"TAINO" a Novel by Jose Barreiro

I'm Jose Barrera and I am the author of a book called Taino it's also known as the indian chronicles but the proper name is diagnosed as a novel it's a novel of the contact period that tells us a couple of stories it tells the story of Columbus is coming to the islands picking up a young boy that becomes his interpreter through all his voyages and then lives on to see the first 40 years of the Caribbean history of contact and conquest and colony and he lives long enough to be a witness to the war of Africa you in Dominican Republic today an ad in Espanola or quisqueya so that's the big war that happens there was the war of resistance to the Spanish by the Taino supposedly timid and cowardly people who actually fought the Spanish in the real history – a 14-year war to a standstill literally won the war because they were able to press for their particular ideas and their wishes to end the war and call for an embassy from Spain from the king of Spain to come and treaty with them to create what's really the first treaty in the Americas between a an indigenous nation and a European nation it's a treaty of latakia of 1534 so the novel was finding the voice the voice of diego Kallang who becomes adopted by columbus why can the Taino man from wanna honey the first landfall of Columbus and that part of the story is old true story in the sense that this personality exists it shows up in the Chronicles substantially las casas writes about him other chronicles write about him and then I find some references to him in the archive of Seville in Spain in 1991 I was able to go to a bit more research but Diego's voice just came through essentially I mean a novel is a different piece of writing from from most else you know most essays or journalism or or academic type books and that you you have to find some component raishin with with the voice and the voice of Diego started showing up in my dreams started showing up and in my waking life as I read through the episodes of that time in the chronicles and remember the stories that are still alive in our culture's of some of those early heroes and some of those early episodes in Cuba very prominently the story about way the tiny no Kiseki that came from from Hispaniola to Cuba flee in Spanish but also with a lesson for the for the Cuban Thanos and that that we grew up with and and other types of stories that relate us to the land in some way but also coupled to the history to the actual chronicles so putting those different elements together and then having the luck to find the boys because without that you can't write a pasado fiction descriptive life you know and that was my intent is to try to get a little deeper into the story with the point of view of Diego and then to help you to have the voice available then I wrote from that from that point of view and really I have to say the the book was uh most like a dream it was a gift you know that particular book it I hate it to end it you know it was it was actually fun to write I think it's what one carries inside oneself that is the primary sense of giving you a sense of approach to material because ultimately if you don't have confidence that you really are part of the ownership of that material of a sense of this belongs to me not in the sense of it being appropriate orally yours but in the sense that is you take care of it because it does belong to you you want to take good care of it you want to be truthful to it you want to bring to it a sense of truth about it and you can't do that just from academic reading that comes from having walked the land I mean for me as a young boy the the memory is one of feeling very close to the geography of my childhood to that to the land I was born and raised and come away eastern Cuba from come away to the far east of Cuba the Oriente right to the point of my si and now the whole area of the Sierra Maestra from the plains have come away to the mountains of oriented essa there's a territory of high indigeneity consciousness in Cuba and Cuba which when we say culo were saying a tiny no word so even any Cubano from any race or ethnicity today who says I'm Cubano he's just already speaking Thai you know you know so going to that first just a sense that it overlaps in the land and when you're growing up in it you are saturated with stories with a sense of place the geography the the land of the palm tree the the many many many trees and herbs and plants and animals and places that have Taino names saturated with Dino the indigenous of Cuba all around us so that's a piece of it I grew up with many of my elders our Waheeda were identified as guajillo people of Kiel which is I can in some ways in Puerto Rico too saying he burrow in Cuba that continuity hasn't been as disrupted there's a lot of people still on the land farming bringing up you making cassava using herb herbal remedies living in a again in a and I love this word accompany Trujillo which is not a good English word but it's a very good Spanish word company tirado you know that that mutual penetration of consciousness identity that kind of belonging so I grew up with a bunch of that I grew up with a sense of of my own my aunt's and my uncles talking very much like it was an episode of their own history the story about wait who was burned by the Spanish not far from where I grew up so that whole story saturates that region and every young person here said and and that and and drinks it you know so that connected to live life on the land with my cattle farming cattle ranching Mohito relatives of being on horseback from four years old those kinds of adventures that you have as well as going out to sea with my father and uncles without fishing to the archipelago of the gardens of the Queen had anything Lorena and the southern part of come away and that's like first Family Robinson you know it's just a beautiful ecology of small keys and clear waters and great fishing and tremendous the red snapper run it's it colors the water red you know for miles and miles it's it's that kind of a place I remember being on the ocean quite a bit and also being with my Waheeda relatives in the land with why he dosent central come my way who had never seen the ocean they said it's not the distances are not that great but people are off their place while he doe they come on wait while he doesn't moto and what he to the white matter why you know you know people are very rooted so the many elements like that that if someone went to say like anthropology always screwed up with looking at in the Genuity in our islands because the search was for the wild Indians you know so people were looking to find an Amazonian tribe shooting darts up at the who Tia's and and and so forth and that wasn't there anymore what there was was campesino communities with high rooted high in the genetic content in their lives and I'd say the primary piece of it is sand is one that again anthropology has been very kind of lazy to to land on its just attitude in the attitude of the people toward each other as community toward their extended family toward the spirit world toward the animal toward the plant or the science of nature living within nature if you're using herbs if you're if your baby still have your little canoe ko you know if you're planting if you're fishing if you're those are activities are our primary activities with nature that's why I'm not ashamed to say primitive because primitive to me means people who are primary activity with nature not three or four or five steps removed from nature eating out of a can so forth that's that's one part of modern existence but there's also still a lot of people who live that can penetrate of experience with the land and with the identity of land and the identity of geography and to me those are those are the that's the the universe of indigeneity you know within that you have the sense of the stories working with indigenous movement indigenous journalism and human rights activism I got to travel quite a bit among many indigenous people and so it's been a trajectory of seeing a lot of the same elements reflected in different ways some places much more compressed into a very rich indigenous identity in terms of less mestizaje less language disruption less lifestyle disruption less religious or spiritual disruption so some places have much more cohesive dense sense of in the unity in the Americas other places are more trance cultured have more influences more intermarriage but it doesn't mean it's over the game's not over it's because there's consciousness in it there is sense of being there's identity and then there's activity in the world culture and and in all of that we find that those those elements of indigeneity that I've learned now Morris ah and I like to call myself like a reluctant scholar you know I don't I'm not driven by the scholarship logic I'm driven by my own search and scholarship provide some tools there are very good tools to have so I accept those tools insofar as they're helpful but I am much more confident and comfortable in in that element that allows me to use human perception not just science and human intuition and that that's that's where the novel you know I know I'm not supposed to be giving you a very long answers but that's where the novel comes in that's where the novel comes in because it allows those elements as well you want to work with good factual documentary bases you don't want to make up stuff that's outside of the real truth of a pattern of facts in history you know you want to you want to be true to to what you're learning I just make it up in that sense in terms of historical fiction or creating it that kind of a work but you do want to be free to jump into the human experience of something and and and perceive from the the what smelled was was seen what the terror felt like what the pleasure felt like what the food felt like what protagonism feels like and you know all those elements memory was in memory dream was in dream you know those are human realities and in the indigenous world very important realities and will forever be important realities as long as there's an indigenous world and attachment to natural world by human beings and with some culture attached that that gives us that connection and to me it's that big it's not just you know a label on the forehead oh I know that's where I am now I throw feathers on a couple of beads and I do a little dance and I blow a little smoke in the four directions and that makes me very special in somebody else's eyes okay that's a stage perhaps that's people go through those stages you know but that's not what we're talking about we're talking about depth of feeling you know really the characteristic of a personality of a person and other people and for the novel for me was I wanted to write something that reminded us as Diego did when he started to write because the the Nugget of the novel is that las casas Bartolome de las casas in the novel in 1530s in santo domingo in a convent the word egg was also living gives Diego the price element for writing in that time which is paper many people don't have paper laying around so he has Diego a supply of paper and says Diego write me your story of Columbus because you were there at the beginning you were his interpreter you were you know the witness and so tell me because las casas at that moment is moving a an argument before the Spanish Court about the humanity of the Indians and the counter-argument was the Indians are beasts that talk they're not human beings per se have no real capacity for civilization thus easily enslaved easily you know made to serve las casas has a better heart for the Indians has er has a real understanding I think pretty good for having come from from a whole other place from from Spain and becomes a defender of the Indians and and at that point he's trying to make a evidence in front of the court Spanish court about Indian beliefs and really what it's looking for is for Diego to tell him to be able to ascertain that the the the native spirituality was very akin to this to the Christian spirituality so he can make that case but Diego goes a little deeper than that he says okay I understand what this good father tries to do for us but I'm gonna write the real truth I'm gonna tell it from my perspective and I felt confident enough in that perspective and in that voice and then of course having read the materials of the chronicles of the history to begin to write and that's and that's what what the book is about is telling that story both Diego recalling those early episodes with Columbus and his trip to Spain and so forth at the same time that the peacemaking and treaty making over in tequila's war is happening and and Diego's a player in it and so it's las casas and so are other other personalities around them at that moment how do how to be able to affect the treaty without assassination coming in and the Spanish coming in and killing Diego and killing a turkey you so that that's that's the story of that time looking always for the the kind of driving concepts you know what what's water what are the driving ideas of that moment for this warlike Empire that shows up in the Caribbean because the Spanish at that very moment in history are the spear point of eight hundred years of war you know it's not that the Spanish are bad or good is that their history at that moment is 800 years of war and Christian war against the infidels and a division of the world between Christian and non-christian and non humanity to the non-christians humanity to the Christians and so that whole justification and everything that becomes a doctrine of discovery and papal bulls and all of that fits into that notion that you're going off into the world and wherever you find lands you can conquer because they're not Christians and then here's a trade off you we bring them Christianity and they give us land labor and love you know and so that's pretty nice trade off and that's the imposition that continues to today well thing you know has a novel and as a story tells tells the story of the elements of that contact there those two worlds coming together around 1500 and so and in clashing and and all the elements of that story it's a primordial American story it's the first story in that history the long history that goes north and south and east and west throughout the Americas and repeats itself a thousand times in terms of so-called discovery contact colonization war persecution of idolatries religious persecution denial of culture all of those elements with the idea that there's a there's a voice that can speak to this from a very intimate level not a written history or archeology of it that this is this is this has a personal point of view and that so that's that's the set up for inviting especially to me the first circle of an audience my favorite first circle owner of an audience is that it's the young people of of Latino Taino Caribbean indigenous circum Caribbean indigenous and later and and extended to people looking at these realities of they're only in the genetic in indigenous in the world what does this mean what is what are what are the differences of these civilizations that give us so much food for thought throughout history so that was the intent you see if you look at the early concepts that drive the mentality of conquest colonization ownership racism what becomes increasingly racial racism but it begins in their in their religious you know awesome them at the beginning is Christian non-christian the the skin color skin tone racism comes in a bit later but it's the same idea making its way in different elements and so what survives at the other end what's the view from the shore what's what's what's the native context and what's the difference not that one's perfect and the other one's evil it's that the the imposition has pretended that this side is all wrong it's all evil is no good it's primitive is pagan is either is whatever you know and and and and no but there's a there is a point of view there there is a story there's there's there's perspective on life and and that's our whole world of the indigenious not just America's global but very pronounced in the Americas because of that contact 500 years ago that clearly this is world in that world and then again always having that sense that you know we're all human beings right so we know that there's no perfect people you know not to run out there in the world like you know again it's just a question of good and evil is a question of memory of memory and if we have that memory we go for it so you know the the Taino what becomes Taino i think is that and what i noticed by the late 70s especially in cuba a little bit before that but in terms of the overall Caribbean context that many people were carrying some kind of anxiety about this some kind of question you know having picked up some piece of this indigeneity in their own lives and began to question and and come together and ask that question and then you have an indigenous world movement surfacing and you have a lot of Caribbean people in the Diaspora having met in the end timing come up against this other in the Genuity assertion and seeing it questioning themselves I mean I think maybe I'm just describing my own process but I you know it's what I was doing is wait wait a minute this this this sure is familiar to me and we don't really have a way to talk about this see what I liked about the indian movement indigenous movement and yes I came to Geneva in 77 was that it had a way to talk about itself you could say indigenous and that meant that there was a conversation to be had you know you can just put that out but in Cuba you could say wahid oh well that's something something despicable you know from countryside you know that's the country bumpkin dumb farmer types you know casino so Campesina wasn't cutting it Mahiro either you know in the Cuban context it became like campesino I remember officials in Cuban telling me there is no such thing as y hero culture Borrero forget it there is the cultures and ethnicity and why heroes not an ethnicity my heroes just campesino people of the countryside and this this is this is the challenge how do how do we have a way of asserting this kinds of ideas in a concrete linguistic sense and I think that's where Taino begins to surface you know Tainos they you know they you know Puerto Ricans are saying die you know Americans are saying you know he was there saying yeah I you know that's that's and that's a term we all kind of can say yeah because it was used in the Chronicles because it comes through the history as Donita II know it there's a large consensus that it means self-described good people noble people people of the good people that trying to do good in the world not evil people and and so that began to resurface I think it's it's over the last 3040 years that that that takes a whole and I'm all for it I mean you know pity people's always reinvention and wannabes and you know all those kinds of criticism but no it's it's it's a concrete thing happening it's just it's its own process and in our world it's gonna have to be that way because we are a transcultural world the islands are not this huge spaces where one people ends and the other one begins the islands are in a woven our cultures are in a woman but that doesn't mean it's just a mishmash that can be understood these are like just layers our culture's are layered you know and and you know we all have african and we all have Spano and and and we all have tie you know in some way whether some have more ethnicity some have more blood some have more way of life but that's what we have to be very open to these things and not just create a a certain thing or look you know and that's it I mean that's fine for certain kinds of activities but it's about more than that it's deep it's very deep you know it's not easily thrown off and it's growing because it is deep because it's not just being made up a couple of high school for Rican students and in Queens you know it's not that it's not that but those high school for Rican students and Queens are listening up to what this might mean and I I think it's a unifying force it's not a division force is a unifying force if we look at it you know in in in that broad context and be very open minded about it you know because that it can be farcical too while we're doing has its pitfalls and people are taking steps in this direction in that direction and sometimes too silly and sometimes you know and and it can even be dangerous in terms of this whole question of following some charismatic leader over the cliff you know so it's not about that it's not about following some leader over the cliff it's about you know stay with the reality I think if we do that it it stimulates our young people to know their past better because boy if you're looking at a you know history then you're looking at a lot of history you know to get back to to looking at the early stuff and then if you're looking at the arts and the motifs and all of that but all of that is about connection with with place it's about connection it's about you know do we are we are people you know or just a mishmash you know of identities thrown together and at ministers is right in line with the whole question of for authenticity of life or people wanting to do as human beings come to some terms with connection or separation which is it going to be I've had different kinds of readers who are looking for the colonial discourse the anti colonialists discourse you know some of the academic kind of terminologies and analysis I could put on literature and and the kind of messaging that that the book has so it it's it's wide because it's um it's one of those Universal stories the universal the story of contact in 1492 this first few decades especially what patterns get said what what personalities there are is very complex but it creates the modern world it's precisely that confluence of Europe with the Americas that creates the modern world everything comes out of that good bad and ugly it comes out of that that the energies of the Americas and and the energies of Europe at that moment mercantile the economy wreaking havoc on a reciprocal economies yes that's the difference in the Americas you have a lot of reciprocity principle built into all kinds of things from connection with the spiritual world the natural world spirituality to among people within family moieties of clans individual dualities that need to be reconciled all the time this is the indigenous had a high level of community principle and Europeans were moving on a very headstrong mercantile aggressive but the definitely ambitious movement in the world that it was came from a certain kind of permission to change the world indigenous people have more of a idea of a cyclical understanding of the world the Europeans were coming at her from permission to change the world you know you can change a valley you can knock down the mountain you can deviate the river you can do whatever you know that's there there was some of that in the Americas too but it wasn't as pronounced you know just like there was warfare in the Americas but the Europeans were the best at it oh the war technology so we're really good at it in the Americas it was the food technologies the agriculture was really developed that's where 60% of the world's foods today are American Indian derived foods you know so that was the contribution was the civilization really paid a lot of spiritual attention to place the life in in in the plan world the life of animal to connect the spiritual connection it was a lot of rules and regulations and so forth around how to how to live in that context the Europeans are had broken out of that mold and that's the prime thing of Western civilization and the individualism and so forth and so on and for a time in history that was very dominant it was a big world there were lots of wood lots of water lots of oil lots of all kinds of things so that idea that's all that our fingertips that's all useful that's our resources that idea was very strong for several hundred years you know and it's taken over the world but underneath that the other idea still lives and so there's that that continues you know dialectic oppositional thought and then elements are blend and blend well or don't blend well but I mean those are the elements that come from that first moment when Columbus walks into the Caribbean and from the shore there's intelligence looking at I'm saying hmm how do we fit this into our view of the world and from the other side they're doing the same thing who are these guys how do we make them fit or well there have to be Indians because they're from India you know we're in the Indies or we were so forth so it has to be Cuba's Japan and this one is this one and and that was the way they identified the world and then the Indians were doing trying to make their best of it you know the native people here well who are these guys where they fit you know we've never seen anything like this we've never seen people that look like this I've never seen people that act like this you know not to not to that point of that kind of destruction that came in and so of course along with my microbes and you know those kinds of plagues that also entered in but so that's the story that to me that's that's us that's what make made a really worth telling because it's it's got so many of those foundational American elements if you go to – when Champlain meets the Iroquois well it's the same thing it's going on it's still the same thing that's going on if you go to the Yanomami meeting the the gold miners in Brazil today it's the same same story still it's the same story same elements the only difference now and you know the the West is that much more powerful but the Indians on the native side you got more communication more human rights groups entrance into the United Nations more organization capacity so it's not the isolation of that used to you know keep people from being able to defend themselves at all you knows now these there's some some defense some way of holding off and a new resurgence of identity of people won't not be so isolated from other humans anymore or from nature or from life you know and and and that's I think that's I think those elements fit in in those ways I try not to make a big ideology of it you know or trying to pin it all down it's just those are the hovering elements that we see and and that's a frame of the tiny no movement that's the frame of our own people saying how do we how do we do this who how do we define this a bit more than this nationalistic identities have been imposed on us that are kind of fictions you know but they're not but they are you know and it's okay to be nationalistic kawano Cuba for Cubans but at the same time that's one sentiment and what's underneath all that where all the other areas you know that of life that can help define the human life you know so what I was trying to do was force open that discussion and and and create a moment where this this words of this tiny no man from 1532 born before Columbus you know getting to know Spain getting to know the other world coming back being this law just a young man from his own people and in some ways that that was part of my personal component raishin again with this character is that I understood that experience of being dislodged from Montone place in the world and off into the world and yet not not wanting to lose your memory you know that's the important thing for me and personally and I do I'd like to advise it to my own children you know insist that personal memories like it's everything you know you got to to have your own devices of memory and and and and don't let your sense of the world get obscured you know because it's there's too much in the world that's confusing in it and so for me that was a big you know a big guiding element in my life was was keep my memory remember what they said remember you know the expressions that they had you know and so I kept myself open you know I mean the life of the spirits I grew up with some aunts 300 unmarried elderly women that were the light of my young life as a young boy I mean they did there were teachers and and it was a house of spirits you know the house was though with some spirit walking through and somebody had to put food out for or a cup of coffee for or someone yahwah or you know why are we getting being a very interesting element that that survives from the Taino early that you know culture you know fruit of spirits you know so things like that that comes through still in in in in our Cuban culture generally but to me that never died you know my sense that there's another life around us that comes from from from from childhood from believing in childhood I don't know how not to believe in it I don't know how not to feel that to the point where you know you you you you develop that that that memory of how to do that and that's also those so those are deep elements you know that again that's why I say I'm a reluctant scholar because I think scholarship gives us some tools but it doesn't to me it's not the spear point of truth it's what you rely on to test your own sense of truth but my spear point of truth is in here it's in here it's it's not it's not in a book it's not you know and it's something I learned from archaeology yesterday or you know those are all elements that fit in or don't fit in but but I think in that sense even the new scholarship that I read this is it just believes in itself too much you know the young scholars it just got all this talk you know the post-colonial talk and the postmodern talk and you know there's there's some brilliant stuff finished no doubt about it but it but the the the the dislike the text to pump text upon text you know so you text you analyze text with text with text and you deconstruct text over text but but then there's a real world out that window you know and there's a real world inside of us always churning he's being impacted by all kinds of things you can't even analyze you know it's very complex very simple or it's very complex so you know I I don't mean to go on and on but it I got my own sense of truth and I think that's why my expression in writing that I think has the most truth to me is it's fiction it's this when I when I can get into narrative what I can get it into that kind of discussion and then my own experience of having been able to walk through enough indigenous world to to sort of imbibe you know that the historical patterns the cultural patterns and be able to tell our story by filling in the puzzle from a few other places not not creating a ceremony from somewhere else into our our cultural basis in the Caribbean but to have that sense of what drives people to keep their culture what drives people to to try to understand what came you know so that's that's that's the story beyond that I think I've had many readers from you know different tribal communities and people who have worked with the story and and and our own tightener move when I think has been very responsive sometimes to the story of I've heard you know from from people that it gave them kind of a way of thinking about their own experience if we can do that in a piece of writing like that I feel pretty good you know that that that that that came out the way they're very sought again you

13 thoughts on “"TAINO" a Novel by Jose Barreiro

  1. Have any Cubans who may read this had an analysis of your DNA done for ancestry? I am Cuban; I had my DNA analyzed and found that my maternal DNA haplogroup is "D1e." The peculiar thing is that the "D1e" haplogroup was originally found in a 10,000 year old skeleton on Prince of Wales Island in S.W. Alaska, of all places. My theory is that the Tainos had the "D1e" haplogroup. And that Cubans with the "D1e" haplogroup are related to the Tainos and to that 10,000 year old skeleton. Do any of you have any information about this? Thanks.

  2. I am trying to find information about Guaikan (Diego Colon) and his writings, but I did not find anything over the internet…

  3. hola siento mucho por la perdida de Jorge Barreiro fue un gran amigo y compa~nero de travajo ,desdel 1989 y sus hermanos y ermana que tuve el gusto de conoser apallo, rafa,y lucy..aqui en ft  myers,fl.

  4. Interesting video! I really liked another novel about this topc that came out last year -Song of The Taino. It was well researched and well written, very moving.

  5. Can't wait to read 'Taino'. If you are intersted in the topic I recommend a second novel: 'Dos Santos', a Taino based story from 1508 Boriken –

  6. Denis, the novel hasn't been translated into Spanish yet, but the original English edition is easily found online. I'm currently using it in my Dominican Identity class and my students had no trouble purchasing it online. I truly recommend it highly not just to every Dominican, but to every Caribbean person hoping to understand the past and make sense of our history.

  7. I hope to purchase this book soon and share it with all my Dominicano contacts. I am interested in purchasing a Spanish edition if it (will) exist(s).

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