Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528
First Stanza “Colibrí” is set in Puerto Rico in the city of Jayuya. The city’s name is derived from local Indian Chief Hayuya. Jayuya is tucked into the northern border of Toro Negro Forest Reserve and commands breathtaking views extending to the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Sometimes natives refer to...
(The entire section contains 528 words.)
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“Colibrí” is set in Puerto Rico in the city of Jayuya. The city’s name is derived from local Indian Chief Hayuya. Jayuya is tucked into the northern border of Toro Negro Forest Reserve and commands breathtaking views extending to the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Sometimes natives refer to it as “La Capital Indigena,” to signify its large population of Taino.
Espada first compares the scattering of the lizards to the way that “green canoes” scattered “before the invader.” This is a historical allusion to the 1493 Spanish invasion of the island, which natives called Borinquen.
“Iron and words” refer to guns and language, two of the primary tools the conquerors used to subjugate people. The Spanish named the native Arawak Indians Taino. When Espada writes that the Taino “took life / from the plátanos in the trees,” he is describing how this banana-like fruit sustained them. The fruits resemble “multiple green fingers” in their shape and size. The rock carvings refer to the Taino written language, which was in the form of petroglyphs, or symbols, carved in stone.
In this stanza, Espada tells readers that the Spanish “christened” the hummingbird “colibrí.” The word “christened” is significant for its allusion to the Christian practice of baptism. Espada suggests that christening something that is not yours is also an act of appropriation. In this case, the Spanish are appropriating the Indians’ land as well as their culture by naming the things of their world. He compares the hummingbird’s frantic darting to the racing of the Taino’s hearts when they first heard the sound of guns, underscoring the fear the bird and the Indians share. “Hacienda” is Spanish for a large estate, or the main building in such an estate. The bird, and figuratively the Taino, are caught inside the walls of the hacienda.
In this stanza, Espada extends the comparison between the bird and the Taino, showing how the bird, like the native Taino, becomes paralyzed in the clutches of the Spanish. However, the hand also serves the function of liberator as well as captor, as it can both free and imprison the bird. The image of the hand also echoes the image in the collection’s title, as do the carved circles at the end of the first stanza.
Espada describes the hummingbird’s native habitat as “a paradise of sky, / a nightfall of singing frogs.” The frogs are coquí, a local species that lives in trees and is found almost nowhere else in the world.
These two lines provide the punch—some might say the punchline—for the poem. The wish that history might be like hands refers to the preceding image of the hand freeing the bird and, by extension, the Taino, from its, and their, imprisonment. The speaker desires that history could also free people. The tone here is melancholic, as the speaker realizes that history is not like hands.
Espada is outspoken in his desire for Puerto Rican independence. He considers that the United States, like Spain before it, is an occupying force and needs to leave so that the native people can rule themselves.