My Response to Gabriel Haslip-Viera's Review of the Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Borikén (Puerto Rico)

By Castanha, Tony | Centro Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

My Response to Gabriel Haslip-Viera's Review of the Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Borikén (Puerto Rico)


Castanha, Tony, Centro Journal


Dear Editor:

Guatiao. I am writing to express my concern regarding a review published in your journal last year (CENTRO Journal 24(1): 192-7, 2012). The reviewer's name is Gabriel Haslip-Viera, and the book reviewed is titled, The Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Borikén (Puerto Rico) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). I would not normally comment on a book review, but because this one directly targets my own work and is unprofessionally done, I feel compelled to.

I am choosing to reply back, not so much because of the content, arguments, and opinions of the reviewer, which are mainly spurious as touched on below, but because Haslip-Viera misquotes, misrepresents, and thus takes my work out of context throughout the review. When it comes to contemporary material on the indigenous Caribbean, the reviewer is well known by some as a scholar who belittles and degrades any mention of native survival and continuity. He has contempt for descendants who rightfully chose to self-identify with their indigenous past and ancestors. When writing the book I was well aware of the controversial nature of the subject matter, the possible scrutiny it could invoke, and polemic neocolonial scholars like Haslip-Viera, or those who continue to uphold colonial ideologies within a supposed post-colonial era. What I did not expect was that my work and interviewees would be continually misquoted, misrepresented, and taken out of context. This is unacceptable.

For instance, on the bottom of page 196, he misquotes an interviewee by deleting the word "indio" and inserting in its place the name "Taíno." He misrepresents her because this is not a term she used or meant to say. Her family and others throughout mountain and rural regions of Puerto Rico have little conception of this name because it was introduced from outside of their communities and is not a part of family histories. The name "Taíno" is also not an accurate word to describe indigenous Caribbean peoples of the northern Antilles as it was never used by inhabitants as a term of self-ascription, at least prior to its nineteenth-century anthropological invention.

Haslip-Viera misquotes another interviewee by again inserting the same word where it was not said or meant to be said: "We (the Taíno) were a great empire" (p. 194). Is this scholarship? That sentence is not written anywhere in the book. He further should have known to use brackets instead of parenthesis when inserting words within quotations. In the Preface of my book, I provide an in-depth explanation of the terms used and how I arrived at using them. I personally do not use the word at all in the book except when it is cited or quoted by someone else. Haslip-Viera chooses to ignore this, thus misrepresenting the intent of my work in the process. (See other misquoted or incorrectly quoted sentences in the review on page 193 [second and fourth paragraphs and at the bottom of the page], page 194 [number 3 in the middle], page 197 [at the top], and use of incorrect page numbers on the bottom of page 193).

The reviewer also inserts whenever possible the fanciful name "Taíno revivalists," basically placing myself and my interviewees into a misguided stereotype. He is enamored to using this term because he is apparently the one who coined it in order to be able to conveniently mock the subject. His edited book, Taíno Revival (1999), elevates the name and concept in a largely demeaning way. This is demonstrated by titles such as "Making Indians Out of Blacks: The Revitalization of Taíno Identity in Contemporary Puerto Rico" and "The Indians are coming! The Indians are coming!: The Taíno and Puerto Rican Identity." Most of the material in the book essentially minimizes a modern-day indigenous presence and continues to perpetuate the extinction of "real" indigenous Caribbean peoples. This falls right in line with an almost five hundred year precedence of writing the original peoples of the region out of the history books. …

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