Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti 1490 by Edwidge Danticat 2005
Royal Diaries Series (MG), Scholastic
IQ "Why must we wait until people are dead/to realize how much we valued them? Because whether we are nitainos or naborias, whether we are born of high or low stature, he [Behechio] said, we still lack the wisdom of our ancestors, who have been through life and death." Anacaona pg. 47
Naturally, Anacaona tells the story of Anacaona who is a Haitian princess. The diary starts off in 1490. During this time Haiti and the Dominican Republic were essentially one country, divided into different areas. Anacaona was princess of Xaragua, (which was in Haiti) and is the possible successor to the current ruler of Xaragua, her uncle. However, the throne could also go to her brother, Bechechio or they could have joint rule.
The most annoying thing about Anacaona was the premonitions. Throughout the book, Anacaona describes all these visions she has about events in the future, ranging from the white men's arrival to her death. It was quite irritating, mainly because I don't believe in visions but also in the historical note at the end, no mention is made of the real Anacaona having actual visions. Obviously, historical fiction can take some liberties with history, but I didn't like that it threw in a supernatural element. It was almost like a spoiler. Also, I wanted it to be longer. The Epilogue made me want to learn even more about Anacaona in "her own voice" (so to speak).
Ancient Haiti was fascinating to read about, especially the superstitions and cultural beliefs. For example, during Anacaona's time, the healers had to take the same medicines that they gave to their patients. (Imagine taking NyQuill when you don't even have a cold, just because your patient has one, yuck!). A scarier tradition was that when a husband died, the wife chose to be buried with him after he died. Meaning, after the husband died, the wife would take poison or kill herself in some way. They did this because wives believed their husbands would be lonely and lost without them in the afterlife. I suppose that is the highest form of true love, sacrificing yourself for your true love. Most of the names of people, places and things aren't that confusing. There's a glossary and enough context to help the reader figure things out. The only truly confusing part is knowing the difference between the enemies of Anacaona and her people; the Kalinas (Island Caribs?) and the Spanish. I still don't know what an Island Carib is, because wouldn't Anacaona and her people be Island Caribs? The characters were surprisingly well developed for a diary about a royal person (I never expect them to get into much detail about people 'beneath' them, but then again it is fiction) and it shows the wide spectrum of classes and roles in Haiti during this time. Another surprising element was the lack of sibling rivalry between Anacaona and Behechio. I would have thought they would argue over who gets the throne, but they didn't. They wholeheartedly support each other and would be happy if Xaragua was ruled by either of them.
Anacaona is well researched and a compelling read. Not much is written about Haiti in its precolonial period (before the Spanish arrived), so I enjoyed reading about the Tainos and the lush landscapes of Haiti (the countryside sounds truly breathtaking). Anacaona is a strong, independent and modest ruler. She puts Xaragua first, always. I could have done without her visions, but if you like that sort of thing then you will enjoy this book even more. It's an easy read and may grow tedious to some older readers, but if you know little about Haiti, I doubt you will be bored. 5th grade and up.
This is the 2nd review in Haiti review week.
Learn: Author Debbie Rigaud is Haitian American and she did a great interview (there are two parts) in which she spoke about herself, her book Perfect Shot, double dutch and Haiti. She's so nice and Perfect Shot is such a fun read! Read my review here
Help: Donate to Haiti Village Health
FYI not all the ways to help will feature giving money so don't worry if you can't afford to right now!