December 5 – Discovery Day in Hispaniola

Posted on December 5, 2016

There is a fairly large island in the Caribbean Sea that some Taino Amerindians, back in the 1400s, called Haiti (“Mountainous Land”). The Taino lived on the various Caribbean Islands, including Haiti – therefore it would incorrect to say that Christopher Columbus and his men “discovered” the island on this date in 1492.

And yet many people do say just that, and the holiday name makes the claim, too!

Have you ever heard the truism, “History is written by the victors?”

Columbus was sailing in the name of the Spanish monarchs, and as he and other Spanish men explored and settled the Caribbean islands, they often killed or raped the Taino. Even more Taino died from smallpox and other infectious diseases accidentally brought to the New World by the Spaniards. So, the Taino nearly died out. In the meantime, the Spaniards conquered the territory, wrote the history, and foisted their names on inhabitants and lands.

Columbus named the island La Isla Española, or “the Spanish island.” It was later shortened to Española. These names are, of course, in the Spanish language. Another language used by Columbus was Latin – and in Latin the name of the island was Insula Hispana.

Spanish and French people colonized different portions of the island. The various peoples living there called the island Haiti, Santo Domingo, or Saint-Domingue, but somehow English speakers came up with a different name : Hispaniola. (Note that it is influenced by the Latin version of the island's name.) By the 1900s official groups like the National Geographic Society adopted the name Hispaniola for the entire island.

When enslaved and free people of color living in the western portion of Hispaniola revolted against their French colonizers, they had to fight Napoleon Bonaparte's army. But they won! The nation of Haiti was established on January 1, 1804, becoming the first independent nation of Latin America, the first independent nation of the Caribbean, and the second republic of the New World (after the United States). Revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines chose the name Haiti for the new nation as a way of honoring the original inhabitants of the island.

The larger portion of the island of Hispaniola is the Dominican Republic. This region was colonized by Spain, not France. The islanders declared their independence from Spain in 1821. They were annexed by Haiti the next year, but a couple of decades later, the Dominicans were able to successfully break away.

I'm not positive how Haitians and Dominicans celebrate Discovery Day, but I have seen photos of parades!
Historians believed that, although Columbus died in Spain, his 
remains were buried in what is now the Dominican Republic. 
However, there is now some doubt about this claim. 

Check out the beauties of Haiti...
...and of the Dominican Republic! 

Also on this date:

Day of the Ninja (aka Creep like a Ninja Day)

Plan ahead:

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