On this day in 1810, Colombia became one of the first countries in the Western Hemisphere to declare independence from a colonial power. Inspired both ideologically and strategically by the earlier American, Haitian, and French revolutions, a series of independence movements and rebellions erupted across the continent, with Colombia securing recognition in 1819 as “Gran Colombia”, a state that encompassed what is today Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and parts of Peru, Brazil, and Guyana. (Hence why the flags of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, which formed the core of the new country, are similar.)
One of the key reasons why the African continent seems perennially rife with tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict — more so within countries than between them — harkens back to borders imposed upon the diverse peoples of Africa by European colonials. Even a casual glance of a political map of Africa show how odd and idiosyncratic many of its borders are.
Hatuey was a native Taíno chief from the island of Hispaniola (modern Haiti and Dominican Republic) who became the first major fighter against colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. He led a group of natives to resist the invading Spaniards in the early 16th century. After his island was conquered, he set out to Cuba with a group of 400 people to warn the indigenous people of the coming invasion; the following speech was attributed to him:
Here [a basket of gold and jewels] is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea…They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…
Hatuey’s message was not heeded, and few joined him to fight, partly because warfare was an alien concept among Caribbean natives (as Columbus himself had observed). The chief thus resorted to guerrilla tactics with a handful of his men. At first managing to confine the Spaniards at their fort at Baracoa, the colonials redoubled their efforts and eventually captured him.
In 1512, Hatuey was tied to a stake and burned alive at Yara. Before he was burned, a priest asked him if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven, after which the following exchange was recorded:
[Hatuey], thinking a little, asked the religious man if Spaniards went to heaven. The religious man answered yes…The chief then said without further thought that he did not want to go there, but to hell, so as not to be where [the Spaniards were], and where he would not see such cruel people.
Though it is disputed precisely what Hatuey said in these two anecdotes, his status as one of the first major resistors of colonialism remains undisputed. He is celebrated by some Cubans as their first national hero, and is often regarded as such throughout the Caribbean.
Read more about him here.