In 1511, Diego Velázquez set out from Hispaniola to conquer the island of Cuba (Taino name, recorded by Columbus). He was preceded, however, by Hatuey, who fled Hispaniola with a party of four hundred in canoes and warned some of the Native people of eastern Cuba about what to expect from the Spaniards.
Bartolomé de Las Casas later attributed the following speech to Hatuey. He showed the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels, saying:
Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea... They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break...
The Taino chiefs in Cuba did not respond to Hatuey's message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them for a time. He and his fighters were able to kill at least eight Spanish soldiers. Eventually, using mastiffs and torturing the Native people for information, the Spaniards succeeded in capturing him. On February 2, 1512, he was tied to a stake and burned alive at Yara, near present-day City of Bayamo (See Jose Barreiro, "A Note on Taino," in View From the Shore, Cornell Akwe:son Press, 1990.)
Before he was burned, a priest asked Hatuey if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. Las Casas recalled the reaction of the chief:
[Hatuey], thinking a little, asked the religious man if Spaniards went to heaven. The religious man answered yes... The chief then said without further thought that he did not want to go there but to hell so as not to be where they were and where he would not see such cruel people. This is the name and honor that God and our faith have earned.
The town of Hatuey, located south of Sibanicú in the Camagüey Province of Cuba, was named after the Taíno hero.
Hatuey also lives on in the name of a beer brewed by Empresa Cerveceria Hatuey Santiago, a brewery in Santiago de Cuba, and one brand of a type of sugary, non-alcoholic malt beverage called Malta.
In a 2010 film shot in Bolivia, Even the Rain, Hatuey is a main character in the film-within-the-film.
The logo of the Cuban cigar and cigarette brand Cohiba is a picture of Hatuey.