Conquest and Colonization

Conquest and Colonization

Conquest and Colonization

The sugar industry

Contraband and pirates

French occupation of the western side of the island

War of reconquers

Period of “España boba”

The ephemeral independence

The Haitian domination


The first Spanish settlement in the new world. 

Because the Santa María had run aground on the coasts of Haiti, it was impossible for the entire crew to return to Spain with the ship that remained, as La Pinta and its captain, Martín Alonso Pinzón, had separated from the group a month earlier to search for the island the natives called Babeque.  The admiral decided to leave a small group of men in a military fort constructed with the remains of the destroyed ship.  This installation was located in what is today known as Punta Picolet in the far northeast of the island.  It was named “La Navidad” or “Christmas”, after the day on which the shipwreck occurred, December 25.  Diego de Arana, Pedro Gutiérrez and Rodrigo Escobedo stayed on in command of the fort and its 39 men.  The Europeans also had the support of Chief Guacanagarix, who had been very friendly toward the foreigners since their disembarkation.

First sign of resistance.  Bordering the island to the east after encountering Martín Alonso Pinzón and Columbus, the ships La Pinta and La Niña arrived together in the Bahía de Samaná, where they saw natives aiming with bows and arrows for the first time.  Thus, they named the area “Gulf of Arrows”.  The inhabitants of the area were Ciguayo and Macori.

First armed encounter.  Chief Canoabo and his people destroyed the fort “La Navidad” and killed all of the men in reprisal for the abuses that some committed against the natives and their women.  According to the story of Chief Guacanagarix to Columbus when he disembarked in Hispaniola on his second voyage, members of the fort crew had pulled some Tainos from their homes and abused their spouses.

First Spanish town in America.  First mass.  Upon arriving to Hispaniola in his second voyage, and in spite of the destruction of the fort, Columbus decided to build a small Spanish-style villa on the island.  The villa was named La Isabela and was located at the mouth of the Bajabonico river.  It was quickly constructed and January 6, 1494, Father Boil held the first mass on the continent inside of it.

Trading post system.  It was the first economic plan implanted by the Spanish.  Based on the Portuguese experience on the western coast of Africa, it consisted of the exploitation of unsalaried work by Spaniards, the subjugation of the native peoples, their sale as slaves in Spain and the payment of tribute in gold powder or cotton.  The exploitation of natural resources and the indigenous work force could only carried out for the profit of the Crown or Columbus, not for individuals.  This situation only caused ill will among the Spaniards, who soon rebelled.  In addition, the majority of Tainos could not endure the voyage to Spain, dying of sadness in transit or arriving to the metropolis in critical condition.

Roldán Rebellion.  Uncomfortable with the trading post system as Columbus and his brothers governed it, and due to the precariousness of life in Hispaniola and the difficulty of returning to Spain, various groups of Spaniards attempted to rise up in arms against the administration of the incipient colony.  The first attempt at insurrection in 1494, led by Bernal Díaz de Pisa, was put down by Columbus.  But the second was successful.

Francisco Roldán, Mayor of La Isabela and long-time servant of the Admiral, started his rebellion, winning growing support from the colonists, as he defended the right to search for gold for personal profit, to use indigenous labor, and to take native women as wives as well as the freedom to return to Spain.  He also demanded the abolition of the tribute required of the natives.

In 1498, all of the Spanish towns and forts located in Hispaniola, except the towns of La Vega and La Isabela, had joined Roldán.  Christopher Columbus had no choice but to concede, signing the Capitulaciones de Azua in 1499.  This document named Francisco Roldán as Mayor of the city of Santo Domingo (already founded) for perpetuity, gave amnesty to all the rebels, allowed them the right to return to Spain, to wed Taino women and to use the native work force in search of gold for personal profit.  He also conceded the payment of their back salaries, though they had not worked in the past two years, and gave them lands for their Taino slaves to work.  This was the origin of the encomienda system.

The Destitution of Christopher Columbus.  The manner in which Columbus dealt with the Roldán uprising displeased the Spanish Crown, as the people that occupied the lowest social strata in Spain came to command the colonizing enterprise and acquired a higher economic position, allowing for a possible social ascent.  They decided to strip Christopher Columbus of his position as governor of the island and send Francisco Bobadilla to succeed him, who arrived in August 1500.  He immediately ordered the imprisonment of Columbus and his brothers, sending them back to Spain in shackles.

Encomienda System.  Bobadilla could not impose on Roldán; on the contrary, he had to almost completely accept the Capitulaciones de Azua, and reduced from a third to an eleventh the taxes that the Spanish were required to pay to the Crown for the right to search for gold for personal profit.  The next governor, Nicolás de Ovando, arrived in 1502 to subdue the Roldán supporters and sent Roldan and his closest conspirators back to Spain (they died in a shipwreck upon leaving the island).  Still, he had to support the distribution of land and Tainos, and favored his men when distributing possessions.  The encomienda system was formally established by a Royal Provision issued on December 20, 1503), which eventually became the foundation of the economic structure of conquered Hispaniola and America in the first decades of the colonization.  In this mechanism, land and natives were assigned for life to the Spanish colonists, who forced them to work intensively in the mines for the extraction of gold and in agricultural labor, instead of evangelizing them and “ensuring their well-being”.
At first considered by the Crown to be “free vassals” required to pay tribute to the Kings (1501), the indigenous people lived in this way, under the guise of evangelization and civilization, to support Spain’s imperial need to find gold, completely enslaved.

Reduction of the Taino population.  The brutal treatment of the indigenous people (considered as property; fair compensation for working in the conquista) caused a decrease in their health and life expectancy, which reached alarming levels in the case of Hispaniola, as its population rapidly decreased.  The Tainos began to commit suicide en masse and to have abortions, as these methods constituted the only escape from exploitation.  From 400,000 that lived on the island at the time of the 1492 arrival of Columbus, by 1508, there were only 60,000.

This situation, of course, also contributed to the enraged violence that friar Nicolás de Ovando unleashed against the indigenous communities that resisted slavery.  He beheaded, burned and hung entire towns, no matter the age or gender of the victims.  It was slavery or death.  In the Jaragua killings, he attacked through trickery, after being receiving and attended as a distinguished visitor by Chief Anacaona.

The decrease in the native work force obliged the colonists to import Indians from the Lucaya islands.

The Advent sermón.  Facing the brutality of the treatment of the Indians, a voice of protest emerged from the Dominican friars, led by Pedro de Córdoba, Bernardo de Santo Domingo and Antonio de Montesinos.  In an event without historical precedent, these priests of the conquering empire voiced their alarm for the suffering inflicted on the conquered.  This protest generated a debate on the right of the conquista, just or unjust war and the condition of man that resounded on a global scale and came to be one of the foundations for what we know today as public international law and human rights.

In Santo Domingo, the fourth Sunday of Advent, Friar Antonio de Montesinos delivered the following words from the pulpit (“Ego vox clamanti in deserto”):

 “So that you may know why I have mounted this pulpit, I who am the voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island, and therefore, it behooves you to listen to me with all of your heart and your senses, listen; for this voice will be the strangest that you have ever heard, the harshest and hardest and most terrifying and dangerous that you will ever hear…This voice proclaims that all are in mortal sin, and in it you live and die, for the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people.  Tell me, by what right and what justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery?  By what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people, who lived gently and peacefully on their lands, in which you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and destruction?  How do you hold them, oppressed and fatigued, without giving them food nor curing them of diseases brought about by excessive labor, and so they die, or rather, you kill them, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day?  And what care do you take for them to receive religious instruction and come to know their God and creator, be baptized, hear mass and observe religious holidays and Sundays?  Are they not men?  Do they not have rational souls?  Are you not obligated to love them as you love yourselves?  Do you not understand this?  Do you not feel this?  How can you lie in such a profound and lethargic slumber?   Be certain that in your present state, you can no more be saved than the Moors or the Turks who do not have and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.”

The Burgos Laws.  The campaign in defense of the indigenous people engendered a series of discussions organized by the Spanish Crown in the cities of Burgos and Valladolid.  In these session, in which scholars and theologians participated, the analysis revolved around the human condition of the Indian: if he was an inferior being that lacked a soul and therefore deserved the treatment given him by his master; or if he had a soul, which demanded treatment that facilitated his freedom and evangelization.  After almost a year of debates, in December 1512, the Burgos laws were approved, which recognized the “rational” character of the native peoples and stated the following:

•  Right to appropriate nutrition

•  Right to access to hammocks for sleep.

•  Work leave for pregnant women

•  Exoneration from heavy loads for men.

•  Prohibition of jailing.

•  Prohibition of physical punishment.

•  Free baptism.

•  Obligatory Christian teaching.

•  Obligatory construction of their bohíos next to houses of Spaniards.

•  Prohibition of bigamy.

•  Encomienda limit of 40 to 150 Indians per master.

In addition, the position of Indian distributor was created, directly responsible to the Crown, in order to solve the conflicts caused by the distributions of the governor of Hispaniola, at that moment Diego Colón.

These laws composed the first code of law for the Spanish in the Indies.  They were first applied in Hispaniola and later extended to Puerto Rico and Jamaica.  But the rights and guarantees conceded to the natives were never implemented and their extermination continued at full speed.  Around 1514, in the first Spanish colony in America, only 25,500 Tainos remained; in 1517, the figure fell to 11,000; and between December 1518 and January 1519, a smallpox epidemic reduced it to 3,000.




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