History of Camaguey: Three destinations in 14 years

History of Camaguey: Three destinations in 14 years

The precise date of the foundation of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe spills a lot of scientific controversy. The traditional date given by local historians is that of the 2nd of February 1514 when according to a legend surrounding the same cross that Columbus nailed in 1492 the war lieutenant sent by Velazquez, Diego de Ovando at the head of 15 Castilians on horse and his auxiliary Indians founded the villa in an arid tongue like shaped land in the present day bay of Nuevitas.

Nonetheless today most studies coincide in that such date is not accurate, because when Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas left Cuba halfway through 1515, after pronouncing his famous “Discurso del arrepentimiento (2)”  speech in the newly founded villa of Sancti Spíritus the priest didn’t know about the establishment of Puerto Príncipe, therefore it must have occurred in the absence of the defender of the Indians –probably before or in unison with the establishment of Santiago de Cuba– that the founding of the primitive sixth villa took place.

Plaza de los Trabajadores

The villa that would later become the main settlement in the centre of the island at first witnessed an itinerant life that led her to two different locations during 14 years after its original location in Punta de Guincho in the bay of Nuevitas.The decision to change its primitive emplacement and to move it to the banks of the Caonao river –in the homonymic Indian community, which was remembered due to the famous killing- was due to the fact that the location lacked water and pasturage for cattle, on top of the fact that the soil, lime in nature and very sterile did not fulfil conditions for farming.

That’s the reason why Diego de Ovando after consulting the few settlers in the villa undertook its transfer to the inland. According to an ancient manuscript at the moment of the arrival to Caonao at the end of march 1516 the settlers where only 15 married males and their wives and children besides other transients until the amount reached 97 Castilians that evicted the Siboneyes from their best huts and stanzas where they comfortably settled in.

Street of Camagüey nowadays

Ovando distributed the first Indians in property but the abuses were such on behalf of the Christians and their governors that around 1528 there was a great uprising in the Saramaguacán estate –which in the Siboney language means “great water current”- to which the governor Diego de Ovando was quick to suffocate having found the estate burnt, seven dead Indian owners and all else destroyed.

As the number of Indians surpassed that of the Spaniards Ovando saw himself forced to seek refuge in the territories of the friendly Camaguebax Indian Chief, who was a vassal to Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa conqueror, establishing himself in the lands situated in the centre of the province equidistant to both coasts between the Tínima and Hatibonico rivers. There he found the definite seat for the city –which adopted a very irregular outline, an exceptional case regarding the first Cuban villas- which from the 9th of June 1903 onwards we know by the Indian name of Camagüey and not by the initial one of Puerto Príncipe.