Christopher Columbus and The Discovery of Puerto Rico

Taíno, Africans, and Spaniards. The races that represent the Puerto Rican people. | image by: spark_mind |

In 1493, on his second voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico, an island that he named San Juan Bautista. On his first trip, Columbus, as we know, discovered La Española (Hispaniola), which is today the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In a failed attempt to reach La Española on his second trip, Columbus landed on Puerto Rico, where he was received by the Taíno Indians, who were of the same ethnic group as the people of La Española and the other islands in the Caribbean.1

Months after reaching the Island, the Spaniards started the process of colonizing the Taíno Indians, led by Juan Ponce De Leon, who was one of the conquistadors that came with Columbus. Later, in 1508, De Leon became the first governor of San Juan Bautista. During this process of colonization, the Taíno Indians did not show resistance because they believed the Spaniards were gods. The reason they saw the Spaniards as gods was because there had been a Taíno legend that spoke of a time when gods were going to rise from the water to give salvation to the Taíno. This legend facilitated the process of colonization for the Spaniards, since they did not encounter any native resistance. Within a short time they had created villages and colonies. By the beginning of the 1500’s, the Taíno natives were working in gold mines and plantations. In 1514, the Taíno decided to take matters into their own hands and rebel against their Spanish overlords. What resulted was one of the most brutal genocides in Latin American history. More than 25,000 Taíno Indians were murdered by the Spaniards on the Island of San Juan Bautista. This means that 85-90% of their population had been killed at the hands of the Spaniards. After the rebellion, the Spaniards noticed that the natives that had survived were not enough to fulfill their labor requirements. They decided to search for a new work force.2

After the massacre of 1514, the Spaniards noticed that they needed a new “work force,” as they called their slaves; so in 1518 they started importing African slaves from the Gulf of Guinea. The slaves started to reach the island later that year, and became the new “work force” of the Spaniards along with the small number of Taíno Indians that had survived the massacre. This caused more problems, since the Spaniards and the Africans brought a variety of diseases to the Island, such as small-pox and measles. Approximately two million Taíno Indians that lived on the islands of the Caribbean died from these diseases. By the late 1500’s there were no more Taíno Indians left on the island of San Juan Bautista; only the children of those who intermarried with the Spaniards and Africans survived. Of course, the Taíno, Africans, and Spaniards intermarried through time, and this is why Puerto Ricans today have such a diverse racial heritage; but the original Taíno racial group became extinct by around 1600. By that time the island of San Juan Bautista had become one of the most important colonies in the Caribbean. The Spaniards now had a way to export their products to the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America through this island, giving them an economical advantage. In less than thirty years the Spaniards took the Taíno land, men, women, and children, and virtually erased a whole population from the face of the earth. Most people consider Christopher Columbus as one of the greatest explorer to ever live, and as a hero of sorts, but have they taken into consideration the many civilizations in the Americas that have been affected by him? Not only the Taíno population, but also the Aztecs, the Incas, and many other societies throughout the Americas were affected significantly by this Columbian moment in history.3

 

  1. Roberto Marquez, “Sojourners, Settlers, castaways and creators: A recollection of Puerto Rico past and Puerto Rico present,” Massachusetts Review 36, no. 1 (1995): 94.
  2. Robert M. Poole, “What Became Of The Taíno?” Smithsonian 42, no. 6 (October 2011): 58.
  3. Byron Cannon, “West Indian Uprisings,” Salem Press Encyclopedia (January 2016): 583-586.

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53 Responses

  1. 4/13/2021…I am Spaniard 72% and Puerto Rican & 11% Taino Indian. Columbus brought many people from Spain including Jews. The King & Queen wanted everyone in Spain to give up their religions to be Catholic & ordered Jews to leave Spain. When coming to Puerto Rico the Jews people found by going to the highest mountains. They could keep their Jewish religion in order not to be of the Catholic faith. So those ships brought over many people good or bad gave the diseases to Taino Indians. Which the Taino Indians had no immune system for the disease that they brought over plus the Chinese for slavery.
    Christobal Colon, which we call Columbus should not be celebrated on our calendar’s.
    I also believe the Vikings where in the Carbbean first.
    The reason Taino Indians originally where being used for there woman, slavery, plus being killed by infectious diseases.. Puerto Rican where slaved threw the years. So, they had to bring new people from West Africa to be slaves for farming, but in 1873 slavery was abolished in P.R.
    I love & I am proud of the mixture of Puerto Ricans which includes the Spanish,Taino Indians, & Africanos. We come in all colors of eyes and skin tones.

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