Successive waves of Arawak migrants, moving northward from the Orinoco delta in South America, settled the islands of the Caribbean. Around AD 600, the Taíno Indians, an Arawak culture, arrived on the island, displacing the previous inhabitants. They were organized into cacicazgos (chiefdoms), each led by a cacique (chief). The final Arawak migrants, the Caribs, began moving up the Lesser Antilles in the 12th century, and were raiding Taíno villages on the island's eastern coast by the late sixteenth century.
The Taíno people called the island Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains). At the time of Columbus arrival in 1492, the island's territory consisted of five chiefdoms: Marién, Maguá, Maguana, Jaragua, and Higüey. These were ruled respectively by caciques Guacanagarix, Guarionex, Caonabo, Bohechío, and Cayacoa.
Arrival of the SpanishChristopher Columbus reached the island of Hispaniola on his first voyage, in December 1492. On Columbus second voyage in 1493 the colony of "La Española" was founded and administered from the new settlement of La Isabela which was established on the north coast. This was the first Spanish colony in the New World. La Isabela was struck by two of the earliest Atlantic hurricanes observed by Europeans in 1494 and 1495. Hunger and disease soon led to mutiny, punishment, disillusion, and more hunger and disease. In 1496, Christopher Columbus brother Bartholomew Columbus established the settlement of Santo Domingo de Guzmán on the southern coast. La Isabela was abandoned and Santo Domingo became the new capital, and remains the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas.
 Sixteenth century: Taino decimation & African enslavementHundreds of thousands Tainos living on the island were enslaved to work in gold mines. As a consequence of oppression, forced labor, hunger, disease, and mass killings, by 1535, only 60,000 were still alive. In 1501, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand I and Isabella, first granted permission to the colonists of the Caribbean to import African slaves, which began arriving to the island in 1503. These African importees have had the most dominant racial influence, and their rich and ancient culture has had an influence second only to that of Europe on the political and cultural character of the modern Dominican Republic. In 1510, the first sizable shipment, consisting of 250 Black Ladinos, arrived in Hispaniola from Spain. Eight years later African-born slaves arrived in the West Indies. The Colony of "La Española" was organized as the Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo in 1511.Sugar cane was introduced to Hispaniola from the Canary Islands, and the first sugar mill in the New World was established in 1516, on Hispaniola. The need for a labor force to meet the growing demands of sugar cane cultivation led to an exponential increase in the importation of slaves over the following two decades. The sugar mill owners soon formed a new colonial elite, and convinced the Spanish king to allow them to elect the members of the Real Audiencia from their ranks. Poorer colonists subsisted by hunting the herds of wild cattle that roamed throughout the island and selling their hides.
The first major slave revolt in the Americas occurred in Santo Domingo during 1522, when slaves led an uprising in the sugar plantation of admiral Don Diego Colón, son of Christopher Columbus. Many of these insurgents managed to escape to the mountains where they formed independent maroon communities.
While sugar cane dramatically increased Spain's earnings on the island, large numbers of the newly imported slaves fled into the nearly impassable mountain ranges in the island's interior, joining the growing communities of cimarrónes—literally, 'wild animals'. By the 1530s, cimarrón bands had become so numerous that in rural areas the Spaniards could only safely travel outside their plantations in large armed groups. Beginning in the 1520s, the...
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