The Taino genocide (1492-1518) is where the Spanish wiped out most of the Tainos (Arawaks), the native people of the northern Caribbean (present-day Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, etc). Columbus himself set it in motion and oversaw it till 1500.
According to one estimate, genocide and disease wiped out 3 million of the 3.5 million Tainos – 85%. Most were already dead when smallpox arrived in 1518.
Columbus noticed two things about the Tainos:
- They wore gold jewellery.
- Their most advanced weapon was the spear.
With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
Columbus made La Taina, the land of the Tainos, into a living hell. It went way beyond simply killing those who fought Spanish rule. The Spanish had the Tainos:
- cut up into pieces like sheep,
- run down by hunting dogs and torn to pieces,
- strung up and burned alive 13 at a time – in memory of Jesus and his 12 Apostles.
They killed even women and children. Even babies: the Spanish threw babies against rocks and into rivers – and laughed. They cut off pieces of Tainos for entertainment. They cut off their heads for practice. They raped women and girls – and brought back syphilis to Europe. They even raped the wife of a king.
The Spanish were kinder to their animals than to the Tainos.
If a Taino killed a Spaniard, the Spanish killed 100 Tainos in return.
They killed Tainos by the thousands, even those who brought them food and gifts. They killed half the people of the kingdom of Maguana outright.
After the killing fields, the Spanish divided the remaining Tainos among themselves to teach them the Christian faith:
- For Taino men that meant working in the mines, often being worked to death. As many as 90% died within in three months.
- For Taino women that meant working the land, even the heavy work that men used to do.
There was so little food that babies died for lack of milk. Children died of hunger by the thousands. Men were worked so hard in the mines that few children were born.
Columbus demanded a certain amount gold or cotton from each Taino over the age of 13. Those who failed to meet his demands had their hands cut off.
All this was shocking behaviour by Western standards of the time.
When there were no longer enough Taino workers left, the Spanish brought in African slaves to take their place.
It was such a hell on earth that:
- Mothers killed their babies.
- Mass suicides were common.
Many fled to the mountains, blacks too, fighting the Spanish from there.
Hatuey, one of the Taino kings of Cuba, told his people to throw their gold into the river: the Christians worshipped gold as their god and would kill them for it.
In 1512 when Hatuey was about to be burned at the stake (pictured), a Franciscan brother told him him about the Christian faith to save his soul. When Hatuey found out that most good Christians were going to Heaven, he chose Hell.
Source: Mainly “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” (1542) by Bartolome de Las Casas.
- Hear Staceyann Chin tell it – she talks about Hispaniola, but it was pretty much the same in Cuba, Jamaica and Boriquen (Puerto Rico).
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