Columbus and the Taino Genocide

Social Justice Tour Activity: Explore multiple perspectives on the Columbus legacy. Visit Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the New World; see key historical sites such as the Columbus lighthouse and the "wall of shame". 

The original names of this island were Quesqueya and Haiti.  These were the names given to it by the original inhabitants, the Tainos.   The key date for understanding extreme poverty is 1492.  Columbus arrives.  He describes the people he meets in glowing terms: “They give and share their possessions freely. They don’t know anything about weapons and they cut their fingers on our swords out of ignorance. These are the kindest, most gentle people I have ever met. With 100 men we can subjugate all of them and make them do whatever we want.”

  And this is how the relationship between privileged nations and the developing world began. . . And to some extent continues today along the same lines.

            Many of the Tainos died from disease, but faced with inhuman torture and slavery, many killed themselves and their children rather than live as slaves.  To the Spanish, they were less than human.  Soldiers had contests to see who was strong enough to cut a man in half with one fell swoop of the sword.  When the enslaved Tainos did not find enough gold, a hand or finger was chopped off as a warning to others.  Women were routinely raped and abused.

            Within 100 years, the entire population of Tainos was wiped out as the result of disease and cruelty. This was the first genocide in the New World, but just the first in a series of events where racism and greed served to fuel events displaying man’s inhumanity to man.

            With all of the Taino’s gone, a new source of expendable labor was needed.  People were stolen from Africa and the entire island was repopulated with a new source of slave labor.