The shout, ‘Land! Land! at 02.00hrs, October 12, 1492 by a sailor on La Pinta, altered the world forever. Europeans discovered and created a New World.
This shout heralded the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire; the end of the Inca and Aztec civilisations; the destruction of American Indian societies; the emergence of the United States and Canada; the beginning of the British Empire and the Wests control of world trade.
Christopher Columbus found a thriving community of Taino native people on Hispaniola. Some historians believe there were 500,000, others 8 million. However, within 30 years the vast majority of them had died of smallpox. The Tainos inhabited several Caribbean island chains – the Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica Hispaniola [modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic], and Puerto Rico).
The Tainos had developed a highly complex society c. 500AD with vilages of at least 2,000 inhabitants, built around ball courts and public structures. They farmed maize, casavas and sweet potatoes and traded with other Tainos. They built large canoes that could carry 150 people and visited other communities daily. They made wooden and stone images of spiritual figures.
The Arrival of Christopher Columbus
The commander of the three ships, sailing for the King and Queen of Spain, under the command of Christopher Columbus believed they were off the coast of Asia. Columbus had actually reached Guanahani ( which Columbus re-named San Salvador) in the Bahamas and mistakenly called the Tainos Indians.
Columbus described the Tainos in stereotypes: They are so guieless and so generous with all that they possess, that no one would believe it who has not seen it. They refuse nothing that they possess, if it be asked of them; on the contrary, they invite any one to share it and dsplay as much love as if they would give their hearts.
The Tainos Economy
The Tainos sought not to possess or accumulate material goods but to give them away in order for the recipients to give them gifts in return. Columbus scorned reciprocity. Columbus noted they lacked metal technology, private property and a state governmment. Columbus decided theTainos had to be subject to the Spanish King, converted to Christianity and European “civilization”, and put to work for the Spanish. Resistance would be suppressed and the Tainos enslaved.
Columbus returned in 1493
Columbus returned to the Caribbean in 1493, intending to colonize theTainos, seize their lands and planned to use them to mine gold and work on sugar plantations, similar to those already established on the Canary Islands. Unfortunately, the Tainos began dying in large numbers from smallpox, overwork and Spanish violence. Within thirty years, all but thirty thousand of the estimated six million Tainos had died and their chiefdoms, trade networks, villages, and other and political institutions had disappeared.
The Spanish found little gold in Taino lands, but sugar production proved profitable. As Tainos died Spanish planters sought labourers elsewhere, firstly Native Americans in nearby lands and eventually to enslaved Africans.
The terrible experience of the Tainos was fully replicated throughout in the Americas.
The two world hemispheres, east and west had no prior knowledge of each other. A child born that year would witness African slaves mining silver to be transhipped to China. Asian silks were traded through Mexico. Customers in Mecca, Madras and Manila purchased Caribbean tobacco. Columbus and his followers brought cattle, sheep and horses; sugar cane, wheat, bananas, coffee, honeybees, cockroaches and rats to transform the New World. Prior to October 1492 these things were totally unknown.