and the other mainland Natives who succeeded them, evolved into new people and
new cultures, and comprised the Indigenous peoples who discovered Columbus in
Archaeologist Irving Rouse (1913-2006) advised that we must “no longer think just of
migration when attempting to explain the appearance of a new people and culture.” We
must “consider all possible explanations, including divergence, acculturation,
transculturation, and parallel development .
(Rouse, “ The Taínos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus , p. 103) .
It is clear today that Taíno language and culture were not fully formed to the Caribbean
from Central or South America in baskets in the bottom of immigrants’ canoes. The
Taínos’ genes, language, and culture evolved in suit throughout the long centuries of
their numerous ancestors’ migration s and territorial expansions .
were the diverse groups of Archaic-Age and Stone-Age Indigenous peoples who
began populating the Caribbean islands more than 7,000 years ago —and who evolved
complex social and political systems, religions, natural technologies for crafting arts and
tools, advanced agricultural processes, hunting and fishing techniques, and trading
patterns for living well and peacefully in these beautiful tropical islands …. Until
Spaniards arrived in 1492 and put the brakes on their development.
Nonetheless, despite all the deaths from overwork, battles, horrifying abuses, and,
worst of all, diseases to which the Indigenous peoples of the Americas had no in-borne
immunities like Europeans, Africans, and Asians had developed over centuries of trade,
the Taíno and other Indigenous peoples of the Americas have survived to the present
They do not live as their ancestors did, but they and many aspects of their cultural
systems, beliefs, and traditions have evolved, surviving to the present day throughout
the Caribbean and in the many countries to which the Taínos’ descendants have
Today, an increasing number of Taíno descendants, many of whom did not even know
about the Indigenous blood flowing in their veins because of the myth that their
ancestors were all killed off hundreds of years ago, are discovering their Taíno genetic
and cultural roots , and demanding to learn more about the foundations of their
people and culture.
Here is how it all began:
7 500-400 BC, a group of Stone-Age Indigenous people, who were probably from
today’s Belize and Honduras in Central America, and perhaps also from Florida,
and who are called Casimiroids by archaeologists, but also called
Guanatahabeys (or sometimes Ciboneyes ), had canoed out to and settled the
islands of today’s Cuba and Hispaniola.
Not considered to be as culturally
advanced as the Ortoiroids , they hunted sloths and manatees. Over time, they
were assimilated into the people archaeologists call Ostionoides and
Saladoides . ( See 500 BC and 700 AD.)
5 000-200 BC, Archaic- Age Indigenous people from the region of today’s
Guiana and Venezuela, who are called Ortoiroids by archaeologists, began to
canoe out to and populate the islands of the Caribbean from today’s Trinidad and
up the arc of islands as far as Puerto Rico. A 7,000-year-old archaeological site
at Banwari Trace in Trinidad provides the earliest evidence of their expansion
from the mainland.
They were composed of small bands of hunters, shellfish
gatherers, and fishermen.
1500-100 BC, Indigenous people called Barrancoids by archaeologists, whose
culture evolved from the Saladoid people of Venezuela (see also 500 BC),
settled the Caribbean islands as far as Vieques and Puerto Rico.
Saladoides , they were long-distance traders, who interacted with and
intermarried with the Saladoides .
1,000-5 00 BC , Indigenous people from the region of today’s Venezuela
(Orinoco River Basin), who cultivated yuca and made casabe, arrived in the
Greater Antilles, settling as far north as Puerto Rico. Known as Aruaka for their
language base, as well as Igneri or Pre-Igneri for their pottery style, they used
slash-and-burn agricultural techniques, constructed central plazas for
ceremonies and ballgames, and used cojoba (an hallucinogen) to communicate
more easily with their ancestors and spirit guides.
Their red and white-on-red
pottery was known for its beautiful designs, upper flanges that flared outward,
and handles in the form of the letter “D.”
500 BC, Indigenous people called Saladoids by archaeologists also migrated
to the Caribbean from the Orinoco River region, forced out by population
They quickly settled on the islands from Trinidad to Puerto Rico.
Excellent navigators and traders (the various stones they worked are evidence of
this), they had a mixed economy of root crop-agriculture combined with hunting,
fishing, and shell-fish collecting, and they produced casabe.
Their pottery was
distinctive for its white-on-red designs, black and polychrome designs, and
incised cross hatchings . Saladoides are often referred to as the ancestors of
the Taino , but in truth, the Taíno had various ancestors, for as a people and a
culture, they evolved in the Caribbean.
400- 300 BC , the mixed peoples on Puerto Rico crossed over the Mona
Passage to the eastern banks of Hispaniola and began to mix with earlier
arrivals there , although they did not gain a secure foothold on Hispaniola until
around 250 AD .
600 AD , a new Indigenous culture arose , called Ostionoid for an important
site of theirs in Puerto Rico . It was the Ostionoids who introduced mound
agriculture and the building of irrigation canals. The Ostionoid culture was
uniquely Caribbean, not coming from the mainland, but having evolved in the
Caribbean, like the Saladoid culture, without mainland characteristics. New
evidence suggests the Ostionoides principally evolved out of the Casimiroid
people, the Archaic peoples who were the first settlers of
Cuba and Hispaniola. The Ostionoid people were farmers, potters, and
villagers, with a complex social system and a variety of ceramic styles.
650 A D, Ostionoids were the first people to settle on the island of Jamaica.
700s on, Indigenous people on the islands of the Greater Antilles , who had
arrived thousands of years earlier, began to adopt Ostionoid agricultural
practices using mounds and irrigation canals, and mixing garbage with the soil to
fertilize their mound gardens.
800 AD, Meillacan people and culture succeeded Ostionan people and
culture in Eastern Hispaniola and throughout the rich Cibao Valley of the island
of Hispaniola. They eventually followed their Os t ion oid ancestors into Cuba
1000-500 AD, a people called Troumassan Troumassoids by archaeologists,
whose culture evolved out of that of the Saladoides , made it as far as St.
Thomas, merged with Ostionoid people there, and were later called Eastern
By 1200 AD, Caribes (Kalinago) had begun to take over the islands of the
Lesser Antilles. They were warriors from the region of today’s Guyana, although
they cultivated yuca and planted using slash-and-burn. They killed and/or pushed
out the peaceful peoples who had formerly inhabited the islands of the Lesser
Antilles as they battled their way northwestward up the islands’ arc toward
today’s Greater Antilles.
700s - 950s AD , the Taíno Nation began to evolve. There was extensive assimilation
of culture among the many Indigenous peoples who by now inhabited the islands of
the Greater Antilles . For example, on the island of Cuba, which had been inhabited for
millennia, the first signs of pottery appeared in the 700s.
The various Indigenous
groups had different languages and hairstyles, some used small bows and arrows just
for fishing , while others had larger bows and arrows for hunting .
Some lived principally by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods, while others were
agricultural and sedentary. Some wore feathers in their hair, while among others only
kacikes did so.
They used different styles of body paint and different symbols. Some ate
arepas(a kind of cornbread), while others only ate boiled or roasted corn, preferring
casabe bread from yuca.
Some made more rustic pottery and carved items than others.
Some used slash-and-burn gardening techniques, while others built mounds and
irrigation canals.… Eventually, each Indigenous group in the Greater Antilles had
adopted the most efficient, the most practical techniques to improve their quality of life,
depending upon whether they lived along the ocean, mangrove swamps, rivers and
lakes, or in the mountains.
And they adopted artistic styles that they found the most
beautiful, to better please their ancestors and founder spirits. Additionally, most groups,
although they had their own cultures and languages, began to adopt aspects of Classic
Taíno culture, a uniquely Caribbean people who lived on Hispaniola, Puerto Rico,
southwestern Cuba, Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos, and Lucayos (today’s Bahamas).
1200 AD, Taíno culture in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico had begun evolving
around 950 AD, coalescing into Classic Taíno culture around 1200 AD. It was
characterized by a simplification of pottery and design styles , whose most
artistic examples are called Chican Ostionoid from their origins in Boca Chica,
just east of today’s Santo Domingo.
Most of these are distinguished by dual-faced images on their vessels’ handles
when seen from different points of view (try looking at them upside down). The
carved wooden vessels from Xaragua (today’s Port au Prince, Haiti) were also in
much demand as trade items for their utility and beauty of design.
culture is also noted for an intensification of agriculture (aquaculture,
multicropping, mounds, fertilization, and irrigation canals). This resulted in a
reduction of dependence on hunting and fishing, and concomitant population
increase (in part because of improved agricultural and fish farming methods),
with resulting expansion of both number and density of settlements, expansion of
settlements to Cuba, Jamaica, and up the Bahamian Archipelago, and
consistently more complex social organization and ceremony.
were considered to be the most advanced politically in the Caribbean—at the
core of their domain (Hispaniola and Puerto Rico), they were in a transitional
period between chiefdom and state-level societies (nations), while at their
peripheries they were in transition from tribal to chiefdom levels. They were also
the most advanced with regard to inter-Caribbean and mainland trade. In fact,
most other Indigenous groups around the Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean
appear to have learned to speak the language of the peoples we call Taíno
today, for they exchanged their wares among others on their own islands, among
the other islands of the Caribbean, and even among mainland peoples of Central
and Northern South America.
It was likely this trade that filtered some aspects of
advanced culture from the Maya and Aztec peoples into the Classic Taíno
In the 1200s, Igneri peoples to the west of Puerto Rico evolved a cultural
complex known as Western Taíno , and to the east of Puerto Rico, their cultural
complex was known as Eastern Taíno
700s to 1400s, the Macorix appear to have developed about the same time as
the Taíno, parallel to the Taíno, and locally, like the Taíno, principally living in
the region of today’s Cibao on Hispaniola and north to the region of Meillac in the
Republic of Haiti, for which a group of their forebears, the Meillican people and
culture, were named.
From the North Coast of Hispaniola, the Macorix spread to
Cuba, Jamaica, and the southeastern part of the island of Hispaniola.
By 1492 , then, there was a growing mixture of cultures among the various
Indigenous groups sharing the islands of the Greater Antilles, a clear indication that they
lived together in peace. Archaeologist William F. Keegan speculated that the rise of the
Classic Taíno “acted to break down regional cultural boundaries to promote a
unification of the material culture that was manifested as the Classic Taíno Culture”
(The People Who Discovered Columbus, pg. 17).
By 1492, however, the Kalinago , whom the Taíno called Caribs , had killed,
pushed out, and/or assimilated the earlier settlers of the islands of the Lesser
Antilles, up to today’s British Virgin Islands. War was a way of life for them as
they took over more and more islands. The Taino told Spaniards they were
cannibals, but we know today they were not, though it appears that they did eat
particular parts (heart, liver, kidneys) of those they killed in order to embody
their powers and show thanks for their sacrifice .
And they took Taíno women
as prisoners /wives to bear their babies—but didn’t eat them! By this time, the
Kalinago apparently had two languages—a men’s language and a women’s
August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus and his three ships, the Niña, Pinta , and
Santa María , with between 8 5 and 9 0 men , left the port of Palos de la
Frontera in Spain to find a sea route to India and the Orient.
On October 12, 1492, Columbus and his men landed on the island of Guanahaní
in today’s Bahamas and baptized it San Salvador. Guanahaní was not an island
off the coast of Asia, it was an island in the Caribbean Sea, off the Coast of
Central America—an entire continent of which Europeans had been totally
Columbus’s “discovery” was an event that has been hailed by
Europeans as one of the most important in human history, but it was the
beginning of disaster for the Indigenous peoples of the Americas
October 2 7-28 , 1492, Columbus explored the Northeast Coast of Cuba (he
baptized it Juana)
December 5, 1492, Columbus sailed along the Northwest Coast of the island he
baptized with the name Hispaniola.
December 12, 1492, Columbus wrote in his Diario (pgs. 217-221) that they captured
an Indian woman with a gold nose ring “ on Hispaniola, “which was a sign that there
was gold on that island.” The episode gave Spaniards a thirst for gold that could not be
December 25, 1492, Columbus’ flagship, the Santa María , was lost upon a reef
on Hispaniola’s North Coast.
The Taíno Kacike Guacanagarix ordered his
people to rescue everything lost, and they did so to the last nail. With the
materials from his flagship, Columbus ordered the construction of Fort La
Navidad (Christmas Fort) and left 39 men behind to collect gold while he sailed
back to Spain on the smallest of his ships, the Niña.
He promised to return within
a year. He took with him samples of gold and golden objects, pearls, as well as
some things that Europeans had never seen before, including tobacco, flowers
and herb samples, a basket of pineapples, a hammock, and ten Taíno men. It’s
important to note that Columbus gave the Taíno the highest praise, comparing
them, their cultivated plots, and their society favorably to those of Europeans.
wrote about the richness of “king” Guacanagarix, the prestige accorded to him,
and about how many people he commanded to carry and store the supplies
unloaded from the wreck of the Santa María. He treated Guacanagarix with the
same kind of deference he would have shown to any foreign monarch, giving him
expensive clothes and other high-status gifts, and entertaining Guacanagarix
aboard his ships. And he praised the fact that none of Guacanagarix’s people
attempted to abscond with any of the items carried off the ship, as Europeans
would have done (Columbus’s Diario, pgs. 276-303)….Europeans’ high regard
for the Taíno eroded over time, a relatively brief time.
January 13, 1493, as Columbus was leaving the island, on his way back to Spain
after his first voyage, he anchored in a bay where he met up with Natives of
Northeastern Hispaniola who seemed very different from the peaceful Taíno .
They wore their hair long, had large bows and arrows, and began to fight with
the Spaniards whom Columbus had sent to trade with them. He wrote in his diary
that they must have been Caribs , whom Taínos told him were vicious warriors
and cannibals. He named the bay, The Bay of Arrows. Later, Spanish chroniclers
wrote that along the Northeast Coast of Hispaniola (today’s Peninsula and Bay of
Samaná) there were Natives who were very different from the Taíno, less
pacific, with long hair in which they wore parrot feathers, painting different colors
on their skin than the Taíno did, and often painting themselves totally black.
They were not Caribs. Taíno called them Ciguayo for their long hair, but they
were Guanahatabey, descendants of the first people to populate the Caribbean
islands. Their language was an Arawak tongue and anthropologists have noted
that their art was similar to Boca Chican pottery, both of which were probably
adaptations over time through close contact with more recent Indigenous arrivals.
September 24, 1493, Columbus and 17 ships with more than 1, 2 00 men left Spain for
On their way , they visited, or just sighted and named, islands that
November 19, 1493, Columbus and his fleet landed on the island of Borinquen,
which he baptized Puerto Rico (Rich Port)
November 22, 1493, Columbus and his fleet returned to Hispaniola, where he
found out that all of the 39 men he had left behind at Fort La Navidad the
previous year had been murdered, supposedly by a Taíno kacike named
They were murdered because they raped many Taíno women, stole
golden items, ate far more than their share of food, and generally did not follow
the rules of Taíno society.
December 1493, not wishing to stay where all the dead bodies of their countrymen
were at Fort La Navidad, Columbus and his 17 ships sailed further west up the North
Coast of the island and founded La Isabela, named after his protector, Queen
Isabella I of in a beautiful bay protected by a barrier reef .
Hunger and disease soon
led the 1,200 noblemen who had accompanied Columbus to mutiny,
disillusionment, and continuing hunger and disease, plus the terror of the first two
hurricanes ever witnessed by Europeans, which struck La Isabela in 1494 and
1495. La Isabela was abandoned in 1496, in favor of a new settlement on the
South Coast, which today is Santo Domingo , capital of the Dominican Republic.
March 1494, Columbus led a march through the Cibao to put down minor rebellions
among the Taíno there (he did not distinguish one Indigenous group from another,
calling them all Taíno ) , who were upset at the Spaniards’ demands for food and gold,
and continuing abuse of their women. Columbus ordered the construction of a fort on
the Jánico River that he named Santo Tomás (the name was a riposte to those
Spaniards back at the royal court who didn’t think he’d find anything of value in The
Indies), where he left soldiers under the command of Alonso de Ojeda, one of his
lieutenants, to keep the peace.
Ojeda, however, did not respect the Taíno or their
social rules, and cut off the ear of one who was accused of stealing, a concept totally
foreign to Taíno , besides the fact that Spaniards had no right to judge the Taíno
people. The rebellions against Spaniards multiplied.
April 30 , 1494, Columbus made his second visit to the island he had previously
baptized with the name of Juana (today’s Cuba).
This time he explored the
South Coast and forced his crew to sign a document saying they had arrived on
a peninsula of Mainland China.
May 5, 1494, Columbus landed on Jamaica’s shore at Discovery Bay.
March of 1495, Admiral, Governor, and Viceroy of the Indies, Christopher
Columbus, plus one of his two brothers, Bartholomé , with 200 armored Spanish
infantrymen, 20 armored Spanish horsemen, 20 war dogs (greyhounds), and an
uncounted number of Taíno allies (the warriors of Kacike Guacanagaríx) left La
Isabela on the North Coast for the Cibao.
All of the most powerful kacikes of the
region—except Guacanagaríx--had joined together and were threatening to
attack not only Fort Santo Tomás, but La Isabela, too, with the aim of ridding
themselves of the demanding Spaniards. The battle that ensued at Santo Cerro
was the first major battle in history between American Indians and Europeans.
Both sides thought they had won (their rules of battle conduct were very
different) , but in fact the Taíno did eventually become the losers because
contact with so many Spaniards after the battle brought plagues into their region.
In March of 1496, Columbus left his brother Bartolomé in charge while he left
Hispaniola to explore other nearby islands, with Francisco Roldán assisting as
Chief Justice in La Isabela. Roldán and his men, however, rebelled against the
Columbus faction and went to Xaraguá, the richest of the five major Taíno
chiefdom's on the island, where they “married” into the nobility to gain the Taíno
s ’ labor services. These were informal arrangements , but to keep the peace,
Columbus was forced to approve their actions when he returned.
set the stage for the first crown-approved repartimientos , groups of Taínos
divided among Spaniards.
April-September 1496, Columbus left his younger brother Diego in charge, while
he left again to explore other islands near Hispaniola.
By this time, tempers
were rising among all the Spaniards whom Columbus had brought with him on
his second voyage. They resented Columbus and his brothers’ rule, considering
them to be “foreigners.”
Many of them had watched their friends die horribly of
hunger and dysentery in La Isabela, and they had quickly discovered that
Columbus had highly exaggerated how easy it was to accumulate gold —trade
with the Taíno , even in the chiefdom ruled by Columbus’s ally, Guacanagarix,
was rapidly reduced to a trickle, then to nothing. The Taínos ’ supply of golden
and gilded objects , which had been, after all, just one small category of
ceremonial and high status objects , quickly ran out.
Food supplies among the
Taíno also became scarce rapidly , since Spaniards ate so much more than
Taínos in a day by a factor of 8-to-1, and foods that had been brought from
Spain rotted in the tropical heat.
Famine and illness set in among both peoples.
The newly arrived Spaniards had discovered , however, that if they “married” a
high ranking Taíno woman, they could live the life of a Taíno noble . Those
Spaniards who could get away from La Isabela, spread out across the Cibao
seeking food and women—and of course, gold….
Many mestizo children were
born in this period, both through “marriage” to Taíno women and through rape.
1496, the Spanish gold mining town of San Cr istobal was established on the
South Coast, along the Río Haina, the area where Columbus thought he had
found the ancient gold mines of King Solomon.
Thousands of Taínos would die
here over the next two decades, mining gold for the Spaniards.
In 1496, Bartolomé Colón, one of Christopher Columbus’s two brothers ,
founded the city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán on the east bank of the Ozama
River. (It would be moved to the west bank by the new Governor Nicolás de
Ovando in 1502.)
Late 1496, Christopher Columbus visited the principal village of Xaraguá
(today’s Jaragua in the Republic of Haiti) and negotiated tribute payments of food
and cotton with its kacike and his sister, Bohechío and Anaka on a. Two months
later , he returned to collect the first of the tribute and took the kacike and his sister for a short sail on his ship.
March 10, 1496, Columbus returned to Spain in two ships (one filled with more than 200
angry colonists) to seek more money and supplies to fortify his colony.
He also carried
back 30 Taínos to sell into slavery, including one kacike (who died at sea). He left his
brother Bartol o m é in charge at La Isabela.
May 30, 1498, two years later, Columbus left Spain for his third voyage with a fleet of
He sent three to Hispaniola with supplies and led the other three on a trip of
exploration to Tierra Firme, the mainland .
July 31, 1498, while sailing toward the island that Columbus baptized Trinidad, he and
his crews first saw Terra Firme . They entered The Dragon’s Mouth, a series of straits
that separates the Gulf of Paria from the Caribbean Sea along the shore of today’s
Trinidad, then anchored near Soldado Island, a small island off today’s Trinidad.
August 2, 1498, after making contact with a group of South American Indians in
canoes, Columbus landed at Punta de Arena (today’s Icacos Point) on Trinidad
From August 4 through August 12, 1498, he explored the Gulf of Paria , then
explored the mainland of South America, including the Orinoco River Delta.
also sighted and named the islands of Bella Forma (Tobago) and Concepción
August 19, 1498, Columbus and his three ships returned to Hispaniola , only to find that
the Spaniards there were furious about the lack of riches promised by Columbus, and
complaining mightily about his poor judgement as Governor and Viceroy of the region .
August 23, 1500, Francisco de Bobadilla arrived to replace 49-year-old Columbus as
governor of Hispaniola because of all the complaints against Columbus from colonists
who had returned to Spain .
October 1, 1500, Bobadilla sent Columbus to Spain in chains, along with his two
brothers, Bartolomé and Diego. They were released by Queen Isabella, who funded a
fourth voyage, but took away Columbus’ position as Governor and Viceroy of the Indies
, and warned him not to return to Hispaniola .
September 3, 1501, in Spain, Queen Isabella officially appointed Knight Commander
Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres as the 3rd Governor of the Indies, to replace Bobadilla.
February 13, 1502, the newly appointed Governor Ovando sailed to Hispaniola from
Spain with a fleet of 30 ships, and approximately 2,500 colonists—the largest fleet that
had ever sailed to the New World.
Along with the governor came the young Bartolomé
de las Casas , Francisco Pizarro, Diego de Nicuesa, Lucas Vazquez de Aylló n, and 13
Franciscan friars led by Fray Alonso de Espina r to convert the Taíno to Christianity….
The sheer mass of 2,500 new Spanish arrivals, as well as new African arrivals , and
more imported horses, cows, goats, and chickens, brought a n even fiercer wave of
diseases to the Natives of the island than those they had suffered since 1492 .
In April 1502, compounding the new wave of diseases, upon his arrival, the new
governor found the Taínos in revolt.
would spend the next three years, along with his lieutenants, Juan Ponce de
León and Juan de Esquivel, ruthlessly suppressing those revolts and putting the
Taínos under Spanish domination. Hundreds of thousands of Natives would die
during his brief rule because of the massacres he ordered to reduce the Native
They also died while working in the Royal Crown’s gold mines as well
as the gold mines of their Spanish encomenderos, but especially from the
diseases that hit the Taíno children and elders especially hard.
May 12, 1502, Columbus, along with his son Fernando and his brother Bartolomé, left
Spain with four ships on the Admiral’s fourth and final voyage to The Indies, where he
was to search for a passage westward from what we now know as the Atlantic to the
Columbus was 51 years old, wracked with arthritis, having trouble with
his eyesight, and reputed to be going a little crazy.
June 15, 1502, Columbus landed on the island of Martinique, but decided to sail on to
Hispaniola because a hurricane was forming.
June 29, 1502, Columbus anchored in the port of Santo Domingo on the Río Ozama,
where 28 ships—the first Spanish treasure fleet —were preparing to set sail for Spain.
Columbus warned the new governor, Nicolás de Ovando, that a hurricane was coming,
but was laughed at (“ Now he thinks he can foretell the weather!”) and was denied
shelter in the port because the Royal Crown had decreed he was not to set foot ever
again on Hispaniola. He sheltered his ships in a small river to the east. The treasure
fleet left and headed directly into the hurricane. Twenty-seven of the 28 ships were lost
at sea , including the ship that was carrying Francisco de Bobadilla back to Spain.
one and only ship that survived and made it to Spain contained all of Columbus’s
fortune and belongings.
Mid- 1502, Governor Ovando moved the city of Santo Domingo de Guzmán to the west
bank of the Río Ozama after a hurricane and earthquake severely damaged the original
site on the east bank.
Mid - 1502, one of Ovando’s most heinous acts was the massacre of the Taínos of
Xaraguá, where Kacike Bohechío had died from one of the new diseases, and his
sister Anakaona had become the highest ranking Taíno on the island, for she was
now the k acik e not only of Xaraguá, but also of Maguana after her husband
Caonabó’s death at sea.
Ovando pretended to make a friendly visit to her principal
yuca yeke (residential area) in today’s Port-Au-Prince, along with a large contingent of
his mounted knights, whereupon he corralled 80 + of her most powerful leaders and
advisors, and ordered them all burned alive. He then ordered his men to kill the rest of
her people by sword—including the elderly, women, and children.
He had Anakaona
taken prisoner to Santo Domingo.
July 30, 1502, Columbus saw the Central American Coast for the first time. He
arrived in the Bay Islands off the coast of today’s Honduras, where he spoke with
the Native occupants of a huge dugout boat ( Taínos called it a piragua ) filled
with rowers, supplies, and trade goods. Among those trade goods were cacao
(cocoa) seeds for making chocolate , which were used as money on the
mainland and had never before been seen by Europeans.
August 14, 1502, Columbus landed on the American mainland at Puerto Castilla, near
today’s Trujillo, Honduras . He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras,
Nicaragua , and Costa Rica .
October 16, 1502, Columbus anchored in Almirante Bay, Panama , where he learned
from the Ngobe Indians about gold and a strait to another ocean.
( The Noble or
Guami are from today’s Panama and Costa Rica. ) Thus began the search for a
passage through the continent to the Pacific Ocean.
Late 1502, Governor Ovando ordered the brutal massacre of Natives in Higüey,
the last of the five principal Taíno chiefdoms to capitulate to the Spaniards.
Higüey had been only infrequently visited by Spaniards except for those who
came by ship to nearby Saona Island, where Taínos had been doing a lively
business trading with Spaniards seeking casabe bread (much tastier and more
nutritious than the moldy and insect-infested ship’s bread imported from Spain). It
all began when a Spanish captain named Salamanca, while trading for casabe,
responded to a dare.
He sicced his ferocious war dog upon a nearby Taíno , and
the dog tore out the intestines of what turned out to be an important kacike of the
region. This incident caused a revolt among the Taínos there, which Ovando
used as an excuse to have his lieutenant, Juan de Esquivel, and 300-400 newly
arrived Spaniards, wipe out most of the Taínos in Higüey.
The Kacike of Higüey,
Cotubanamá, fled, but was eventually discovered and killed by Esquivel, despite
the fact that the two of them had bonded in the solemn Taíno ceremony of
guatiao…. Bartolomé de las Casas, recently arrived on Hispaniola, witnessed
many of the atrocities committed against the Taíno men, women, and children of
Higüey, which would eventually lead him to become the Spanish Royal Protector
of the Indians.
January 1503, Columbus built a small fort at the mouth of the Río Belén, in today’s
Panama, where he and his men were attacked by the local Indians, led by a kacike
named El Quibían.
Early 1503, Anakaona was still being held prisoner by order of Gov. Ovando. He had
her hanged on a trumped- up charge of planning treason against the Spaniards.
It is believed that the hanging took place in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo
where Parque Duarte stands today.
Early 1503, a year after he arrived on Hispaniola, Governor Ovando wrote a now
famous letter to the Spanish King and Queen requesting that no more African slaves be
sent to the island because “they flee to the mountains, teaching bad manners to the
Indians, and cannot be recaptured.” What he meant was that both the African slaves
and Taínos were fleeing to peripheral regions of the island, as well as to other islands
and the mainland, at least as early as 1503.
They would later become the rebel
mixed-blood people known as cimarrones (“maroons” in English), a term the
Spaniards first applied to feral pigs.
June 25, 1503. It was the end of Columbus’s 4
th and final voyage. He had to beach
his worm-eaten ships at St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, where the local Taínos fed
them—for a while.
December 20, 1503, Queen Isabella, who was looked upon as both Columbus’s
and the Taínos ’ champion, officially authorized the repartimiento
(distribution/division) or encomienda system, which divided all Taínos on
Hispaniola “for their own good,” into groups that were distributed among the
Spanish colonists there.
The encomenderos (the Spaniards into whose hands
the Taínos were commended) were under oath to make sure their Taínos were
clothed, fed, and Christianized—which meant forcing them to adopt Catholicism
and adapt to Spanish social norms—in exchange for their labor. These
commended Taínos could not be sold or willed to anyone. They were “protected
servants” of the Royal Crown, who could take them away from one encomendero
and given to another at the will of the king or queen.
In part, the uncertainty of
how long they would be able to reap the rewards of having the Taínos
commended their care, caused the encomenderos to overwork them, underfeed
them, and otherwise exploit and mistreat them.
1503 on, from the moment that Taínos were placed into the encomienda system,
reducing them to a social status equivalent to European peasants or even to that of
slaves, is when multiple reports and letters back to Spain from The Indies began more
and more frequently to refer to the Taínos as “primitives,” “barbarians,” and as less
than human. Instead of finding the Indians “ripe for conversion,” Spaniards began to
describe them as “without religion” or said to practice “demon worship.” And instead of
praising the Taínos ’ disregard of personal wealth and material possessions, Spaniards
began to use this as proof of their irrationality.
In 1503 , the first license granted by the Spanish Crown authorizing the capture
and sale of “cannibals” was issued to the Archduke of Austria and the Dukes of
Borgoña, European nobles of the highest order. Since no one knew for certain
which Indians were cannibals, it not only led to horrible abuses against the
Kalinago (Caribs), but against all Indians who could not immediately be
identified as Taíno.
Six years later, in 1509, the Spanish Crown granted similar
licenses to Governor Ovando and to the Royal Treasurer of Hispaniola, Miguel
de Pasamonte, the two highest royal officials on the island, increasing the danger
to all Caribbean and Circum-Caribbean Indians. In 1511, the field was opened for
anyone to capture cannibals and enslave them, because enslaving them and
converting them to Catholicism was considered far better for their spiritual
welfare than letting the Indigenous people live as cannibals and going to Hell
when they died.
February 29, 1504. Columbus and his crews were still stranded on Jamaica and the
local Taíno were refusing to feed them. (It is said that one Spaniard eats what eight
Taínos eat in a day.) Columbus pretended he would take away the sun if they did not
continue to provide food, “proving” he could do so by pretending to cause a solar
eclipse that he knew from his charts was going to take place.
June 29, 1504, a year after Columbus’s ships were stranded in Jamaica, help arrived
from Hispaniola because Diego Mendez, long loyal to Columbus and his family, and
from Jamaica paddled in a canoe to Santo Domingo.
Columbus, his son
Fernando, his brother Bartolomé, and their crew members were returned directly
In 1504, Governor Ovando expropriated private pit-style gold mines on
Hispaniola, all of which became royal gold mines.
Individuals could, however,
stake out and own “ gold mines'' along river courses where gold flakes had
washed down from the high mountain slopes , or the mines in old, dry
waterbeds among the high mountain slopes, or even at the foot of mountains.
Occasionally , large nuggets were found, some of them very large, which fired
the first American gold rush. Both Taíno males and females worked in the royal
gold mines (under Taíno rule, only men had been able to seek gold). It was
excruciatingly hard work, and all Taínos were required to cover their nakedness
by wearing European clothes.
Jackets, shirts, cloaks, and hats were part of the
“salary” they earned for mining gold.
May 20, 1506. Columbus , now in his 50s , never saw the New World again after
arriving back in Spain in 1504. He died in Valladolid, Spain , but the events he had set
in motion have continued to negatively affect the Indigenous peoples of the
Caribbean and the rest of the Americas to the present day .
1506. Hernando Cortés took part in the conquest of the Indigenous peoples of both
Hispaniola and Cuba , for which he received an estate in Cuba.
August 8, 1508, Caparra, the first European colony on the island that the Taíno
called Borinquen, which Columbus baptized with the name San Juan Bautista (later
called Puerto Rico for its capital and main port) , was founded by Juan Ponce de
León , one of Columbus’ lieutenants .
Ponce de León had been chosen by the
Spanish Crown to lead the conquest and enslavement of the Taíno Indians on the
island and to use them as laborers to expand royal gold mining establishments there .
A year later, he abandoned Caparra and moved his capital to the port , which became
known as San Juan de Puerto Rico. Ponce de León was officially appointed to the
position in 1509, Queen Isabella had Governor Nicolás de Ovando brought back to
Spain to stand trial for his brutal treatment of the Taíno .
He died two years later. The
queen appointed Christopher Columbus’s elder son, Diego Colón (known by his
Spanish surname) , as Ovando’s successor, not because of what his father had done
for the crown, but because of Diego’s position as the husband of Doña María de
Toledo, the granddaughter of García Álvarez de Toledo, 1st Duke of Alba , and the
niece of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Duke of Alba , both of whom were King
1509, Lieutenant Juan de Esquivel “settled” Jamaica for Governor Diego Colón.
1510 . More and more Spaniards from Hispaniola had been arriving and colonizing
Cuba, which caused Indian uprisings, led by Hatüey, a kacike who had fled Hispaniola
with 300-400 of his people.
He warned the Natives of Cuba about the treacherous
Spaniards and began fighting his own guerilla war against them, eventually attracting
more rebel Indians to his cause.
June 21, 1511, royal orders were issued to prohibit the taking of any Indian
slaves to Spain, and seven months later (o n February 22, 1512) the same order
was reissued, adding that no Indians were to be taken from Hispaniola, Puerto
Rico, or Jamaica.
Obviously the newly settled islands were losing Indians at a
rapid rate from overwork, starvation, and from exposure to the diseases that
were brought to their islands along with Spaniards, Africans, and their animals,
diseases to which the Indigenous peoples had none of the immunities that
Europeans, Africans, and Asians had acquired over thousands of years of
intercontinental trade of both merchandise and diseases, trade that did not
include the Americas.
Advent, 1511, the recently arrived friars of the Dominican Order of Preachers, who were
horrified at Spaniards’ horrible treatment of the islands ’ Indians, chose Friar Antonio
de Montesinos to preach the Advent sermon.
“I am the voice of one crying in the
wilderness...” (John 1:23), he began. “I am the voice of Christ crying out in the desert of
this island. Therefore, it would do you well to listen with all your heart to this voice which
will be the most novel, the sharpest, the toughest, the most shocking and dangerous
voice you have ever heard. You live and die in mortal sin for the cruelty and tyranny
done against these innocent peoples.
With what right and by which justice do you hold
these Indians in such horrible servitude? With what authority do you carry out such
detestable wars against the people of these lands–people so meek and peaceful? How
can you hold these peoples so oppressed and fatigued? You kill them in order to
acquire your precious gold every day. Are these not human beings? Are you not obliged
to love them as you love yourselves? ” (Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice
in the Conquest of America , pg. 17.)
Montesinos gave yet another fierce
anti-encomienda sermon the following week, and although he was ordered to retract
what he had preached, he refused , and was sent back to Spain.
He died before there was any real change in the treatment of the Indigenous people of
the newly discovered Americas, but Montesinos’ sermon has been called the first cry for
freedom in the Americas…. Although Bartolomé de las Casas did not personally hear
either of Montesinos’ two sermons, they and the atrocities he saw against the Indians of
Cuba in later years affected him so deeply that he freed his commended Indians and
became a Dominican Friar, devoting the rest of his life to protecting the Indians across
1511 . Puerto Rico’s supreme kacike,Agüeybana, along with a minor kacike
named Urayoán, sent some of their warriors to lure a Spaniard by the name of
Diego Salcedo into a river, where they drowned him. They watched carefully over
Salcedo's body to make sure that he would not come back to life. Salcedo's
death convincedAgüebana and the rest of the Taíno people of Borinquen that
Spaniards were not immortal.
Agüeybana died, and Agüeybaná II (who was
responsible for the peaceful relationship between Taínos and Spaniards on
Puerto Rico, a peace that Spaniards quickly broke) became the Taínos’ principal
leader on the island.
1511 Rebellion on Puerto Rico . Agüeybaná II, now certain that Spaniards were mortal
, and angry at how much land they were claiming as their own, as well as by the
brutal encomienda system that was turning his people into slaves, met with other
kacikes to organize a revolt against the Spaniards . Cristobal de Sotomayor sent a spy,
Juan González, to one of those meetings, where he learned the Taínos’plans.
Nonetheless,Agüeybana II was able to execute Sotomayor and his men, and wounded
Juan González, who escaped and reported the killings to Ponce de León.Guarionex, the
Kacike of Utuado, attacked Sotomayor’s village (today’s Aguada) and killed 80 of its
Ponce de León then led the Spaniards in a series of offensives against the
Taino Over the next two years (18 offensives in 1512 and 23 in 1513!) that culminated
in the Battle of Yagüecas.
In 1514 and 1515, most of the remaining Taíno nobles were
pursued so relentlessly that they fled to islands of the Lesser Antilles, though occasional
attacks against the Spaniards lasted through 1529.
1511. Diego Colón, the new Governor and Viceroy of the Indies, sent soldiers
(including Hernando Cortés) to “settle” the Natives of Cuba ( Ciboney, Guanahatabey
, and Taíno peoples ), and appointed Diego Velázquez as governor of the island .
Velázquez’s capital was at Baracoa , in what became Guantanamo Province.
February 2, 1512. Hatüey, the kacike from Hispaniola who was leading the Native
revolts in Cuba, was captured and burned at the stake. Bartolomé de las Casas, by the
a friar of the Dominican Order , attempted to convert Hatüey to Catholicism before the
flames consumed him , so that he could go to Heaven. When Hatüey asked him if there
were Spaniards in Heaven, and Las Casas answered yes, Hatüey said he did not want
to go there , and died horribly, engulfed in flames, rather than convert .
It was yet
another event that led to Las Casas’ later appointment as Royal Protector of the
Indians. Today Hatüey is looked up to as the first guerilla warrior in Cuba and as its first
martyr for independence.
June 5, 1512, a royal writ to Governor Diego Colón ordered him to give the Dominican
Friars on Hispaniola fifteen Indian boys, clothing for them, and enough money for their
travel to Seville so that they would be educated and indoctrinated in Christian ways.
They would then be sent back to their encomiendas and another fifteen Indian boys
sent to Seville in their place, etc. Another royal writ one month later (July 27, 1512)
ordered Colón to provide ships, Indian interpreters, and whatever else may be required
“every time the provincial of the Order of San Francisco on Hispaniola deems it
necessary” to send friars to the mainland and the other islands in order to teach
commended Indians there.
December 27, 1512, in response to the complaints of the Dominican Friars on
Hispaniola, Fray Antonio de Montesinos in particular, the Spanish Crown
enacted the Laws of Burgos, that specified that: the Natives of Hispaniola were
vassals of the Crown and were not to be used as beasts of burden, must be
supplied with minimum allowances of red meat, were not to be beaten or
whipped, nor addressed as “dog” nor by any other name than their own. Special
provisions were made to protect pregnant women, orphans, and all children
under the age of 14….
Of course, having to specify these prohibitions against
such treatment, means that Taínos were being treated that way and were not
being given the quantity of meat that Spaniards considered substantial.
The Repartimiento of 1514. In that year, Rodrigo de Albuquerque was appointed by the
Spanish Crown to make a new division of the Taínos who remained on Hispaniola.
Included in his orders was permission to concede the encomienda grants for the life of
the encomendero and one heir, son or daughter.
" The new divisions were intended to
appease the Dominican Friars’ complaints about Spanish abuses of the Taínos ,
protecting the Taínos by placing them with encomenderos who, supposedly, were
better disposed and better able to care for them, stopping the precipitous decline of the
Indian population , and maintaining the rates of gold shipments and royal profits. Most
of the Indians were moved and re-settled into villages nearer the royal gold mines
—which broke their ancient bonds to their former lands and disoriented them, most
likely on purpose, to make them more dependent and make them conform more rapidly
to Christian religious and social standards.
1514, the census that accompanied the Repartimiento of 1514 has provided a
“window” into the island’s socio-economic structure at that time. All of the
encomenderos are listed by name and marital status. The commended Indians
are listed by categories that include kacikes and other nobles acting as kacikes
— the census lists them by name.
The census also includes males and females
of working age (fourteen and up), old Indians who were too old to work in mining,
“attached” Indian workers (from disintegrated Indian communities who were
seeking to work under new kacikes), and Indians who were not responsible to
any particular kacike.
The eight regions located near royal mines (Concepción
de la Vega, Santiago de los Caballeros, Puerto Plata, Azua, Bonao,
Buenaventura, Puerto Real, and San Juan de la Maguana) received 13,578 of
the newly commended Indians.
Adding the 7,262 Indians relocated to Santo
Domingo, most of whom were sent out to work the gold mines, fully 79.6% of the
26,189 Indians who were recommended in 1514 were for the gold mines . A few
learned trades such as carpentry, shoe making, tailoring or blacksmithing, some
worked as manual laborers in construction, in building and road maintenance,
and inter-island and intra-colony shipping and transportation, but most were gold
1514, living in closer contact with Spaniards, all those Taínos
who were commended to Spaniards were more and more exposed to the newly
imported diseases to which they had no immunities.
Perhaps even more problematical
for the Taínos is that, disoriented, detached from their relatives and former kacikes,
forced into unaccustomed labor roles, unaccustomed clothing, and into eating
unaccustomed foods, they were more and and more seen from a European perspective
as being childlike, gullible, and weak.
1514, the Repartimiento Census has been used by many historians to “prove” that
there were only 26,189 Taínos left on Hispaniola by 1514, but it must be remembered
that the census did not count children too young to be put to work, women who had
married Spaniards (the census showed that 40% of the Spaniards living on the island at
that time had taken Taíno wives!),
so that both they and their mestizo children were
now counted as “Spaniards . ” Nor did the census include all those Taínos who had
run away to peripheral regions and other islands since 1503 and earlier , and their
You cannot count those who are hiding from you!
April 2, 1513, Juan Ponce de León landed on the eastern coast of what he believed to
be a large island and baptized it La Florída.
August 25, 1514 or 1515 (sources differ) . San Cristóbal d e Havana was
founded by Diego V ázquez, the island’s governor, and named by Pánfilo de
Narváez after the local Indian K acike Habaguanex , as mentioned by Diego
Velasquez in his report to the king of Spain.
151 7 -1521, Governor Vásquez of Cuba sent two expeditions under Hernando
Cortés into the Aztec Empire of today’s Mexico, where the discovery of the
gold-and-silver rich kingdoms and hundreds of thousands of Indians turned the
focus of Spaniards’ attention away from the Caribbean to the mainland.
April 5, 1517, the Jeronymite monks , who had been sent to remedy the quickly
decreasing Indigenous population on Hispaniola, sent a report to the Royal
Crown of Spain wherein they had gathered together information from fourteen of
the island’s most important residents in order to decide whether the Indians
should be freed and moved into villages controlled by clergy, or left in the charge
of their encomenderos.
The document is called the Jeronymite Interrogator and
is an excellent source on how Spaniards and Hispaniola viewed the Taínos
after 25 years of dominating them. One of the witnesses testified that the Indians
“had some manner of reason regarding the things of the island” before Spaniards
arrived, but that he had met “none who have the ability to live as Spaniards and
other nations do.” Most of the other witnesses testified that the Indians were “lazy
, ” “enemies of work,” “liars,” “drunkards,” “had to be forced to be clothed,” and
were “inclined only to vices.” Remember, however, that these fourteen
witnesses were trying to convince the Jeronymites to leave the Indians with their
December 151 8 -January 151 9 , the Indians living in close contact with
Spaniards on Hispaniola were hard hit by the first smallpox outbreak in the New
World. It was carried there by an African slave in the party led by Pánfilo de
Narváez, who anchored in Santo Domingo for supplies when he was en route to
stop Hernando Cortés’ invasion of the Yucatán, since it had not been approved
by Cuba’s governor. The epidemic spread from Hispaniola to the other
Caribbean islands, and then on t o Mexico, where it played a major role in
Cortés’ successful conquest of the Aztecs.
Earlier bouts of swine flu, measles,
chicken pox, typhus, and an assortment of respiratory illnesses, plus malaria and
yellow fever when Africans slaves were shipped directly from Africa, had already
decimated the islands’ Indigenous populations. Together with the new disease,
smallpox, these “Virgin Soil Epidemics” were the principal “murderers” of the
Indigenous populations of the Americas. As many as two-thirds of the Indians
who remained under Spanish domination on Hispaniola were wiped out by the
smallpox epidemic of 151 8 -1 9 .
December 17, 1519. The first Catholic mass in Havana took place under a
ceiba tree, the tree that was sacred to the Taínos .
1519-1533. Anakaona’s nephew , the Kacike Guarokuyá ( most scholars
believe this was his Taíno name, but it has never been confirmed), was taken
by the Franciscan Friars as a child and baptized Enriquillo (Little Henry) , taught
to speak, read, and write Castilian, and raised at the Franciscan Monastery in
Santo Domingo as a Christian. Once loyal to the Spaniards, h e began a
rebellion in 1519, when mutually beneficial negotiations between Spanish
encomenderos and the remaining Taíno elites on Hispaniola were being set
aside in favor of the importation of African slaves.
Enriquillo’s rebellion lasted 14
long years, during which hundreds of other runaways, both Indigenous and
African, joined him. They hid out in the desert and mountains of Bahoruco, where
the vast salt lake there is now called Lago Enriquillo. Spanish troops could not
capture him. Finally the Spanish King sent Francisco de Barionnuevo to end his
rebellion, but instead of fighting Enriquillo, Barionnuevo negotiated a truce with
The document ensuring peace between Enriquillo and Spaniards was
signed with Enriquillo’s own hand in 1533—it was the first peace treaty in history
between an American Indian chief and a European monarch.
By the 1520s, it is clear that the Taínos’ socio-political structure in the Greater
Antilles had been all but destroyed within the first two decades of the
“Encounter” with Spaniards . Spanish chroniclers, however, mistook the Taínos’
political disintegration for their complete social, cultural, economic, and political
capitulation. But that was definitely not the case.
1520, letters dated July 6 and November 13 that were sent to the Spanish
Crown by the Hieronymite monks recommended that, in order to keep the
colonies solvent, money and equipment must be sent to build and maintain
cane sugar plantations.
The governor, Rodrigo de Figueroa, agreed and wrote
his own petitions, reporting that 40 ingenios (the word referred to the entire
cane sugar complex, including land, fields, workers, housing, mills, and cooking
processes) were already under construction…. Easily mined gold was running
out, and a new economic era was about to be born in the Caribbean. But sugar
required many laborers.
Although the Spaniards on Hispaniola would continue to
use Indians as laborers in the sugar ingenios , just as they had in the gold
mines, they would start bringing in more and more African slaves.
December 25, 1521, the first major African slave rebellion in the Americas took place at
the cane sugar plantation to the northwest of Santo Domingo named New Isabela and
owned by Governor Diego Colón.
Twenty Wolof slaves from the Cape Verde region of
Africa , and at least another 20 African slaves that they convinced to join them, “had the
audacity and effrontery of committing many crimes and excesses,” according to a new
set of laws promulgated just two weeks later, on January 6, 1522—new orders to
owners of African slave s that were aimed at preventing any future slave rebellions.
Only six of the 40+ African rebels were caught. The rest appear to have joined
Enriquillo’s rebellion, centered out of the mountains of Bahoruco.
After Mexico’s conquest, Havana , Cuba, replaced Santo Domingo as the
principal port for fleets returning to Spain, putting an end to Spaniards’ desire to
live on Hispaniola . The island became a “backwater” where
mixed-blood-peoples (Indian, African, and European) became predominant.
1521- 1535. Spanish colonists fled Cuba for mainland territories in New Spain
(Mexico) and, in 1535, the entire Spanish political system in The Indies was
reorganized, ending Santo Domingo’s political domination. Only the justice
system, headed by the three judges of the Real Audiencia, who held sway over
all Spanish territories in the Americas, remained in place in Santo Domingo.
Spanish administrators in New Spain now ruled over Hispaniola, Puerto Rico,
Cuba, Jamaica, and the other Caribbean islands, with the help of local
1524. After Cuba’s Spanish Governor died, Kacike Guamá led a 10-year series
of bloody insurrections .
November 9, 1526, the Spanish Crown directed the judges of the Real Audiencia
on Hispaniola to look for “the principal Indians” and send them to Spain for
instruction in the Catholic faith; the same instructions were sent to officials of the
other Spanish colonies….
More indoctrination, but evidence that there were still
Indians on the islands in the post-smallpox decade .
November 17, 1526, a 12-part royal provision called The 1526 Laws of Granada
was issued, generated by growing pressure from the Pope in Rome, detailing the
Christian manner by which the Indians’ must be treated by Spaniards . Part 10
specified that Indians could work in the gold mines of their own free will.
December 8, 1526, a royal writ decreed that the Indians of Hispaniola, Puerto
Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica were no longer obligated to work in the gold mines.
Obviously Part 10 of The Laws of Granada was not being followed, or there
would be no need to issue this additional write
1530, a census taken on Hispaniola of the workers on 19 of the island’s cane
sugar ingenios mentions only a few Indians, except for five ingenios on the Río
Nigua, which together had 200 Indians, but more than 700 unspecified “others”
also appear on the census.
Mind you, censuses of the time had only three
categories for workers: Indians, African slaves, and Spaniards. There were no
categories for mestizos until 1584 !
1530. A government census in 1530 for Puerto Rico reports the existence of only
1,148 Taíno s remaining on the island . Again, the census did not count those Taíno
women who had married Spaniards (the census showed that 20% of the Spaniards
living i n Puerto Rico had married Taíno women), and the census did not count their
offspring, nor those Taínos whom they could not count, since they had fled to the
mountainous regions of the island.
1530. By this time , the Indian rebellion in Cuba was on the rise. Kacike
Guamá is said to have had more than 50 warriors—including his “warrior wife”
Casiguaya— and “pacified” Indians were constantly joining his rebellion (similar
to the Enriquillo Rebellion on the island of Hispaniola).
Battles principally took
place in the eastern forested area of Cagua, near Baracoa, but also in the south
and west , in the Sierra Maestra mountains .
1529-1533, other kacikes whose names were recorded in the documents from
Hispaniola who rebelled and joined Enriquillo included Ciguayo (reported by
Spaniards to have up to 80 Indian warriors and to have raided haciendas,
mines, and cane sugar ingenios in Concepción de la Vega, Puerto Real, and
Santiago), Tamayo ( a mestizo who became one of Enriquillo’s lieutenants and
raided haciendas around Puerto Real and Lares de Guahaba), and Hernando el
Tuerto (he and his warriors raided the region between Bonao and Buenaventura
before he was killed by Spaniards in 1533).
1532 -1534 , Spanish officials reported that Enriquillo and his warriors (by now Indians,
Africans, and mestizos) were terrorizing Spaniards not just near Bahoruco, but as far
away as Puerto Real, on the North Coast, where they killed 12 people, including the
wife of a Spaniard and his children.
In an attempt to put an end to the rebellion, which
had now lasted 13 long years, during which time Enriquillo had gathered more and more
runaway Indians and Africans to his side, Emperor Charles sent Francisco
Barrionnuevo and 200 professional soldiers from Spain. Barrionnuevo, however, after
months of scouting out the situation, decided it was better to negotiate peace with
Enriquillo than to fight him and his many warriors .
The final peace negotiations were
carried out in Azua in 1534. As previously mentioned, Enriquillo signed the peace treaty
himself, the very first peace treaty between an American Indian chief and a European
monarch…. The Taíno , kacike Enriquillo died a year later.
1532. An Indian who was captured by the Spaniards said that Guamá’s brother in
Cuba, Oliguama (also spelled Holguoma) , murdered the rebel kacike by burying an
axe in his forehead while he slept , because he’d had intimate relations with
1533, another census of workers on 23 of Hispaniola’s cane sugar ingenios lists
only 200 Indians compared to 1,880 African slaves ; however, it also lists 1,525
persons of unspecified category, many of whom the census taker said were
1533 -1540 .
Guam á’s death, combined with the killing and scattering of most of his
warriors , put an end to Indigenous resistance in Cuba, except for the rebel Indian
Brizuela of Baitiquiri, who continued to rebel against the Spaniards until 1540.
May 29, 1537, the Pope issued an Apostolic Brief “to proceed with censures against
those who make slaves of the Indians and take them to their haciendas, even if they are
1540s, census records and other documents from Hispaniola show that many
residents still had hundreds of Indian workers in this decade, even though
directly after the smallpox plague of late 1517/early 1518, the same residents
had petitioned the crown for African slaves because they claimed that their
Indians “were all gone.”
1542, Bartolomé de las Casas’ persuasive letters and presentations at the
Royal Court of Spain about all of the horrifying abuses committed against the
Indians of “ the New World ” colonies finally convinced Emperor Charles to
promulgate the New Laws of 1542 , which essentially eliminated the
encomienda system and freed Indians across all of his expanding empire, which
caused riots among the Spanish encomenderos, especially in Peru.
In order to
prevent his losing many of his most important income-producing ventures in his
American Empire, Emperor Charles had to recall th e New Laws 10 years later
(in 1552) and produce a very watered-down set of “protection” laws that did not
really protect the Indians at all.
1543, document after document recorded in Roberto Marté’s Santo Domingo en
los manuscritos de Juan Bautista Muñóz , Vol . 1, reflects that both African
slaves and Indians were working side by side in the mines, despite all the
Spanish royal writs and proclamations of the 1520s through 1540s that Indians
were no longer obliged to do so.
April 24, 1545, Alonso López de Cerrato sought royal sanction to “protect” the
Indians who worked for him because those who had been set free “were walking
about ” as vagrants.
1545, a report sent to the Spanish Emperor Charles from the incoming governor
of Hispaniola, Alonso de Fuenmayor, gave details about the same 23 ingenios
from the censuses of 1533 and 1530, plus 6 more new ingenios . Instead of the
numbers of Indians being lower than in the 1530s, they were higher! He reported
3,327 Africans, 4,925 Indians, and 700+ unspecified workers among the 29
March 7, 1548, in a letter sent from the Spanish administrator Alonso López de Cerrato
in Santo Domingo, he wrote that, in this city “everyone sells Indians like Negroes,
especially indias for mistresses.”
1550, the first cacao (cocoa) for making chocolate is believed to have been
brought to Europe from the Americas, although Christopher Columbus had first
seen it in 1502.
1555, four entire “ pueblos of Indians about which no one [previously] knew ”
were discovered by Spaniards on Hispaniola, two near Puerto Plata on the North
Coast, one in the Samaná Peninsula, and one on the northwestern cape, Cabo
San Nicolás , in today’s Republic of Haiti.
All of these were in peripheral areas
by the 1550s, outside Spanish control. The discovery of these four pueblos
suggests that, as the island became depopulated ( those Spaniards who could
do so either moved back to Spain or to new colonies in Mexico and Peru, where
there was lots of silver and gold, and tens of thousands of Indians to do their
bidding ), the remaining Spaniards pulled back to settle closely in and around
This left fertile, well- watered lands where Taínos once thrived
open for the cimarrones (runaway Indians, Africans, and mestizos) to resettle
instead of the deserts, mountains, and other peripheral regions where they had
remained hidden for two generations …. These mixed-blood/mixed- culture
runaways and their children gave birth to the Haitians and Dominicans of the
island today , with their Taíno genetic and cultural foundations, overlaid with
African and European components.
From the mid- 1500s through mid-1900s — throughout 4 0 0 long years— there were
very few, if any, reports or mention of Indians in any official documents , much less
specific mention of Taínos , on the islands of the Greater Antilles that several million of
them had formerly inhabited, except for Cuba , and even in Cuba mention of Indians
was a rare occurrence .
David Ray Cintrón, wrote: “Although Taíno legacy would be
preserved in the offspring of Spanish fathers and Native mothers, and between Africans
and Natives, as well as in isolated communities, the population decline and radical
transformation of Taíno lifeways would come to be known as their extinction” (The
Taínos are Still Alive, pg. 32).
It benefited the Spanish government and subsequent governments not to mention
Indians, for doing so was embarrassing, an admission that they could not control them,
and as time went on, the mixed-blood descendants of the Taíno slowly adapted to
speaking Spanish, wearing clothes, to syncretized versions of their own religious beliefs
combined with christian beliefs, and to living in nuclear families—but still maintaining
close connections with extended and adopted family members, and maintaining many
of their traditional lifeways. To all intents and purposes they “became Spaniards,” and
even later, “became” Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, and even
Jorge Estévez, a Taíno descendant from the Dominican Republic , Smithsonian
researcher , and director of the Higuayagua Taíno of the Caribbean Tribe , has very
aptly called Taíno extinction “paper genocide.” It has benefited modern governments in
the Caribbean to say that Taínos are extinct, for by doing so, they have not had to
deal with Indigenous land rights or civil rights problems.
Until recently. Below is the
Taíno Timeline from more modern times:
1701, Indigenous people in Cuba founded the city of Jiguaní.
1850s, “Since Spain did not fully colonize the interior of Puerto Rico until the
mid-nineteenth century, the Jíbaro s [Indians and mixed-blood people ] had been
present there virtually unknown to the outside world” (Tony Castaña, The Myth of
Indigenous Caribbean Extinction , pg 10).
1895, the all-N ative Hatüey Regiment in the Cuban war against Spain for
independence was formed ; José Martí, the founding father of Cuba’s
independence movement, frequently mentioned Indians in his war diary .
1915 and 1919, Mark Harrington, an American archaeologist who conducted
extensive research in Cuba, found Native Indians in the eastern part of the island
around today’s Guantánamo .
April 12, 1922, G. Jiménez, a school inspector for District No. 41 in the Northern
Department of Santiago Province, Dominican Republic, conducted an inspection in San
José de las Matas. He reported that: “Predominant in this community, the same as that
of Jánico, is the white race mixed with the Indian.” He also commented on the
communal spirit of reciprocity that was so evident in the community, particularly with
regard to food needs and in the way the entire community “gathered together to clear a
neighbor’s conuco ” (Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi, Lenguay folklore de Santo Domingo ,
In the 1950s, researchers found high percentages of the blood types that are
predominant in Indians in blood samples they took in the Dominican Republic.
1950s-1970s, anthropologists followed Mark Harrington’s footsteps to Cuba, seeking
out and recording the skeletal structure, blood type, and other physical attributes of
Cuban villagers with Indigenous ancestry.
In the 1960s, no doubt motivated by the Civil Rights Movement, Puerto Ricans who
had immigrated to or were born in the U.S., as well as in their native island, began to
form T aíno revitalization organizations.
1970s, dental surveys established that 33 out of 74 villagers just east of Santo
Domingo retained shovel-shaped incisors, the teeth characteristic of American
Indians and Asians.
2003, Juan Carlos Martínez-Cruzado , a genetic biologist at the University of Puerto
Rico at Mayagüez , announced the results of his island-wide DNA study of Puerto
Rico. He had taken random samples from 800 Puerto Ricans, which revealed that 61.1
% of those surveyed had mitochondrial DNA of I ndigenous origin, indicating “ a
persistence in the maternal line that surprised him and his fellow scientists.
2006-2010, in 2010, the results of a 4-year mtDNA joint study titled “Continental origins
of the first populations of the Caribbean islands and the migratory movements which
formed them: DNA in Dominican Republic,” led by Dr. Juan Carlos Martínez Cruzado of
the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagúez and Dr. Fermín Mercedes de la Cruz of UCE,
the University of Eastern San Pedro de Macorix, were released .
showed that 15% of Dominicans “ have indigenous Taíno genes not found anywhere
2010, in the 2010 U.S. Census, 19,839 Puerto Ricans checked the identity box marked
American Indian or Alaskan Native (there is no box marked Taíno), an increase of
almost 49 percent over the count 10 years earlier, when 13,336 checked it.
2011, José Barreiro, who was Assistant Director of Research at the
Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and Alejandro
Hartmann Matos, the city historian of Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest city and an
authority on the island’s earliest inhabitants, had been tracking descendants of
the Indians in Cuba since 1989.
Based on their research, they estimated that at
least 5,000 Indians survived in Cuba, while hundreds of thousands of Cubans
likely have indigenous roots (Robert M. Poole, “ What became of the Taíno? ” ).
Since the 1980s, a host of Taíno revitalization /activist groups formed in the U.S.,
Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic, including Arawak Mountain Singers, Baramaya,
Biaraku, Cacibajagua Dance Troop, Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle , Caney Quinto
Mundo, Consejo General de Taínos Boricanos, Concilio Guatú Macú, Fundación Social
de la Luz Cósmica Fraternalista Taíno, Guabancex, Viento y Agua (in Dominican
Taíno of the Caribbean (a relatively new but quickly growing tribal group),
Jatibonicu Tribe, Kasibahagua Taíno Cultural Society, Maisiti Yucayeque Taíno,
Nanaturey’s Taíno Family Circle, Nación Taína, Paseo Taíno, Presencia Taína, Taíno
Ancestral Legacy Keepers, Taíno Borinquen, Taíno del Norte, Taíno Inter-Tribal
Council, Taíno Nation of the Antilles , Travestía Taína, Unidad Taína Inaru, and
United Confederation of Taíno People.
Groups split up, dissolve, and new ones are
1990s on, the Museo del Barrio in New York City opened an extremely popular major
exhibition in 1997 titled “Taíno: Pre-Columbian Art and Culture from the Caribbean.
Both it and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) at the
George Heye Center in NYC and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in
Washington, D.C. began to feature Taíno exhibits among their other Indigenous exhibit
2005, a mtDNA study by A. Tajima, K. Hamaguchi, and eight other geneticists
determined that Dominican women are a mixture of African and Native American
descent, since European mtDNA is very scarce on the island.
2015, National Geographic sponsored a mtDNA study in the Dominican Republic;
however, unbeknownst to the sponsor, the team that gathered the hair-root samples
was politically motivated and only took samples in places where, since 1492, there have
always been principally Europeans, Africans, and their mixed-blood progeny, and very
few Indigenous peoples, which invalidated the findings of their study.
2016 , another mtDNA study on Hispaniola, this one by Dr. Hannes Schroeder
and his team from the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics,
summarized their findings that “settled a long-standing debate in Caribbean
archaeology about where the Taíno ancestors originated.”
They found that they
emigrated from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in northern South America.
They also found “no evidence of recent inbreeding or isolation in the genome,
indicating that the Caribbean Sea was not a barrier for gene-flow in prehistory.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they also found that “the Native Ancestry
present in admixed Latino populations in the Caribbean today is closely related to
the ancient Taíno, demonstrating that Indigenous ancestry has survived until the
”Today, more and more Taíno revitalization/activist groups have formed, making
their presence known on Facebook (a list that is constantly growing). They
include: Esencia Tabonuco, Grupo ,Higuayagua Taino of the Caribbean,
Higuayagua Caribeña Taino, Higuayagua Tekina Group, Jatibonicu Taíno
Tribal Community, Taíno, Taíno 101, Taíno Borinquen, Taíno Daka—Taíno
Language Revitalization Forum, Taíno Indian Language Forum of Boriken,
Taíno—Indigenous People of the Caribbean, Taíno Language—Bohío ta’ inenei,
Taíno Language Forum, Taíno Naboría, Taíno Library, Taíno Naboría Society
Pipeline, Taíno Nation, Taíno Native, and the United Confederation of Taíno
August 2018, the National Museum of the American Indian—Smithsonian
(George Gustav Heye Center in New York City), opened a new exhibition titled:
“Taíno: Native Heritage and Identity in the Caribbean.” It was the first time that a
major cultural institution acknowledged Taíno survival through the present
day—a milestone in the thousands of years of continuing Taíno history and
“Taínos never ceased to exist… they ceased to be recognized.
David Ray Cintron, The Taíno are Still Alive, Taíno Cuan Yahabo: An Example of the Social Construction
of Race and Ethnicity , M.A. thesis for the University of Central Florida, 2006
“The Taíno people were never extinct but, rather, survived on the margins
colonial society to the present.”
Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate, “ Not Everyone Who Speaks Spanish is from Spain:
Taíno Survival in the 21st Century Dominican Republic , ” 2000
“Whether we are full blooded or racially mixed, we take pride in our Taíno
indigenous identity!... The research, study, work , and all our efforts were made
in order to proclaim the existence of a people unwilling to remain ‘extinct’ and
who had decided to walk in the path of self-definition and self-determination.”
From the first newsletter of the Nación Taína, November 19, 1992 .
Dr. Lynne Guitar PhD.
I'm a writer, editor & translator, Member & Akutu of Higuayagua and Co-Founder, Centro Guanín in DR
Smithsonian Native American Museum
Copyrighted. by Lynne Guitar