Excerpt | TAINO
Dreaming for the Voice
Taíno, the novel, was written in 1992. I am credited as author, and although I put the words to paper, I don’t quite claim its
full authorship. That year, 1992, would be the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s fateful landing. As the anniversary year approached, Spain announced a major “celebration.” Governments and universities in Latin American countries offered congresses, unleashing avalanches of scholarship on Columbus and his enterprise. Academic debates were, initially, a celebration of “the discovery.” The conquest was mostly seen as a difficult but necessary period of our shared history; colonization was identified as an ultimately beneficent process for the Americas and the beginning of the modern world.
For the Native and mestizo world of the Americas, and particularly for the many of us who had grown up with a wary eye on Spain, its brutal conquest, and its racist colonial regime, the celebratory tone picked at a scab dried over many generations. As the year and the day approached, the topic of Columbus’s assumed “discovery” of the Americas became a boiling dispute. Voices of dissent grew, producing a wave of critique that demanded its own attention. The debate no longer rested among academics; the challenge this time came from the Native peoples of the Americas.
Indigenous peoples had been reemerging on the international level. I saw it in Geneva, Switzerland when, in 1977, Native leaders of the Americas were heard at the United Nations as a collective voice for the first time. Across the Native Americas, a movement of proportion emerged that broke travel and communications barriers among Indigenous peoples; a time of mutual learning and support had burst forth.For Caribbean peoples, sentiments of indigeneity were intensifying, and a movement had been stirring. From the islands to the diaspora of New York and all points north, east, and west, many were actively reconnecting our common indigeneity under aegis of the ancestral term, “Taino”. The search for Taíno—in our families, in our stories and our history, in our sustaining natural lifeways—was a declaration of existence in the blood and in the land. From Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica came greetings and stories of families. Individuals were gathering in small groups forming and reforming their family extensions and circles as yukayekes, or Taíno clans and tribes.
The events of 1992 can be remembered as a vortex moment, with a spirit and consciousness of unity felt in many Indigenous
territories and venues. The story of Columbus, propagated for 500 years by European colonial structures, was rejected, for the
first time, across the entire Western Hemisphere.
In the fall of 1990, I visited with my friends, Algonquin elder Larry McDermott and wife, Nancy. They live in a beautiful, deep forest in southern Ontario. One night while there, after walking the woods with Larry most of the day, I had retired early to a pleasant sleep, deep and long.A sudden flash lit the world; loud booming thunder had hit close in the woods. I was coming from deep sleep—already feeling the impending dawn—and it shook me awake. In the spiral between dream and wakefulness, I heard Diego’s voice; then I visioned a flash of his handsome profile as he faced the ocean, looking out, beyond a red palm tree at a coastal horizon. The dream lasted but a moment, appearing in the space between the lighting strike outside my window and my coming awake, only a second in real time, yet compressed, slower running, and much longer in dreamtime.
In that elongated moment, resonating in the cavity of my skull, I heard Diego speak in lilting Spanish, his words joining in my throat. I felt come into me and out of me, with ease, those dreamtime words, which are among the first paragraphs
of the narrative, the novel.
It was a medicine day that I still feel. The lightning thundered until daybreak, although not as close. Fully awake as the
day dawned, I lit a lamp and wrote down the words of the dream. They felt certain, and mine, yet a gift.The voice in my dream I identified with surprising ease. I knew I had spotted Diego. Here and there in the chronicles, the historical character had surfaced, although I had not focused on him. As it often happens, after that recognition in my dream, the historical character, Diego Colón, appeared in more and more texts.
I began to work. Writing in the early mornings, trailing, and then guiding the internal thread of Diego’s voice, I felt a sense of journey and adventure, confident in how Diego had attached and lent his voice, and that it would sustain. I found Diego at times in my mind’s ear, and his voice grew in me so that I dreamed him twice more. This first dream had come through as I was rounding the corner on historical research; the second dream was the impetus (orientation) to movethe narrative directly through the form of a journal, Diego’s journal, set on the island of Santo Domingo of 1532–1533. I saw the convent, and the coastline, in the dream. In the third dream, also that year, I followed Diego silently up and down a trail, through woods and tall manigua grass. He walked fast with an old man’s gait, stumbled twice to a knee but got to his feet quickly and moved on, finally fading ahead of me.The narrative that grew in me and the voice that I carried that morning of my first dream to the writing table, offered a sequence of storytelling that did not abandon me for nearly two years as, sometimes in the middle of the winter in northern New York, surrounded by deep snows, I would drift in the imaginary to the Caribbean shores of the early 1500s. I savored anew those first encounters from the time when our old people, those deeply Indigenous ancestors of our contemporary families, were whole. I consciously fashioned into Diego’s tapestry the best of my perception on the various lines of research I had undertaken, but the voice was a gift throughout until the narrative came to its natural conclusion
I have not dreamt with Diego again.