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Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean


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Week 6

Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean F20 Online


Part 1


The “Discovery” of America


In the fall of 1492 Christopher Columbus and his crew of ninety men disembarked on American soil—an event that profoundly affected, not only the lives of Caribbean peoples and eventually all the inhabitants in the continent, but the course of human history.  As you are all well aware, there is the story that we learned in school and that is told every year around the world on “Columbus Day”.  A great Italian sailor and explorer, looking for a route to Asia, traveled westward sponsored by the Spanish crown and discovered a new world.  Take a look at the following sites that recall the experience of that voyage (and/or look for others on your own):




By now we know however, that the story of Columbus’ first voyage to, and “discovery” of, the American continent is not just a tale of adventure but a history of genocide and centuries-long exploitation.  For an Indigenous point of view check the site below (and others you might find):



Controversies surrounding the celebration of Columbus Day:






Part 2


Conquest and Colonization


When Christopher Columbus set out on his famous voyage, his project was to find a route to Asia and to the Asian trade that would hopefully make him wealthy and powerful.  As he stated on his dairy on October 12, 1492, the “Indians” he met upon his arrival in the American continent “…very willingly traded everything they had.  But they seemed to me a people short of everything” (quoted in your text, p.3).  Indeed, the original plan to set up trading posts and build a commercial empire had to be revised in light of fact that at least in the Caribbean, such a project was simply not viable.  Clearly, if Columbus and his kind and the Spanish Crown itself were going to profit at all from this venture, a colonial structure which implied permanent settlements and a work force at the service of the colonial power, had to be established. This structure actually followed a familiar pattern: that of the Iberian Reconquista (or reconquest) that you have been reading about. At first, American affairs were handled by the Casa de Contratacion (House of Trade); appropriately, when the trading agenda was revised, the Council of the Indies became the organism responsible for the overseas affairs.


As you have read, Columbus was not the man responsible for organizing the initial colonial structure in the Caribbean that served as the model for the rest of colonial Spanish-America.  Since he turned out to be a poor administrator, he was soon replaced by Fracisco de Bobadilla in 1499 who, in turn, was replaced by Nicolas de Ovando three years later.  It was this latter governor who put the colonial apparatus into place, so to speak. Under his administration:


  1. The native populations in Hispaniola and later in the other larger islands and in Florida were “pacified” (or subjugated)
  2. The system of encomienda (or the granting of lands with conquered peoples to work for/serve the conquerors) was set up
  3. Fifteen permanent and well-located towns were established in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti
  4. Mining, gracing, agriculture made the economy of the island stable and self-sufficient
  5. Social and political structures were established with Spanish settlers at the top.
  6. The Spanish Church became a prominent presence, represented by Franciscans and Dominicans, charged with the religious conversion of the native population
  7. Waves of settlers coming to the colonies as families (husbands, wives, children, servants and slaves) first began to arrive


Ovando’s appointment and responsibilities were part of a broader vision and policy established by the Spanish crown.  The project of the Spanish Crown was to unify, in a pattern that followed closely the pattern of unifying Spain (by means of the strategies used in the reconquista, namely the encomienda system), newly discovered lands into an ideal “New Spain”. For a definition and description of the encomienda system see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encomienda  Follow the links under “SEE ALSO” and read the short pieces you find there.


This nearly utopian Nueva Espana was going to be purely Castilian, Spanish, Roman Catholic and under tight royal control. To that end, free-lance explorers were no longer welcome in the new colonies.  Neither were Jews nor Moors (North African Muslims)—not even those who had converted to Roman Catholicism—nor peoples of other ethnic backgrounds or religious affiliations, nor of course, of mixed ancestry—allowed  to immigrate. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limpieza_de_sangre  for a discussion on  limpieza de sangre, “purity of blood”,  and to http://sefarad.org/lm/037/6.html for an article on the Spanish Inquisition in the New World.


Nicolas de Ovando’s accomplishments came to have an underside or set of negative consequences for the indigenous peoples of the islands and for the colony as a whole, towards the end of, and in the period following his administration.  Similarly, the Spanish Crown’s project of a “pure” and thoroughly Spanish society in the American colonies, met with unexpected challenges and from the point of view of the ruling monarchs, quite undesirable results.






Homework Assignment:





Review your text from middle of  p.20 (“The arrival of Ovando ) to middle of page 27 (ends in “…the island in 1655).


  1. Make a list for yourself of the negative consequences of Ovando’s policies—for the Indians and for the colony in Hispaniola.
  2. In a second list you make for yourself, note the ways (and/or the reasons why) the Spanish vision and project of a new, ideal society in the colonies failed. Rely not only on what your text says, but on your own reflections on the situation/circumstances of the colonies.


Share (Discussion forum):

You may post one or both of your lists and/or add/comment on other people’s lists




The links above and

go back to chapter 2 in your textbook and read the rest of the material.  Be sure to review the definitions/descriptions of

  1. Settler vs. Exploitation colonies
  2. The role of religion in the Spanish expansion
  3. The role of women in the new colonies
  4. The regulation of marriage in the colonies


IMPORTANT, PLEASE NOTE:  While you may be asked to read entire chapters in your textbook (although not always), the midterm and the final will ONLY emphasize those issues from each chapter that are discussed in the lesson notes (along with the instructor’s comments, and the readings from the links). 


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