On August 4 2021, prolific Imgur account OctopussSevenTwo shared a meme to Imgur which described the purported last words of Taíno chief Hatuey before being burned alive.
One day prior, a Reddit account shared the same meme to r/Damnthatsinteresting, from where it was later removed for not having proper sourcing:
Text under an apparent image of a statue of Hatuey read:
Before being burned alive by the Spaniards, chief Hatuey of the island of Hispanola was asked if he wanted to accept Christianity and go to Heaven. Hatuey asked if Spaniards go to Heaven, to which the the priest [said] they do. Hatuey then stated that he’d rather go to hell where he wouldn’t see such cruel people.
A reverse image search indicated that the meme also appeared on Imgur in June 2020 (in a post called “Hatuey, a legendary warrior of Hispanola”), on r/DankPrecolumbianMemes in May 2021, and on Tumblr in September 2020. A similar meme was shared to Tumblr in November 2018:
On February 2 2016, the Facebook page “Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources” shared a text-based status update about Hatuey. That post provided a year (1512), a location (Yara, Cuba), and a source (historian and clergyman Bartolomé de las Casas):
On This Day: In 1512 Taino Cacique (leader) Hatuey was publicly executed by Bartolome de las Casas and Spanish colonial troops in Yara, Cuba. Hatuey was from the island of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and attained legendary status for leading a group of natives in a fight against the invading Spaniards. He is widely recognized as the second fighter against colonialism in the New World after Anacaona. He is celebrated as “Cuba’s First National Hero.” Before he was burned, a priest asked him if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. La Casas recalled the reaction of the chief: “[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 they were and where he would not see such cruel people. This is the name and honor that God and our faith have earned.”
In 1511, Diego Velázquez set out from Hispaniola to conquer what is now known as the island of Cuba and subjugate Cuba’s indigenous people, the Taíno, who had previously been recorded by Christopher Columbus. Velázquez was preceded, however, by Hatuey, who fled Hispaniola with a party of four hundred in canoes and warned some of the Native people of eastern Cuba about what to expect from the Spaniards.
Bartolomé de Las Casas later attributed the following speech to Hatuey which was addressed against Christianity. He showed the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels, saying:
Here 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…
The Taíno chiefs in Cuba did not respond to Hatuey’s message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them for a time. He and his fighters were able to kill at least eight Spanish soldiers. Eventually, using mastiffs and torturing the Native people for information, the Spaniards succeeded in capturing him. On February 2, 1512, he was tied to a stake and burned alive at Yara, near the present-day City of Bayamo.
Before he was burned, a priest asked Hatuey if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. Las Casas recalled the reaction of the chief:
[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 they were and where he would not see such cruel people. This is the name and honor that God and our faith have earned.
In 1542, Las Casas wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, about “the mistreatment of and atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas in colonial times and sent to then Prince Philip II of Spain.” That account was searchable on Google Books; a reprint included a translation of Las Casas’ writings about Hatuey:
An undated “On This Day in History” entry by the Zinn Education Project, “Feb. 2, 1512: Taíno Leader Hatuey Executed in Cuba,” began:
Little is known about Hatuey, a Taíno cacique [leader] and the first prominent freedom fighter of the Americas, not his date of birth, nor exactly when he first led his force into battle. But on February 2, 1512, he died at the hands of the European invaders in Cuba where he arrived to organize resistance the year before.
Las Casas was cited regarding Hatuey’s last words:
… finally a Spanish offensive overwhelmed Hatuey and his troops. On Feb. 2, 1512, Hatuey was led out for a public execution. Las Casas described the scene:
When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey was told by a Franciscan friar who was present . . . something about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven.
The cacique, who had never heard any of this before and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to heaven. When told that they did he said he would prefer to go to hell.
A regularly reposted history meme indicated that Taíno chief Hatuey, facing death by fire, was asked to convert to Christianity to go to Heaven; Hatuey asked if colonizing Spaniards went to heaven and then declined the offer. An August 2021 post to Reddit’s r/Damnthatsinteresting was removed for a lack of sourcing. Although the account was clearly paraphrased across variations, it was a story that stemmed from a legitimate historical account by Bartolomé de las Casas, author of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. One translation published in 2004 can be seen in the screenshots embedded above.