Brief History of the Caribbean through Emancipation
1492 – When Queen Isabella of Spain sent Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean. His official mission was to discover a new trade right to Asia and “Christianize” the “heathers” who lived there.
▪ Christopher Columbus and the Spanish “conquistadores” who followed him made little secret of their real interest.
▪ When Columbus landed in the Bahamas and saw the native Arawaks adorned with gold trinkets, he was convinced that mythical “El Dorado” – Golden Land – must be nearby.
▪ In years the conquistadores pushed further and further into the Americas, driven by their greed for precious metals.
▪ They were also driven by a lust for power. Many were “hidalgos” or knights, who helped to grab enough land and wealth in the New World to join the Spanish ruling class. Once the land had been claimed for Spain conquest, the Spanish Monarchy awarded them “encomienda” – rights to rule over areas of land inhabited by Amerindians.
▪ The Spaniards forced the Indians into slavery in gold mines and on their colonial farms and ranches.
Destruction of the Arawaks by the Spanish; Carib resistance to the British and French
▪ When the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean, there were two Amerindian peoples living there: the Arawaks centered the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, and the Caribs in the Eastern Caribbean. Both had come from the tropical rain forest areas of northwestern South America.
▪ The Indians were subsistence farmers and fishermen, growing corn cassava, sweet potatoes, cotton and tobacco. They navigated among the islands in dug-out canoes, which they used for inter-island trade, and in the case of the Caribs, to raid the Arawaks for goods and slaves.
▪ The Arawaks when Columbus encountered included their major subgroups.
1. The Lucayanons – living in the Bahamas
2. The Borequinos – Puerto Rico
3. Tainos - Cuba
▪ Though not warrior like the Caribs, the Arawaks made a brave effort to oust the Spanish from the Greater Antilles. Their resistance was crushed by the Spaniards superior weaponry, vicious fighting mastiffs and armor-covered horses.
▪ The Spaniards’ system of forced labour completed the destruction of the Arawaks, who died from starvation, abuse, and New European diseases, especially small pox.
▪ Unable to successfully enslave the Amerindians the Spanish turned to African Slaves supplied to them by Portuguese traders.
▪ England, France and Holland refused to recognize Spain’s claim to “ownership” of the entire Caribbean, and in the early 17th century after years of warfare with Spain began to colonize the Lesser Antilles.
▪ The Carib living on these islands put up a fierce and prolonged resistance to the European invaders. Early attempts to colonize Grenada and St.Lucia had to be abandoned because of Carib ferocity, and later settlements in St.Kitts, Antigua, Montserrat, Grenada and St.Lucia were attacked repeatedly by the Caribs.
▪ In Grenada, the Caribs fought the French for three years and finally hurled themselves into the sea rather than submit to French domination.
From Small Farms to Sugar Estates: the Big Planters Take Over
▪ Barbados was uninhabited when the Europeans arrived and a British Colony there quickly grew and flourished. The colonists originally tried to make their fortune growing Tobacco, as pipe-smoking was a new fashion in Europe.
▪ These small tobacco farms required a cheap labour force, so the colonists brought in white indentured labourers from Europe. These were often convicts or debtors who signed themselves into servitude with the hope of some free land after a few years bonded labour.
▪ By the 1640’s tobacco was no longer very profitable, so the settles on Barbados turned to growing sugar cane, setting a pattern that was soon to be followed in all the French and British islands.
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