Rebellion and Anti-Colonial Struggle in Hispaniola: From Indigenous Agitators to African Rebels

By Ozuna, Ana | Journal of Pan African Studies, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Rebellion and Anti-Colonial Struggle in Hispaniola: From Indigenous Agitators to African Rebels


Ozuna, Ana, Journal of Pan African Studies


Ana Ozuna earned her Ph. D. from University at Buffalo in Spanish Literature and currently serves as Assistant Professor at Hostos Community College, and teaches Black and Caribbean Studies courses. Her current research and publications examines racial identity politics in the Dominican Republic and maroonage throughout the Caribbean.

The long-standing campaigns against Moorish rulers in the Iberian Peninsula fostered a crusading zeal that legitimized the persecution of Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians for over seven centuries and continued after Spanish monarchs toppled the last Moorish stronghold in 1492. Enamored by this triumph, the Spanish Crown granted Christopher Columbus the necessary funding to explore lands west of the Iberian Peninsula with the objective of enriching Spanish coffers and extending their genocidal campaign in lands across the sea. The Bull Inter Caetera, one of three bulls issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, sanctioned the imperial extension of Portugal and Spain, and laid out an agenda of territorial domination, the acquisition of precious metals, and the subjugation of non-Europeans. In the document, the Pope boasts of the "recovery of the kingdom of Granada from the yoke of the Saracens," denoting it as the final campaign that eradicated Moorish rule from the Iberian Peninsula, and mandates the Iberian monarchs to extend their geopolitical power and dominate non-Europeans in the name of the Christendom.

The indigenous inhabitants of Hispaniola, the Tainos, originally numbering 1 million on the island according to Spanish census of 1496, initiated a legacy of resistance in defense of their autonomy against the Spanish that attracted the participation of enslaved African collaborators upon their arrival during the first decades of the sixteenth century (Roorda, Eric, Lauren Hutchinson 2). Christopher Columbus evinced his awe of the island's natural environment during his first voyage noting, "that the best land of Castile could not be compared with it" and, furthermore regarding it as "the most pleasant place in the world" in his December 13th journal entry (Columbus 178). Columbus likewise lauded the magnanimity of the Tainos during this first encounter, particularly after cacique Guacanagari of the northwestern region of the island, Marien, and his people collectively wept for the loss of the Spanish flagship Santa Maria, and assisted the Spanish crew in storing salvaged goods in Taino homesteads. Directly addressing the Spanish Crown in his December 25th entry, Columbus exalted their compassion, generosity, and naivete: "They are a loving people, without covetousness, and fit for anything; and I assure your Highnesses that there is no better land nor people" (Columbus 201).

In his ensuing December 26 account, Columbus again lauded Guacanagari for graciously safeguarding their possessions from the Santa Maria vessel, bestowing gifts of gold, and preparing a lavish meal of indigenous fare "three or four kinds of ajes, with shrimp and game, the other viands they have, besides the bread which they call cazavi" (Columbus 202). During this meeting, Guacanagari confirmed the location of gold mines in the Cibao region to Columbus' extreme satisfaction since he promised the Spanish Crown the extensive acquisition of this valuable commodity. The Admiral ordered the construction of La Navidad fort and settlement, and confidently left 39 men, asserting that upon his return, they would have gathered "a tun of gold collected by barter [...] would have found the mine, and spices in such quantities that the Sovereigns would in three years, be able to undertake and fit an expedition to go conquer the Holy Sepulchre" (Columbus 205).

After a ten-day stay as a guest of Guacanagari, Columbus and his men headed east to reconnoiter the island before departing to Spain, and experienced their first instance of indigenous defiance and resistance. According to Columbus' account, island natives attacked his crew on January 13th after they persistently demanded indigenous bows, arrows, and other weapons (Columbus 224). …

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