Monday, May 6, 2013

Author Interview | Taino | Historical Novelist | Jaime Martinez Tolentino


D.O: Jaime Martinez Tolentino is married. He’s a father of five, 2 females, 3 males. One son is a medical doctor, one daughter a nurse, another son a social worker, another daughter a financial adviser, and another son a captain in the U.S. Army. He has 2 Ph.D.’s, one in French literature, and the other in Spanish and Latin American literatures. He has degrees from New York University, the University of Madrid, the Sorbonne, in Paris, and the University of Massachusetts.  He was a college professor for 36 years, both in his native Puerto Rico and in the U. S. Thanks for joining us on the blogs, Jaime.

JMT: You’re welcome, Damilola.  

D.O: After Guanina’s morning bath she was happy and began to an old Taíno song as she tied her damp hair into two long, tight braids, but suddenly she remembered what day it was and sad. It was her birthday, and according to the ancient law, that evening she had to go visit the bohique, the odd medicine man Coabey, in order to learn what the future had in store for her. Why was this young woman sad knowing she would learn of the future? Shouldn't learning about the future make anyone glad? Because by doing this you know what problems are ahead and the ritual you will perform to halt them. Tell us, why she was afraid Jaime.

JMT: That is part of the foreboding that forms part of the mood of this chapter, set in a world of magic and the supernatural.  In my story, the Taínos have forebodings of the arrival of the Europeans on their islands, just as the Maya left evidence, in their Book of the Books of Chilam Balaam, that they expected the arrival of the white men.

D.O: Why couldn't anyone refuse going to Coabey to learn of the future?

JMT: The medicine man held a very high position in the Taíno hierarchy.  In matters of teaching, healing, and religion they were even more revered that the chief (cacique).  Remember that the Native American Sitting Bull (c. 1831 – December 15, 1890) who was one of the leaders at the Battle of the Little Bighorn River in 1876 where the Custer Battalion was totally annihilated was a Sioux medicine man.

D.O: Who is Yukiyu?

JMT: Yukiyu was one of the two supreme Taíno gods. He was the god of good, of the harvest, of noble actions and of love.

D.O: The start of this book was like when God first made the world and felt it needed humans to live on it. I like the uniqueness in that aspect of the book. What inspired such dynamic idea? You must have done enough brain storming, right? *smiles*

JMT: I didn’t have to do all that much brainstorming.  Curiously enough, the stories of the creation of human beings in several cultures are quite similar.  Thus, the Taíno version is somewhat similar to the Maya version, which in turn is quite similar to the version written down in the Christian Bible.

D.O: Tell your potential readers about Juracán. His hatred baffled me.

JMT: Juracán was the other Supreme god in the Taíno dichotomy.  He was the god of evil, and Yukiyu’s sworn enemy.  He represented the tempest, warfare, ill luck, illnesses and evil acts and thoughts.

D.O: The Caribs are another set of enemies of the Tainos. Why do they hate them?

JMT: The Caribs were a totally different indigenous people who inhabited the Lesser Antilles, while the Taínos inhabited the Greater Antilles, at the time of the arrival of the Spanish at the end of the 15th century.  They were more warlike than the Taínos, and they often raidedBoriquén (Puerto Rico), taking their captives away with them.  In 1493, when the Spanish first saw Boriquén, the Caribs had already reached what is today’s offshore Island of Vieques, which is a municipality of Puerto Rico.  It is somewhat ironic that after the Spaniards defeated the Taínos in battle (1514), the few Taíno warriors who managed to escape allied themselves with the Caribs to harangue the Spanish in firefights.  Eventually, the Spanish also annihilated the Caribs.

D.O: Cutting Coabey's speech short here "You return to my hut to learn what your brief, unfortunate life is to be?" Hmm. Will the future be disastrous for Guanina?

JMT: Yes, it will.  According to Taíno history, eventually Guanina fell in love with the Spaniard Cristobal Sotomayor, and she, together with Sotomayor, was killed in an ambush set by her brother, Chief Agüeybaná.

D.O: The message for Guanina was that the Taíno nation would be wiped out by something coming from the ocean. Will this tragedy occur?

JMT: Yes, it will.  Between 1510 and 1514, most Taíno warriors were killed in battles against the Spaniards, and during the following 300 years, the rest of the Taíno people disappeared through illnesses brought by the Europeans, through their harsh treatment of Taíno workers panning for gold in the rivers of Boriquén, and later working in the sugarcane fields.  By the mid-nineteenth century, there were no pure Taínos living in Puerto Rico.

D.O: Guanina is always drawn to the sea which took both herparents. She has an unexplainable fascination with the sea. Is this another way this evil sea plans to take Guanina’s life?

JMT: You guessed it.  Her undoing and that of the Taíno nation itself will be at the hands of the Spaniards, who came to our island by sea.  Individually, Guanina will fall in love with one of “the gods come from the sea,” and being with him will bring about her own death.

D.O: The Great Conch Shell possesses magical powers. What's its role in the story?

JMT: Later on in the novel, a conch shell will be used to announce the landing of the Spaniards on the island.  They will meet with Guanina and Agüeybaná, the younger’s father, Agüeybaná,the elder, who will make a pact of non-aggression with them.  That pact will allow the Spaniards to build up their forces, and eventually conquer the entire Taíno nation.  Therefore, the conchshell is a symbol of the tragic end to befall the Taínos.

D.O: What's the central conflict for the book Taíno?

JMT: It’s the old evil vs. good, Europeans Vs. native peoples conflict, in which the technology of the invaders (they had rifles and gunpowder) and their military might (they had horses and German Shepherd hunting dogs) will triumph over the lesser developed Taínos.  However, in a strange turnabout of events, the Taínos will get a sort of final word in: through racial mixing, the Taínos will survive to the 21st century.  Moreover, the descendant of the Taínos, will learn about their ancestors through archeology.  The final irony will be that a descendant of the Taínos, who did not possess a writing system, will be a writer (me) who will write their story for all the world to read about it.  That story, of course, is my historical novel Taíno.

D.O: Briefly tell us the Taínos are.

JMT: Perhaps you should ask “Who were they” because the Spaniards wiped them out completely.  They were a very gentle primitive people who had fled South America by reaching the delta of the Orinoco River, in modern-day Venezuela, and then island-hopping through the Caribbean Sea until they reached the two islands of the Greater Antilles that they would inhabit: Hispaniola (home of today’s Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Boriquén (modern-day Puerto Rico). Some of them mixed with white Spaniards, and later with black African slaves, to produce their modern-day descendants, the Puerto Ricans.  We have many notes on them written by Spanish priests, and our archeologists have restored beautiful ceremonial plazas in the mountainous Utuado region, and in the south of the island, near Ponce, in the vicinite of Tibes. The government agency in charge of preserving Puerto Rico’s history, the Instituto de CulturaPuertorriqueña, has, on its official seal, a Taíno, an African slave and a Spanish conquistador to show the racial mixture from which we come.  There are many books on Taíno history and archeology, but no novels such as Taíno, until now.  I’m sending you a map of Puerto Rico so that you’ll have an idea of our island.  

D.O: When will this book be released?

JMT: I’m currently seeking a literary agent to represent the book and sell it to a publisher.

D.O: Jaime. *smiles* When did you get into writing?

JMT: I began writing in my 3rd year of college, at New York University, in 1964.  Inexperienced fool that I was I began a novel about African slaves and slave hunters at that time.  I got to about page 3 before I realized that I could not complete a novel then.  I began writing in earnest in 1975, in Puerto Rico, when I edited an anthology of short stories by 7 Puerto Rican authors, including myself.  I have never stopped writing since. 

D.O: At what time did you start accepting the responsibilities of being a writer, because a lot goes into being one?

JMT: At the beginning of my writing career, I published both academic writing and fiction.  It was only around 2006, after I had retired from university teaching that I decided to go into the full-time writing of narrative non-fiction, and fiction.  I am very glad that I took that decision. I have also made sure that I publish in as many countries as possible.  So far, I’ve published in Puerto Rico, the U.S., Canada, Spain, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and the Internet.

D.O: Does Taíno give us the assurance that writing is what you want to do?

JMT: Yes. In that book I use a series of different techniques, all of which I have mastered over the years.  I feel very comfortable writing, and I am confident that I write well.  In fact, I am considered one of Puerto Rico’s best current writers, and proof of that is that my bio appears on WIKIPEDIA and in several print encyclopedias of Latin American writers.

D.O: What trends have you observed in the story Taíno that could make it a Best Selling?

JMT: Taínois a historical novel along the lines of the American author Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots.  Roots, the story of an African man taken prisoner in Africa and brought to the US as a slave, traces that character’s (KuntaKinte) descendants, right up to the moment in which Rootswas being written, and right up to its African American author. I do the same in Taíno, but instead of following one blood line, I follow two of the three that have combined to form modern-day Puerto Ricans: our Taíno and our African roots. Roots was aired over US television as a mini-series, in 1977, and it received 37 Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It won also a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. I would love for Taíno to have that success, but I’m not holding my breath.

D.O: Are there general guidelines that you have for writers, in terms of how they should write a power packed material?

JMT: Write what you love, don’t compare yourself to any other writer; write EVERY SINGLE DAY, even what you write is not very good.  The exercise is important.  And, above all, don’t give up; if you persevere, you will triumph.

D.O: Thanks for coming on the blogs Jaime. I wish you all the success in your publishing career.

JMT: Thank you, Damilola, for inviting me.  Good luck to you, too, in your writing endeavors.  As a gift, here are copies of the film cover for Roots, and of my proposed cover for Taíno, as well as the seal of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture, a map of Puerto Rico, statistics on the islands of the Greater Antilles, and a map of that region. 
Jaime on Wikipedia



Google Scholar



AJS Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Damilola Ogunremi, All Rights Reserved.


  1. new followers who found you via Book Blogs. Hope to find you back at my site soon :)

  2. Hey Guinevere, i visited your two sites. They are lovely. I returned your follow too. Nice to meet you. *smiles* thanks for dropping by.

  3. Great comment Lily Cyrus, thanks for dropping by. What's your blog address? I'd like to come around.


Happy Mother's Day

A mother's worth is incalculable and cannot be overstated. She gives up her wants and needs to ensure your happiness. Her presence in yo...