Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who was credited with “discovering” the New World (a European term for the continents of North America and South America). Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean and South America between 1492 and 1504. As a boy, Columbus worked as a sailor on merchant and war ships in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1476 he went to Lisbon, Portugal, where he learned mathematics and astronomy which are subjects that are vital for navigation. In the early 1480s Columbus began to seek a sponsor for an expedition to Asia.
He wanted to prove his theory that it would be faster and easier to get to Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean opposed to the theory of the Portuguese of going around Africa and into the Indian Ocean. For several years Columbus proposed his idea to the king of Portugal, but he was turned down. Undaunted Columbus went to try his luck in Spain. He first met with Queen Isabella I in 1486. Finally, in April 1492, Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand V, signed an agreement with Columbus in which they agreed to pay for his voyage.
According to this agreement, Columbus would be named admiral, become the governor of any lands he discovered, and receive a tax-free ten percent share of any riches found in the new lands. The voyages of Christopher Columbus changed history. When he landed on Hispaniola he brought what was later coined the ‘Columbus exchange’; a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture and human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres.
Columbus is the first documented European visitor of the New World, himself along with his men introduced diseases that ravaged the native population and decimated entire cultures and civilizations. They introduced the Indigenous people to their European weapons, inherent racism and control by a foreign power. By rediscovering the New World, Columbus set in motion a chain of events where by the other European nations would follow in his footsteps; he had set of the gold rush in Spain which would lead to the enslavement of a people, permanently change their concept of the world map and start a long term race of imperialism to xplore, exploit and settle the New World. Nevertheless Christopher Columbus’s arrival constituted a major turning point for the world of the Caribbean. Daniel Paul “ The event that led the European Nations to destroy many of the civilizations of the two continents, and drastically diminish the remainder, resulted from what was almost impossible accident of faith. If it had not already occurred, it would be virtually impossible to envision’’ The aftermath of Columbus’s arrival was disasterous.
In the journal of Columbus(1492) he states” They are generally fairly tall and good looking, well made,They ought to be good servants and good skill and I believe that they would easily be made ‘christians’ because it seemed to me that they belonged to no religion. ” The Spanish felt superior immediately to the “savages” they discovered in the New World, and treated them accordingly. He led the establishment of a colonial regime in the Caribbean and consequently brought about the genocide of a people.
After his first discovery (Hispaniola)he was convinced he had reached Asia he went back to Spain and according to Hilary Beckles he brought with from the Caribbean a small quantity of gold, some coconuts from Guanahani and a few taino. His royal sponsors were disappointed however he promised to do much in his report to his royal sponsors. ” I will procure as much gold as they need as well as a range of exotic goods, particularly spices, drugs, cotton and silk.
He then left Spain with a fleet of 17 ships. Columbus established the first colony at Hispaniola for he believed it contained gold furthermore his main aim was to use native labour to search for precious metals and perhaps cultivate plantations for he described the soil as very fertile. The settlers were obsessed with finding gold and consequently Columbus introduced the encomienda system; a system whereby the crown granted a person a specified number of natives for whom they were to take responsibility.
In theory, the receiver of the grant was to protect the natives from warring tribes and to instruct them in the Spanish language and in the Catholic faith: in return they could extract tribute from the natives in the form of labor, gold or other products. In reality, the difference between encomienda and slavery could be minimal because the natives were forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme punishment and death if they resisted.
One cannot say slavery never existed in the Caribbean pre-Columbus for the natives themselves practiced slavery; the Aztecs took prisoners in war for human sacrifice, the Caribs took prisoners to be slaves and pretty much all the indigenous groups of the Caribbean took prisoners in war and put them to work as slaves essentially some would earn the status of free members of the tribe but some were used as sacrifices to the Gods. Slavery as a ‘civilized’ institution began almost immediately after the arrival of the Spaniards.
However the Spaniards never did their part instead they overworked the indians and treated them cruelly. ’’ The Indians have been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dusts garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down by dogs and were killed’’. Columbus forced the tainos to pay tribute to satisfy both the Crown’s and the settler’s greed for gold for instance every male taino over the age of 14 to pay tax; they had to have enough gold to fill a hawk’s bell and every other taino had to supply 12 kilos of spun cotton and those who didn’t comply had to give extra labour.
Bartholomew de las casas says ”Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. ” The Spaniards brought about the genocide of a people. In Book Two of his History of the Indies Las Casas tells how the Spaniards “grew more conceited every day” and after a while refused to walk any distance. They “rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry” or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings. “Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. ” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys. “The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed.
So, Las Casas reports, “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help. ” He describes their work in the mines:’’ mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside’’.
After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died. While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants. ‘Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides … they ceased to procreate.
As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.. in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile was depopulated. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write’’.
When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it… ” According to forging the link*”The Indians died to hidden and unknown microbes, to influenza, typhus, measles, chicken pox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid, whooping cough and bubonic plague.
Worst of all was small pox which spread from the Caribbean in 1518 throughout the hemisphere. ” The Spaniards also brought sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and they raped many Indian women consequently introducing it to the Indian race. The Indians had no resistance to these foreign diseases and so they spread like wild fire throughout the Indian race. Entire populations were virtually wiped out, with some Atlantic coast tribes losing 90 percent of their adult members.
Some historians go so far as to say European diseases reduced the pre-contact population of the New World as a whole by 90 percent or more. One says the population of central Mexico was reduced from 25 million in 1519 to 3 million by 1568 and only 750,000 by the early 1600s, 3 percent of the pre-conquest total. As a result of Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean there was a change in the size and composition of the population. The arrival of Columbus constituted to the decline in the population of the Indians, increase in the population of the Europeans and also created a mixed group of people.
Although there has been much dispute about the exact number of people living in the New World before Columbus no one can deny the sharp downward trajectory in population density after the arrival of the Spaniards. According to historian David Stannard, the decimation of New World peoples constituted a “holocaust. ”Far from the heroic and romantic heraldry that customarily is used to symbolize the European settlement of the Americas, the emblem most congruent with reality would be a pyramid of skulls. Estimates of population decline following contact with the Europeans range from 70 to 90 percent, a toll that has been named a “demographic catastrophe. ” In 1502 there were 300 colonist in the Americas and by 1509 there were 8000 colonist. According to Alvin O. Thompson “The Dutch cohabitated Indian women creating a small mixed group’’. These mixed people were referred to as ‘’mezitos’’- people of mixed European and Native American heritage or descent