Spanish Empire > Cuba


Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


Christopher Columbus, on his first Spanish-sponsored voyage to the Americas in 1492, sailed south from what is now the Bahamas to explore the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. Columbus, who was searching for a route to India, believed the island to be a peninsula of the Asian mainland.[14][15] The first sighting of a Spanish ship approaching the island was on 28 October 1492, probably at Bariay, Holguín Province, on the eastern point of the island.[12] During a second voyage in 1494, Columbus passed along the south coast of the island, landing at various inlets including what was to become Guantánamo Bay. With the Papal Bull of 1493, Pope Alexander VI commanded Spain to conquer, colonize and convert the pagans of the New World to Catholicism.[16] On arrival, Columbus observed the Taíno dwellings, describing them as "looking like tents in a camp. All were of palm branches, beautifully constructed".[17] The Spanish began to create permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, east of Cuba, soon after Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean, but the coast of Cuba was not fully mapped until 1509, when Sebastián de Ocampo completed this task.[18] In 1511, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar set out from Hispaniola to form the first Spanish settlement in Cuba, with orders from Spain to conquer the island. The settlement was at Baracoa, but the new settlers were to be greeted with stiff resistance from the local Taíno population. The Taínos were initially organized by cacique (chieftain) Hatuey, who had himself relocated from Hispaniola to escape the brutalities of Spanish rule on that island. After a prolonged guerrilla campaign, Hatuey and successive chieftains were captured and burnt alive, and within three years the Spanish had gained control of the island. In 1514, a settlement was founded in what was to become Havana. Clergyman Bartolomé de las Casas observed a number of massacres initiated by the invaders as the Spanish swept over the island, notably the massacre near Camagüey of the inhabitants of Caonao. According to his account, some three thousand villagers had traveled to Manzanillo to greet the Spanish with loaves, fishes and other foodstuffs, and were "without provocation, butchered".[19] The surviving indigenous groups fled to the mountains or the small surrounding islands before being captured and forced into reservations. One such reservation was Guanabacoa, which is today a suburb of Havana.[20] A monument to the Taíno chieftain Hatuey in Baracoa, Cuba In 1513, Ferdinand II of Aragon issued a decree establishing the encomienda land settlement system that was to be incorporated throughout the Spanish Americas. Velázquez, who had become Governor of Cuba relocating from Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba, was given the task of apportioning both the land and the indigenous peoples to groups throughout the new colony. The scheme was not a success, however, as the natives either succumbed to diseases brought from Spain such as measles and smallpox, or simply refused to work, preferring to slip away into the mountains.[12] Desperate for labor to toil the new agricultural settlements, the Conquistadors sought slaves from surrounding islands and the continental mainland. However, these new arrivals followed the indigenous peoples by also dispersing into the wilderness or dying of disease.[12] Despite the difficult relations between the natives and the new Europeans, some cooperation was in evidence. The Spanish were shown by the natives how to nurture tobacco and consume it in the form of cigars. There were also many unions between the largely male Spanish colonists and indigenous women. Modern-day studies have revealed traces of DNA that renders physical traits similar to Amazonian tribes in individuals throughout Cuba,[21] although the native population was largely destroyed as a culture and civilization after 1550. Under the Spanish New Laws of 1552, Cuban Indians were freed from encomienda, and seven Indian towns were set up. There are descendant Cuban Indian (Taíno) families in several places, mostly in eastern Cuba. The Indian community at Caridad de los Indios, Guantánamo, is one such nuclei. An association of Indian families in Jiguani, near Santiago, is also active. The local Indian population also left their mark on the language, with some 400 Taíno terms and place-names surviving to the present day. The name of Cuba itself, Havana, Camagüey, and many others were derived from the neo-Taíno language, and Indian words such as tobacco, hurricane and canoe were transferred to English and are used today

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