Anacaona was the last princess of the Caribbean and protector of the Taino people.
“Anacaona, areito de Anacaona”, sang Cheo Feliciano before a heated crowd at the Cheetah club in New York late on 26 August 26, 1971.
It has been more than 50 years have passed and the chorus from the pen of Tite Curet Alonso resounds as if it were yesterday. But who was Anacaona?
Anacaona or Anakaona. (1474-1503)1 was an aboriginal Taino chieftain of Bohío Island. She governed the Cacicazgo of Jaragua after the death of her brother Bohechío. She was condemned to be hanged by Governor Nicolás de Ovando.
Anacaona means ‘Golden Flower’ in the Taino language. She was a Haitian princess of Taino origin who was born in the year 1474 at Bohío, as it was dubbed by its inhabitants and then divided into two Caribbean countries: the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
After the death of her brother Bohechío, Anacaona would take over as cacique to rule the Chiefdom of Jaragua. She had a natural talent for poems, which she sang in the areitos, dances, and songs with which the Taino Indians celebrated their festivities and religious rites.
Anacaona received Christopher Columbus on his first voyage at Christmas 1492. She felt admiration for the new knowledge and skills of these people to solve day-to-day challenges.
Those led by Columbus established a settlement in the new territory, which they called Christmas Town. It is said that this was the first building of the Spaniards in America.
But harmony would not last for long. The abuse on the natives began, especially women who were mistreated and raped without hesitation.
Anacaona would not accept the oppressive tyranny and persuaded Caonabo, her husband, to destroy the settlement where the invaders were based.
Christopher Columbus left the territory and, upon return in November 1493, he found Christmas Town destroyed and its more than 43 men killed. It was an affront. Anacaona escaped and became an Indian of a captive race, as the song goes. But her freedom would not last long. After an intense search, she was captured and bound to hang in 1504.
The Tite Curet Alonso’s ‘Anacaona’
Tite Curet Alonso composed ‘Anacaona’ without knowing who she was. The song written from one day to the next would be included in the album “Cheo” (1971) of Vaya Records. The label sought to re-launch Feliciano’s musical career, who had stayed away from the stage as a result of the rehabilitation for his drug addiction.
In an interview posted on Youtube, Tite says that he was inspired by a Lecuona Cuban Boys orchestra’s song (recorded in the 1930s) and baptized it with that name in honor of the Cuban girl group Anacaona.
He says he tried to “make up a mystical story” about Spanish and Indian slaves. When composing, Curet did not know he was telling the true story of the Haitian princess who fought against the Spaniards in the early years of the discovery of America.
After the release of the album was released, which was well received by the public, Curet visited a priestess who knew the life of Anacaona and had heard the song in the voice of Cheo Feliciano. After knowing the story, Tite was greatly impressed.
The woman informed the composer that it was the Taíno ancestors who inspired his pen in each verse.
“But how is it possible that you wrote that song? Now you have to make a song for Caonabo and I will tell you why: because from a certain generation upwards, you are a descendant of Caonabo and Anacaona”, said the priestess.
It did not take long for Tire Curet to publish his tribute to ‘Caonabo’, the Indian fighter who, like his wife Anacaona, fought against Spanish oppression. The song was included in his production as a singer-songwriter entitled “Aquí estoy con un poco de algo” (1975).
The Cheetah concert on August 26, 1971, gave rise to the salsa boom and allowed several young talents to make history. Moreover, it opened the way for composers like Tire Curet Alonso, who with songs like ‘Anacaona’, created the soundtrack of Latin American soul.
Images courtesy of Museo Taino Anacaona