Henri (Le
Traité du Cacique Henri) in the 16th Century. Spain had to send
an ambassador to meet with the Cacique. The emperor Charles the Fifth sent
Barrio Nuevo as his delegate to sign the Agreement with Henri. Thus, the
first Treaty ever signed in the Americas was signed on this island in the
16th Century. It was The Treaty of the Cacique Henri (Traité du
Cacique Henri). It recognizes the right of freedom to the Cacique
Henri and to his fellow companions.
In memory of this important history we share,
I call upon:
- Dominican and Haitian leaders and historians
- all those who believe in the importance of the Taino cultural heritage
- other Caribbean countries
- organizations of Native-Americans and of other native populations throughout
- the United Nations
It is time to fight against this name that constitutes a serious injustice
against these people, recognized as martyred, and a violation of the right
of Haitian and Dominican people to their common Taino heritage. The goal
of this mobilisation is for the U.S.G.B. to give back to this West Indian
island a name that evokes its rich Amerindian heritage. We propose the adoption
"Quisqueya" recalls Taino culture whereas "Hispaniola"
recalls the Amerindian genocide.