Does the island of Jaina, Campeche, have a name in Mayan?

Jaina Island

The name Jaina for a river on the island of Hispaniola was recorded since the arrival of Columbus to these lands. Bartolomé de las Casas names it when he tells that the natives of that island indicated to Columbus the existence of gold deposits to the south and, when they marched there, “they arrived at a large river that was called, and today we name it Haina.”

Fernandez de Oviedo and Juan Lopez de Velasco were notified of this river with their names. In Mexico, the island of Jaina is located 42 kilometers north of the city of Campeche; it measures 1,000 meters long by 750 in its widest part, it is separated from the coast by a channel of 80 to 100 meters wide, and it was built mostly in an artificial way by the ancient Mayans.

The coastal area in front of the island is a limestone strip, covered by mangroves and swamps.

The island was known in the 8th century AD as “Kaan.” It is possible that this denomination alludes to one of the characteristics of its configuration. The phoneme Kaan is equivalent in Yucatecan Mayan to “sky,” but it has a derivation that it is ka’nal: “to become tall.” With that name, it may refer to the artificial promontory above sea level that, in some points, rose above the mangroves, or to the Mayan structures of the site.

The current name of the island is said to come from its ancient Mayan name, Hina, documented in the Calkini Codex (before 1582). But it is not known when it was transformed into Haina (Jaina), as it is possible to find both names on 18th-century maps.

Photo: Tribuna Campeche

As for the name Hina, similarities have been sought with the Mayan compound formed by the word ha’ (house) + na (water), whose fusion results in “house-water,” a name in keeping with the geographical characteristics of the area, surrounded by mangroves. In the cartography where this site appears, it is marked with the names Hina, Jaina, Jayna, Xaina, or Jayna.

Because of the coincidence of designations in the Española and New Spain, it is probable that the name of the river of the current Dominican Republic was transferred to the island campechana, with which the word Jaina, would not come from the Mayan. Or, a similar writing helped to confuse one with the other.

For this hypothesis, let us remember the innumerable contacts and interrelations between the diverse environments of the historical Caribbean, where Campeche is located. Santo Domingo was an obligatory passage for the Spaniards who flocked to America at the time of the conquest and colonization.

Also, that the militiamen came and went between one conquered land and another and that in many cases, the historical descriptions, maps, and plans were “enriched,” including errors, with the information and words that they conveyed. Finally, those documents, on many occasions, were made in Spain with no other base than descriptions.

In short, it could be that the name of the Mexican island does not come from a Mayan word, but from another Taino word. What do you think, dear reader?

For The Yucatan Times
Jorge Victoria Ojeda Ph.D
Anthropologist, historian, investigator, author.

With a doctorate in anthropology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a Ph.D. in History from Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, in Spain, Jorge Victoria has been the technical subdirector of the General Archive of the State of Yucatan, the head of the Historical Archive of Merida and the director of the Museum of Popular Art of Yucatan. He is currently a professor and works in the Social Sciences Unit of the Regional Research Center of the Autonomous University of Yucatan.

Dr. Victoria has published fifteen books and numerous articles in Mexico and abroad. His research on “piracy and pirates in the Yucatan Peninsula” and “Africans and Afro-descendants” has earned him international awards and recognition.

Source: J. Victoria Ojeda, “A name for two islands in the historic Caribbean. From the Dominican Jaina River to the Novohispanic island of Jaina”. Revista de Historia Naval, Instituto de Historia y Cultura Naval, Year XXII, n:84, January-April 2004, Madrid.


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