Students Can Name Columbus, But Most Have Never Heard of the Taíno People

In 1494, Columbus launched the transatlantic slave trade, sending at least two dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain, “men and women, boys and girls,” as he wrote. The next year, 1495, Columbus launched massive slave raids, rounding up 1,600 Taínos, from which the “best” 500, perhaps 550, were selected to be shipped to Spain. Of the hundreds of captives left over, “whoever wanted them could take as many as he pleased,” one eyewitness, a Spanish colonist, Michele de Cuneo, wrote, “and this was done.”

…It began as early as Columbus’s first trip back to Spain, when he left 39 Spaniards at his La Navidad settlement, confident that the powerful Spaniards could handle the supposedly timid Taínos. In response to the Spaniards’ rapacity, the Taínos killed all 39 Spaniards, and burned their fort.

If Columbus’s first trip, with three vessels and maybe 100 men, was an exploratory probe, the second trip, with 17 ships and between 1,200 and 1,500 men, was a full-scale invasion. When slavery turned out not to be profitable on la Española (the island that today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Columbus instituted a tribute system for the Taínos, demanding quotas of gold and cotton, with sadistic punishments for those who failed to comply.

…Contrary to some scholarship, the Taínos were not all killed off by Columbus and subsequent occupiers, and today members of the Taíno diaspora along with people in the Caribbean who claim Taíno ancestry are reviving and celebrating their culture. 

Whose History Matters? Students Can Name Columbus, But Most Have Never Heard of the Taíno People



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