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4.8 West Indies

The Arawaks (also known as Tainos) rescued the crew and cargo of the “Santa Maria” when it went aground on a coral reef of the north coast of Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican republic). The island of Hispaniola (its Spanish name) had a population of at least 3,000,000 Arawaks organised in five chiefdoms. The Arawaks were skilled boat builders and navigators who traded with the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba) and Lesser Antilles (Trinidad, Grenada, Martinique, Guadeloupe). The Arawaks had developed a complex agricultural and trading society. They produced three crops a year (mainly manioc –or cassava, a root vegetable-, yams, sweet potatoes, maize, beans and squashes).

In 1493 because of their cruelty the Spanish still on Hispaniola were killed by the Arawaks after they had destroyed a fort built by Colombus “La Navidad”. The Spanish enslaved many Arawaks and put them to work searching gold. When Colombus came back, the Arawaks, trusting him, told him how the Spanish treated them with extreme cruelty. Colombus reacted with even greater repression.  Killing people or sending them to Spain as slaves. Those who resisted had their nose or ears cut, some were burned alive while others were hanged.

In 1495-1496 disease devastated the Caribbean islands following the arrival of Spaniards. These illnesses were measles, smallpox, scarlet fever and others for which the natives had no immunities. The declining number of people increased the Spanish cruelty as less people were available to produce the food the Spanish requested. Many Arawaks killed themselves and their families rather that submit to the Spanish.

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