From: Red Road Awareness Date: 23 Nov 2007, 08:33 AM
Just who were those ‘Indians’ that discovered Columbus?
Who are the Tainos? The U.S. Government says they are extinct, but
they are not. Most likely you know them as Latinos, a Spanish
speaking person of Latin American (the Spanish speaking part of the
Americas, south of the U.S.) descent. Not all, but
many modern day Tainos are unaware of their lineage. To understand
how that could happen you must know the story from the beginning.
Approximately 1,500 years ago, the Arawak people of South America
began migrating northward along the many scattered islands located
between South and North America, an area we now refer to as the
Caribbean. For a thousand years their population grew
and the people lived in harmony. The people covered all the islands
of the Caribbean, the major ones as they are now known: Cuba, Puerto
Rico and Hispaniola as well as all the smaller ones: the Bahamas,
Bimini, Jamaica etc. Certain groups of island people identified
themselves as Lokono, Lucayan, Carib, Ciboney, Arawak, but most
islands were primarily inhabited by people who called themselves
Taino, which stood for "the good people" in their language. The
different groups intermarried extensively to
strengthen ties amongst themselves.
Theirs was a beautiful culture. They were aware of a Divine
presence whom they called Yocahu, and to worship and give thanks was
a major part of their lives. They had a social order that provided
the leaders and guidelines by which they all lived. They hunted,
fished, cultivated crops and ate the abundant fruits provided by
nature. They were clever and ingenious and had everything they
needed to survive. They had beautiful ceremonies that were held at
various times, birth, death, marriage, harvest, naming and coming of
age to name a few. They had special reverence for the Earth Mother
(Atabey) and had respect for all living things knowing that all
living things are connected. There was little need for clothing due
to the tropic heat, but upon reaching puberty both males and females
would wear a small woven loincloth. Puberty was also the time at
which they were considered old enough to be married. The population
estimates for the Taino people at the height of their culture are as
high as 8,000,000. That was in 1492….
In 1492, the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, was loaned 3
small, old ships from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain for
a questionable voyage across the sea in which he hoped to reach
Hindustan (not ‘India’). Although Marco Polo had sailed around the
world 300 years earlier, and the Norsemen 500 years earlier, there
were few sailors willing to sail into the unknown, so the King and
Queen released some prisoners early to accompany Columbus on the
voyage. On October 12, 1492 after two months at sea Columbus and
crew finally spotted land. Upon reaching the land, Columbus fell to
his knees, thanked God for a safe voyage and planted a flag in the
ground, claiming the land for Spain – as the Tainos who had lived
there for 1,000 years watched from behind trees and bushes.
The Taino had never before seen white men, clothed people, people
with beards or ships like that ~ they thought these people must be
from heaven. So the Taino came out to greet them, as was their
custom, and bring the travelers, who surely must be tired and
hungry, food, drink and gifts. Such strong swimmers were the Taino
that some of them swam right out to the boats some 3 miles offshore.
The very first night Columbus wrote in his journal, that these
islands were very heavily populated by a handsome, strong, well-
built and peaceful people who had only simple weapons and that with
as few as 50 of his men, and their weapons he could take over.
Much is said about Columbus’ desire to convert the "savages" to
Christianity, but very little is said about his quest for gold,
although Columbus mentions gold in his journal 70 times in his first
2 weeks in the islands. The very first day, Columbus "took" several
Native boys aboard his ship to show him where the gold was.
Columbus spent the next two months looking for gold. Just when he
was about to return to Spain, on Christmas Eve his ship the Santa
Maria ran aground and sank. The Taino people helped him to retrieve
every salvageable item. A problem arose in that now all the sailors
who had accompanied Columbus could not fit on the two remaining (and
smaller) ships. So a fort was built using the salvaged wood from
the Santa Maria and 39 men were left behind at a fort Columbus
called La Navidad. Shortly thereafter, Columbus set sail for Spain,
taking some of the birds, food and plants and abducting some of the
Taino people so he could show them to the King and Queen. (It is
interesting to note how Columbus ‘displayed’ the Taino people to the
King and Queen as if they were not people, but objects. This state
of mind still exists today where Indian people are ‘displayed’ as
mascots and sports team names)
Columbus was received in a manner never before seen and his stories
of the "New World" were listened to with awe. King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella immediately gave Columbus 17 large ships, livestock &
supplies to return to their newly acquired
lands and colonize them. This time there was no shortage of men
willing to sign up for the ocean voyage, 1,200 men eagerly signed up
for the voyage and the chance to get rich quick on the gold to be
found in the ‘New’ World. (Did you know that the Ozark Mountain
range in Missouri and Arkansas is the oldest mountain range in the
entire world? This is not, and never was, the ‘New’ World. It was
only ‘new’ to europeans who were and are not Indigenous to this
Upon arrival at La Navidad in the second voyage, Columbus found the
fort burned to the ground and all 39 of the men he had left behind
had been killed. It seems the sailors left behind had "misbehaved"
as our history books tell it, but their "misbehaving" was in the
form of rape of the local women and children and theft of anything
they saw that they wanted. (What did you expect from criminals??)
One of the local leaders, or Kasikes as they were called, named
Caonabo had met with the other leaders and all but one agreed that
men who were gods would never have behaved in the manner the Spanish
had, and they decided the Spaniards had to go, and
so they eliminated the Spaniards and the threat they posed to their
Columbus vowed to find Caonabo and retaliate. From that point on,
life as the Taino knew it ended. Columbus forced all of them over
the age of 14 to work in the gold mines searching for gold for the
Spaniards. Those who refused were killed. Those who did not make
their quota of gold had their hands cut off and were left to bleed
to death. Taino women were given to Spaniards to do with whatever
they wished. The fields, unattended, failed to yield enough food
for the Taino, and the Spaniards whose supplies had run out. All
were hungry. Many Taino starved to death, others were worked to
death. They were beaten, tortured, raped, enslaved & murdered.
Columbus found Caonabo, they tricked him in order to capture him, he
was put on a ship that was sent to Spain and was never heard from
When the time came for Columbus to return to Spain, he did not have
nearly enough gold to pay for his expedition, so he had his men
round up 1,000 of the very biggest and strongest Taino. They found
they could only fit 500 of them in the stinking holds of the
ships, so Columbus took those 500 aboard to be sold at the slave
market in Seville to raise money to repay the King and Queen, and he
gave the other 500 Taino to Spanish colonists. Over 250 of the
Taino died en route to Spain, and their bodies were tossed
overboard. (Getting the objects feel again?)
When Columbus returned for the third time, not much had changed,
there was still little gold. The colonists brutally forced the
Taino to look for it, the food shortages were so severe that the
Spaniards fed Taino babies to their dogs and the mood among the
Taino was one of complete and utter helplessness and desperation.
Some took their own lives to escape the brutalities and indignities.
The colonists, failing to get rich quick as they had hoped,
threatened to revolt against Columbus. Word got back to the King
and Queen of the situation and Columbus was sent back to Spain in
chains to stand trial for his "mismanagement" of the islands. He
was stripped of his titles and all claims to the lands he
had "discovered" (to those who had lived in the islands and were
actually the ones who had discovered them, he would always be known
as an ‘invader’).
He lived to make a 4th voyage to the islands. The people there,
once proud and strong, were reduced from an estimated 8 million to
60 thousand in 10 years’ time. Those that remained ran up high in
the densely forrested hills and mountains and hid.
But, they survived. Many later married Spaniards, others married
the African slaves that Columbus’ ships later brought in. They were
sent to replace the decimated Taino work force. You can see the
existence of all three races in the faces of many modern day
Caribbean peoples – but they all fall under the category
of "Latino". If you look at maps, many areas still retain their
original indigenous names. If you listen to the language, you will
still hear many indigenous words used. And although the Caribbean
has been explored and exploited again and again by the many greedy
adventurers who have passed through, many of the customs practiced
by the Taino are still in use and a big part of the culture
throughout the Caribbean today.
What is the logic behind the government giving a man credit
for ‘discovering’ lands that were already densely populated, and
honoring that same man whose actions had the devastating
consequenses of rape, torture, slavery and death to millions of
people, with one of our 8 federal holidays (i.e. holy day)? Or, is
there any logic there at all?
And, why are the Taino people, who do still exist in spite of what
you may be told, denied legal federal ‘recognition’? (See my ‘Pet
Peeeeves’ section for what I think about this so-called ‘federal
And, why are American Indian people, who have given so much, and had
nearly everything taken from them for the formation of this country,
still not honored with a federal holiday of their own?
Please do more than think about this… do something about this…..
let’s all work together to end the insult and injustice to the
people who have truly paid the highest possible price for the land
in which so many call ‘home’ today. By no stretch of the
imagination does a crook, liar, thief and genocidal murderer deserve
to have a national holiday celebrated in his honor! Christopher
Columbus did not ‘discover’ anything but a beautiful, gentle people
he could exploit, steal from and ultimately destroy.
Yet, never forget, the Taino people are STILL HERE. They did
survive, as did so many Indigenous Nations who suffered through the
American Holocaust. We are all ‘STILL Here’. Yes, we are indeed,
This column was originally written by Evelyn Dye-Garcia, whose
husband is a Taino of the Taino people. I have only added a few sentences here and there either to correct or further elaborate on a good point.
Evelyn did not care about getting credit for her words, but it is proper to do so.
Pilamaya (thank you) Evelyn. May the Taino people find justice.