A major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The island is located between the islands of Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, within the hurricane belt.
The island was inhabited by the Taíno, one of the indigenous Arawak peoples. The Taínos were seafaring indigenous peoples of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. They were one of the Arawak peoples of South America, and the Taíno language was a member of the Arawakan language family of northern South America.
Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and de las Casas documented that the island was called Haití (“Mountainous Land”) by the Taíno. D‘Anghiera added another name, Quizqueia (supposedly “Mother of all Lands”), but later research shows that the word does not seem to derive from the original Arawak Taíno language.
Although the Taínos use of Haití is verified and the name was used by all three historians, evidence suggests that it probably was not the Taíno name of the whole island. Haití was the Taíno name of a region (now known as Los Haitises) in the northeastern section of the present-day Dominican Republic. In the oldest documented map of the island, created by Andrés de Morales, that region is named Montes de Haití (“Haiti Mountains”). Las Casas apparently named the whole island Haití on the basis of that particular region; d‘Anghiera said that the name of one part was given to the whole island.
The colonial terms Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo are sometimes still applied to the whole island, although these names refer, respectively, to the colonies that became Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The name Haïti was adopted by Haitian revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines as the official name of independent Saint-Domingue, as a tribute to the Amerindian predecessors. Quisqueya (from Quizqueia) is used to refer to the Dominican Republic.