This essay seeks to ascertain the extent to which the earliest people of the region are still considered the ‘Caribs’ and ‘Arawaks’ rather than the ‘Neoindians’. However, no discourse on the significance of these names can be engaged in without mention being made of the name, Christopher Columbus. Columbus was a Genoese adventurer who believed that by sailing west he could find Asia or the Indies and great wealth in the form of gold. This led to at least four expeditions into the ‘New World’. For many, Columbus is described as ‘a man driven by gold fever and fanaticism’ and these expeditions set the stage for the making of history, as the names Caribs and Arawaks became cemented as that of the earliest people of the region and of which the name ‘Neoindians’ to this day must contend. In this contribution, the names ‘Taino’ and ‘Kalinago’ will be used in reference to the Neoindians and a new perspective, whereas, the names Caribs and Arawaks would represent the old, European perspective.
For most of history, it was said that on discovering the ‘New World’, Columbus met two groups of people. They were firstly the Arawaks and thereafter the Caribs. The Arawaks were presented as a ‘generous and peaceful people’ and the Caribs, as ‘warlike and cannibalistic’. On his first expedition Columbus noted the nature of the Arawak people he encountered and concluded, “with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want”. Columbus was clearly describing a people whom he assessed as being docile, impressionable, gullible and easily manipulated. However Contempory Caribbean History challenges Columbus assertions on two fronts. It questions firstly who he met on his ‘discovery’ as well as the nature of these people with whom he had newly come into contact.
Columbus first expedition landed on a small island in the Bahamas thereafter renamed San Salvador. This brought him into contact with the Lucayan Tainos. When Columbus arrived at Hispaniola...
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