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  • Writer's pictureyannick-robin eike mirko

The Gender History of Puerto Rico, Before Colonization

It is hard to pin down documentation of our norms and values before the entrance of Spanish Colonization and the introduction of the use of Spanish as a dominant language and Catholic norms (including the gender binary) to mold society, but…there is enough known about gender politics to help with our fight when it comes to a greater understanding of autonomy/human rights and its history. Before the arrival of colonization, our roles were very slightly impacted by gender, unlike how the patriarchy now slices the world and its rules with a strict binary line.

So, what was it like on the island before the Spainards (considered Guamikinas, the European “covered people”) destroyed everything? Here’s what I’ve found (and of course, if you have any edits or information that you don’t see down here, do let me know):

Doing my best to make this make sense in modern terms here, using The Taino Dictionary as a guide: There was I’ro (man), I’naru’ (woman). According to the University of Florida, “Women seem to have participated at all levels in the political hierarchy, both wielding power and accumulating wealth. There were few social or economic activities that were assigned to only either men or only women. For example, constructing the conucos (raised mounds for farming, you could also call farmers by this word) was done by men, and preparing the manioc (principal crop) was done by women, but both genders tilled, planted and harvested the fields.”. A helpful look at the perception of women also lies in the native tale of the women who went with Guarocuya (a badass native who fought back against Spaniards with the initiative to reclaim as much as physically possible, including land and a native population not altered by colonizer genes…god I wish I was this guy) to the island of Matinino (which I believe is now modern-day Martinique), a considered ‘motherhood initiative’ in pushback to colonization (which involved the raping of our people). From the perspectives of many a native, the story represents one of the ‘cycles of creation in which society was reorganized (there are astronomical dimensions to this narrative, such as the rise and setting of Venus and the moon-life cycles)' they also represent to some the emergence of "women" warrior castes, whose roles were to stabilize Taino society by the fact that they patrolled the margins and ensured that survival was not just tied to pro-creation (as in the judeo-christian model) but also sovereignty and self-sustenance.

But wait…there’s more!!

There’s me, more specifically (and importantly). The maorocoti - that which is neither…and both. These two-spirits were held in high regard in our tribes, and were thought to possess special insights due to their duality.

The maorocoti is represented within the deities and zemis (gods) by The Cemi, a fundamental symbol in Taino religion, the divine connection between the sky, the earth and the waters, as well as the differently gendered possibilities. It appears as a triangular symbol with three points collectively called “Yocahu Bagua Moarocoti,” words that come together to symbolize the Creator. The three points, Yocahu, Bagua, and Moarocoti, represent: the turey (sky…where Yaya, the Creator whose name means that which has neither beginning nor end and which has no male ancestor or creator), Coabey (the underworld, where Hupia the spirit of the dead resides. The face of Guayabe, the Chief of Coabey is represented here), and the land of the living, where Goiz (the spirit of the living people) resides.

The influence of judeo-christianity on our island led to the criminalization of polyamory, sodomy and imposed the Eurocentric, cis-hetero judeo-christian ideas of "man" "woman" and “monogamy” (typical for the same people that considered pink the color for jesus/man, as Peggy Orenstein has written, originally, “pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary” taken from the 2006 NYT piece ‘What’s Wrong With Cinderella?’. Just go ahead and assign everything a gender and a purity rank, why don’t you…Christians.). "Those who did not conform were persecuted: fed to dogs, had their genitals mutilated or their wives and/or husbands raped and kidnapped. These acts have been documented in the chronicles of the Frays and Padres who were there at the onset of Christian Spanish governance." In the words of Daniel Saynt in a review of the book Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature, “if you're Taino and acknowledge that you are a they/them aka a dual-spirit, you are not only keeping our traditions alive, you've got superpowers.

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