Columbus and the Taíno

When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492, he was locked into a geographical view of the world which did not anticipate a continent between Europe and Asia. He had set sail for India-a 15th century concept which referred to southern China and southeastern Asia-so when he landed on some islands he assumed that he was off the coast of Asia. On behalf of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he claimed the land and the people for Spain, conveniently ignoring native government and native ownership of the land.

The population of the Americas in 1492 is estimated to be 100 million, as compared with 70 million in Europe.  

Europeans were not known for their religious tolerance. The day before Columbus left Spain, all of the Jews in Spain were required to leave. During the time that Columbus was preparing for his voyage, an estimated 30,000 Spanish Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Catholicism.

The Taíno were the first Native Americans to encounter the Spanish. Columbus recorded in his diary that the natives “would easily be made Christians because it seemed to me that they had no religion.”

After Columbus had returned to Europe and word of his discoveries reached the royal courts of Portugal and Spain, there were heated debates over the ownership of the new lands. Pope Alexander VI stepped in to solve the dilemma. Papal bulls by Pope Alexander VI granted Spain and Portugal all of the lands in the Americas which were not under Christian rule. Thus began the European assumption that the native people of the area did not really own the land because they were not Christian. The Pope decreed that

“barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

The Inter Caetera papal bull by Pope Alexander VI stated:

“We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.”

This laid the legal foundation for assuming that government comes only from the Christian god and therefore Christian nations have a legal right to rule over non-Christian nations. The late Vine Deloria in his “Afterword,” for America in 1492: The World of Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus wrote:

“Thus armed with a totally bogus title issued by God’s representative on earth, the Spaniards then began a brutal conquest in the Americas which virtually obliterated the native populations in the Caribbean within a generation.”

The discovery of Indians presented some problems for Europeans since they were not mentioned in the Christian Bible: the Native Americans did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe.

At the time of first contact with the Spanish, the Taíno world stretched across the Caribbean Islands for more than a thousand miles. The Taíno, part of the Arawak language group, had arrived on the islands more than 2,000 years earlier from South America. By 700 CE, they occupied the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. They then pushed into the Greater Antilles-Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Cuba.

In South America, the Arawak-speaking ancestors of the Taíno had a lifestyle that centered around the growing of manioc and other root crops, hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. This lifestyle adapted to the islands and the sea, rather than separating them, seemed to unite them. They had ocean-going canoes which could hold as many as a hundred people. Voyages between the islands were common place. Intermarriage among the lineages of the different islands was also common and helped build a unifying network of kinship relations.

Another unifying element among the Taíno was the ball game. The game, which was also found in Mesoamerica and part of South America, was played using a rubber ball on courts with stone or earthen embankments. As in Mesoamerica, the ball was struck primarily with the hips. For the Taíno, the game was the focus of religious festivals, feasting, trade, intermarriage, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

The political power of Taíno leaders stemmed from: (1) the mother’s lineage (very different from that of European monarchs), (2) having a special relationship with the supernatural, and (3) political acumen. A “chief” (this is a European leadership term) could be deposed by his brothers or nephews.

When Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola, Guarionex was one of the five most powerful Taíno leaders with followers numbered in the tens of thousands scattered over hundreds of square miles.

By 1495, the Spanish who had originally been welcomed by the Taíno, had managed to alienate their hosts. Guarionex and the other Taíno leaders decided that they had had enough and tens of thousands of Taíno warriors (some reports claim a hundred thousand) gathered to do battle with 200 Spaniards. The battle was unlike anything that the Taíno had ever experienced. It began with twenty Spanish warriors, fully armored and riding warhorses through their ranks inflicting great damage with their swords and lances. Then foot soldiers fired their guns, a terrifying weapon to those who had never encountered it. Finally, the Spanish set loose their large dogs, trained to kill humans, upon the Taíno warriors. The Spanish goal seemed to be to kill as many Taíno as possible, a goal that was unheard of in the traditional warfare on the islands.

Following their defeat, the Taíno accepted their status as Spanish subjects. They agreed to pay tribute in the form of food, cotton, and gold. The Spanish demanded that every man over the age of 14 provide them with a little copper bell filled with gold every three months. Providing gold, however, was not the greatest hardship on the Taíno: the Spanish were eating them out of house and home. Not only did the Spanish seem to eat far more than the Taíno, but they also ate the manioc that wasn’t ready to be harvested. The result was food shortages and starvation for the Taíno.

Columbus viewed the Taíno themselves as a way to amass his personal wealth. He selected 500 to be exported to Spain as slaves, and 500 to serve as slaves to the Spanish on the Island. Columbus proudly boasted to the Spanish monarchs about the slave potential and its economic benefits. Columbus would capture and export more Indian slaves-about 5,000 — than any other single individual. In addition to capturing the Indians as slaves, the Spanish also hunted the Indians for sport and slaughtered them for dog food. The Spanish also viewed Taíno women as their sex slaves.

By 1497, the combination of starvation, European diseases, and Spanish brutality had reduced the Taíno numbers. Christopher Columbus was neither a good leader, nor particularly charismatic. Many of his men hated him. As a result, the Spaniard Francisco de Roldán led a small army of anti-Columbus soldiers. He encouraged the Taíno leaders, including Guarionex, to join with them in defeating the other Spanish.

Don Bartolomé Colón, the brother of Columbus, was a better leader and had, in fact, learned to speak some Taíno. Bartolomé moved against the incipient rebellion by staging a midnight raid on the Taíno villages, a serious breach of Taíno war etiquette, and capturing as many Taíno leaders as possible. They killed the leaders in the traditional Spanish style: they burned them alive.

Traditionally, Taíno leaders not only directed their warriors in battle, but more importantly they mediated with the spirit helpers to ensure victory. Without their leaders, the Taíno warriors were in chaos and soon surrendered.

The destruction of the Taíno political system, coupled with the demands for tribute and the devastating impact of disease and starvation, led to the virtual extinction of Taíno society on Hispaniola by 1500.

While there are some historians and pseudo-historians who point to Christopher Columbus as an example of perseverance, courage, and Christian faith, there are others who feel that his legacy, from a Native American viewpoint, is one of genocide and slavery.

It’s Always About The Land, Isn’t It?

( – promoted by navajo)

Ten little Indians

One little, two little, three little Indians

Four little, five little, six little Indians

Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians

Ten little Indian boys.

Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians

Seven little, six little, five little Indians

Four little, three little, two little Indians

One little Indian boy.

(My Opinion: this song is a mix of cultural hegemony, “the concept that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class, that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination;” and, colonial education, “the colonizing nation implements its own form of schooling within their colonies”)

One little, two little, three little Indians

Four little, five little, six little Indians

Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians

Ten little Indian boys.

“Ten little Indian boys” discovered Columbus and this was the state of the so called “New World.”

Unlearning the Language of Conquest Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America. “Peaceful verses Warlike Societies” essay by James Demeo. p. 150 – 151


This evidence, drawn from history, archeology, and anthropology, speaks clearly: The New World prior to Columbus was a far less violent place than the Old World. And it can be argued that, in spite of many terrible events which followed after Columbus, the New World remained a less violent place all the way down through the centuries because of its geographical isolation from the more violent Saharasian empires…This summary suggests the general vindication of the vast majority of Native American values and peoples as standing on the peace – making side of history. Certainly, not all Indigenous American cultures fit the peaceful images given in Dances with Wolves, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the majority did.

And the Indigenous population of the so called “New World” has been significantly underestimated “for the area north of the Rio Grande;” also, a consensus of “authority” has not been reached. It is easier to sidestep the fact by saying germs did it in my opinion. Then, the “Ten little Indian boys” were victims of natural tragic causes and not victims of the extermination by the Europeans. I’ll let David Stannard talk more about “Ten little Indians.”

Native American Holocaust – Before Columbus

By the time ancient Greece was falling under the control of Rome, in North America the Adena Culture already had been flourishing for a thousand years. As many as 500 Adena living sites have been uncovered by modern archaeologists. Centered in present-day Ohio, they radiate out as far as Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.

– snip –

Overlapping chronologically with the Adena was the Hopewell Culture that grew in time to cover an area stretching in one direction from the northern Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, in the other direction from Kansas to New York. The Hopewell people, who as a group were physiologically as well culturally distinguishable from the Adena, lived in permanent communities based on intensive horticulture, communities marked by enormous earthen monuments, similar to those of the Adena, that the citizenry built as religious shrines and to house the remains of their dead. Literally tens of thousands of these towering earthen mounds once covered the American landscape from the Great Plains to the eastern woodlands, many of them precise, geometrically shaped, massive structures of a thousand feet in diameter and several stories high; others-such as the famous quarter-mile long coiled snake at Serpent Mound, Ohio-were imaginatively designed symbolic temples.

– snip –

Similarly, Arawak (sometimes “Taino,” but that is a misnomer, as it properly applies only to a particular social and cultural group) is the name now given to the melange of peoples who, over the course of many centuries, carried out those migrations across the Caribbean, probably terminating with the Saladoid people sometime around two thousand years ago. By the time of their encounter with Columbus and his crews, the islands had come to be governed by chiefs or caciques (there were at least five paramount chiefdoms on Hispaniola alone, and others throughout the region) and the people lived in numerous densely populated villages both ,’ inland and along all the coasts. The houses in most of these villages were similar to those described by the Spanish priest Bartolome de Las Casas:

And were the “Ten little Indians” “just as sophisticated as the Europeans,” Ms. Widdowson?


However, some Native Americans believe their ancestors originated in the Americas, citing gaps in the archaeological record and oral accounts of their origins that have been passed down through generations.

Native Americans excelled at using natural resources and adapting to the climates and terrains in which they lived. Over thousands of years distinct culture areas developed across North America. In the Northeast, for example, Native Americans used wood from the forests to build houses, canoes, and tools. Dense populations in the Pacific Northwest exploited the abundance of sea mammals and fish along the Pacific Coast. In the deserts of the Southwest, Native Americans grew corn and built multilevel, apartment-style dwellings from adobe, a sun-dried brick. In the Arctic, inhabitants adapted remarkably well to the harsh environment, becoming accomplished fishers and hunters.

Among the several hundred Native American groups that settled across North America, there existed, and still exist, many different ways of life and world views. Each group had distinctive social and political systems, clothing styles, shelters, foods, art forms, musical styles, languages, educational practices, and spiritual and philosophical beliefs.

What about the “One little Indian boy?” He knows the Ms. Widdowsons of the world are his relatives, and must be treated with the generosity of respect by sticking to the truth. Let’s forget the song for now, recognize it excludes the girls in a patriarchal exclusionary way, and get current.

Vine Deloria Jr. in God Is Red made a critical observation during the time of the Siege of Wounded Knee 1973 if memory serves (I loaned it out). He pointed out that American society bought more copies of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in lieu of being more aware and involved in the current situation. Overall, isn’t that still true today?

Why was there wide awareness and support for the Tibetan Monks in the general American public, and little awareness and support for American Indians protesting the  Longview Hog Farm in the general American public?

Native People are gathering to protest the construction of Longview Hog Farm near a Headstart Preschool facility that hosts Native children. They are standing in protection of the children fully aware of the environmental and health hazards hogfarms produce. South Dakota State Police violated their jurisdiction to arrest protesters peacefully gathered on a Federally Controlled BIA Road. A protester was struck by a frontloader and had to be medically evacuated by ambulance. Second Day begins as more Police aggression is anticipated and more illegal arrests may take place. Once again the “Indians” are in the way of “progress”.

And now there are “two religious rights cases on Supreme Court’s horizon.” Can an Eagle be taken for the Sundance and is it respecting religious freedom to put recycled urine and feces or “reclaimed sewage” on a sacred mountain?

Quite frankly, either the Supreme Court is for the cultures and spiritual practices surviving, or they are against it. “You cannot damage the land without damaging those who live upon it” and the Sundance, which used to be illegal, is the most sacred of the seven rites. But doesn’t this also shed light on why there was wide awareness and support for the Tibetan Monks, and little awareness and support for American Indians protesting the Longview Hog Farm? Sometimes things are simple.

Everyone was for the Tibetan Monks, which is why they had so much support. Few people were supportive of the Native People who protested the farm, because if the monks had been in South Dakota – nobody would sell the farm. It’s always about the land, isn’t it?

Indigenous Peoples Caucus meets in Geneva

“We are finding that the primary reason the U.S. did not sign on (to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) is the provisions on self-determination and land ownership,”

The decolonization process

In order to eliminate the harmful, lasting effects of colonial education, post-colonial nations or territories must remove the sense of nothingness that is often present. Thiong’o insists that “To decolonize our minds we must not see our own experiences as little islands that are not connected with other processes” (The Global Education Process). Post-colonial education must reverse the former reality of “education as a means of mystifying knowledge and hence reality” (The Global Education Process). A new education structure boosts the identity of a liberated people and unites previously isolated individuals.

Lastly, “To decolonize our minds,” quit teaching this song to children.

There was the denazification of Germany, and the United States needs to decolonize itself with “a new education structure” teaching the American Indian and the Native Alaskan are not vanished races,
unless of course – it doesn’t want to.


Sad indeed, is this need to protest for the most basic human rights of “self-determination and land ownership.” Sadder, is that Americans overall support protesters there, and ignore what goes on here. But then again, it’s always about the land, isn’t it?

America’s West Bank: McCain’s Forced Navajo Relocation

Confused yet? That’s what this “legislation” was supposed to do. It was supposed to hide McCain’s involvement to steal land, and the violations of human rights remains hidden as well to the overall public. “In 1996, Congress passed a law endorsing a 75-year lease arrangement that would allow a few of the families to remain as tenants on the land. The law sanctions the relocation of families not eligible for these leases and forces the families who sign the leases to live without benefit of civil and religious rights exercised by other Americans” the UN told us. Also, PL 104-301 tells us that “the number of homesites available for lease is 112,” yet adds, “additional homesites may be made

available subject to agreement between the Hopi Tribe and homesite applicant.” Quite generous in light of the forced relocation of 10,000 Navajos. One forced relocation is a tragedy, but apparently 10,000 or more is just a statistic. The UN also told us about the loss of voting rights, the physical harassment of elders, intimidation tactics, that armed rangers visited elders at their homes and stole their property, and that their sacred sites were bulldozed – including their graveyards.

This, has been America’s West Bank:



…human rights violations and an institutionalized racism against indigenous peoples is alive and thriving in the United States…

Black Mesa project controversy rises

By Carol Berry, Today correspondent

Story Published: Oct 26, 2008

Story Updated: Oct 28, 2008

BLACK MESA, Ariz. – A push to approve a Peabody Western Coal Co. project in northern Arizona may be dividing the Hopi Tribal Council and fueling an attempted ouster of the tribal chairman.

– snip –

“They want to get it through before the presidential election and before a new administration takes office,” Nuvamsa said by telephone.

It’s always about the land, isn’t it?