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Hispaniola Colonization

Categories: Colonization

For the first ten years of colonization, Hispaniola was the only colony in the Caribbean where the Spanish settled. In the 16thcentury, Hispaniola was the centre of the Spanish colonial system in the Caribbean. It was known as the Pearl of the Caribbean. Just like in the other colonies, the Tainos thought that the Spaniards were gods and welcomed them into their villages. Columbus believed that Hispaniola had gold and forced the Tainos to work in the mines. Columbus also made the Tainos pay the Spanish a tribute to satisfy both the Crown’s and the settler’s greed for gold, and to obtain food for his settlement.

It was easy to take control of the Tainos as they assumed that if they pleased the ‘gods’ that they would be richly rewarded in the afterlife. It was obvious from Columbus’ journals that the Tainos were not as used to battle and warfare as the Spaniards. Columbus noted that “with 50 men you could subject everyone and make them do what you wished” and that the natives were “such cowards and so fearful.

” Due to these facts, it was seen that the Spaniards meet little resistance by the Tainos in Hispaniola.

The Spanish legacies conquest of the indigenous people in Hispaniola resulted in a new system of government, which has a negative effect on the Tainos, the introduction of different economic policies and activities and devastating changes in the Taino culture. During this time period, the Spaniards were interested in gold, glory and god.

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In the name of the Spanish Queen, Queen Isabella, Columbus and his men were to acquire colonies to improve the power of their country. They came to the Caribbean looking for a new trading route to the Indies. However, he found the Caribbean instead and called it the West Indies.

Gold was seen as very important in Europe and the more a country had, the wealthier it was. With the introduction of other religions, such as the Muslim Moors, Queen Isabella was determined to spread Christianity to all of her colonies; old and new. Not only did Columbus and his Spaniards conquer the Tainos in Hispaniola, but also in other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and Puerto Rico on his second voyage in 1493. He also went passed along the coastline of Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Antigua, Santa Cruz (St. Croix), Nevis, St. Kitts, Saba and the Virgin Islands.

There he met the Kalinagos, a fierce tribe of indigenous people also living in the Caribbean at the same time of the Tainos. He also explored the coast of Guanahami in Bahamas and Cuba in his first voyage, the South American coastline in 1498 and the Central American coast in 1502 and 1504. One of the major effects of the Spanish settlement in Hispaniola was the dismantlement of the Taino’s society with the introduction of new labour systems. In total, 1,500 Spaniards came to Hispaniola on the second voyage of Columbus, where his intend was to colonize the island.

The introduction of the repartimiento and encomienda labour systems dismantled the structured organization that the Tainos already had. There society was becoming extinct. It destroyed their livelihood as they could not farm for themselves, but for the Spaniards. They were overworked and beaten and their culture ignored. They were forced to adhere to the Spanish rule and convert to Christianity. They were banned from practicing their religion. The Spaniards also focused on other economic activities, like tobacco farming and cattle ranching, which exploited the Tainos even further.

Another effect of the Spanish settlement in Hispaniola on the Taino’s was the induction of a tribute system. Now that Hispaniola was one of Spain’s colonies, a form of governance was needed. At first, the Tainos had to give a tribute and this was the form of control for the time. When this failed, the Spaniards established the repartimiento system in 1499. The repartimiento system, sometimes called the Repartimiento de Labor (Distribution of Labor), enabled a conquistador, or a Spanish settler, to be given a number of indigenous people to work for him.

Columbus also imposed a burdensome tax on every Taino and if they failed to pay it, they would suffer mutilation or execution. It was the Spaniard’s new way of controlling the Tainos. The local magistrate was in charge of allocating labour for each conquistador. The imposition of tributes on the Taino’s can be argued to be the first form of slavery. The concept was that the Tainos were forced to do low-paid or unpaid labour for a certain number of weeks or months each year on Spanish-owned farms and mines. It is argued that the repartimiento was the first form of slavery.

Even though the Tainos were not stated as owned, they were free in various respects and the work was alternating. The needs of the Tainos were ignored and they were punished severely. Some of the native communities that were located near to Spanish settlements also had to give up a percentage of their people to work in agriculture, construction of houses and streets and as part of the labour force. Columbus could not control this labour system as the Tainos resisted against the system. Some of the Tainos escaped from the epartimiento by leaving their communities and looked for wage labour elsewhere. Other signed contracts (asientos) which lasted six months to a year and required the workers to be paid a salary, provided living quarters and religious services during the time. When Nicolas de Ovando became governor of Hispaniola in 1502, he brought with him a stabilized labour system; the encomienda system. The theory of this system was simple. The Spanish Crown gave the Tainos to the Spaniards, who became known as encomenderos, and this grant gave the Spaniards the right to exact labour and tribute from the natives.

In return, the encomenderos were obligated to enforce religious instruction on them and to protect them. According to Fitzroy ‘Roy’ Augier, a Historian professor, “By the encomienda system, a Spanish colonist could be awarded a number of Indians to work for him. In return, the colonist was responsible for teaching them Christian principles, paying them wages and looking after them. ” The repartimento system did not work and it could not control the Tainos as intended so the encomienda system was introduced. This proved to be a little more effective.

This, however, did not happen and the Tainos were not allowed to practice their polytheism religion, as the Spanish believed that it was ‘heathen’ and ‘uncivilized. ’ In some recent documents of the Spanish colonization in the Caribbean, it was argued by scholars that “the natives were lazy and undependable – even dangerous- and that they could never live as ‘civilized’ Europeans, though a few suggested that, with freedom and Christianity, they could become equal citizens. ” The encomienda system was sometimes confused and referred to as the repartimiento system, but the two had different meanings and requirements.

However, no matter what the Spaniards called the labour systems, the indigenous people saw it as slavery. Furthermore, another effect of the Spaniards in Hispaniola that resulted in the dwindling numbers of the Tainos was the diseases they brought with them to the Caribbean. Some of the European diseases were smallpox, measles, influenza and malaria. The famine in 1495 and 1496 also contributed to the low immune system of the Tainos. In Hispaniola, the first recorded outbreak of smallpox was in 1507. There are several main reasons why the Tainos were so vulnerable to the diseases.

In terms of measles, usually children would be immune when they get it. However, Taino adults got it so it was more deadly and they could not survive it. Animals, like cows, horses, chickens, pigs, goats and geese, spread diseases and the Tainos had no such animals. When the Spaniards came, they brought with them beasts of burdens, and this contributed to the spread of the European diseases. The Tainos were more vulnerable to diseases as they did not have a large immune system, so it could not recognize the new diseases and fight them off.

The diseases were quickly spread as the Tainos would be working and living together, including the infected individuals. Others would pick it up and contagion would spread. The decrease of the Taino population was caused by the mainly the adults picking up the diseases, introduction of European animals, low immune system and the quick spreading of the diseases. The Taino culture was becoming non-existent and, because of the abuse they received at the hands of the Spaniards, their numbers were cut in half. Firstly, their government was destroyed and they had no cacique to lead them.

The caciques were killed as the Spanish did not want any resistance from them. The Tainos could not practice their religion of worshipping animals and nature as it was seen as ‘heathen. ’ The Spanish taught them Christianity and they had to follow that instead. They could not continue to make dug-out canoes, hammocks and engage in basket weaving. This aspect of their culture was the first to disappear. Under the encomienda system, they were required to work for a Spanish landowner for most of the year, which left little time to their own community affairs.

Since the Tainos had no time to focus on their culture, it was slowly depleting. Families were constantly being moved from one place to the next and to different Spaniards and this resulted in the break-up of the family. The males went one place, the females and children another. Children grew up not knowing where their parents were and if they were even alive. There was no time for agriculture as they had to work in the mines or on the Spanish farms. The crops that were produced from their conuco grounds were given to the Spaniards and there was little left for the Tainos to sustain themselves.

They were also mistreated and given harsh punishments for petty crimes. In his journals, Columbus instructed his men, “If you find that some of them [Indians] steal from, you should punish them by cutting their noses and ears…” This often led to the death of the Tainos by loss of blood. As a result of these factors, the death rates increased and the birth rates decreased. Famous missionary and historiographer, Bartolome de Las Casas, wrote in 1561, “There were 60,000 people living on his island (when I arrived in 1508), including the Indians; so that from 1495 to 1508, over 3,000,000 people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. ”

Taino females were also being sexually exploited. In the translated book, ‘A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies,’ Las Casas also states that, “the Christians punched them, boxed their ears and flogged them in order to track down the local leaders, and the whole shameful process came to an end when one of the European commanders raped the wife of the paramount chief of the entire island. Rape of the women was one of the common ways in which the Spaniards asserted control over the Tainos. This, and intermarriages, as some of the Spaniards took Taino women to be their wives, also lead to the mixing of the both races and the creation of the mestizo; children born of European and indigenous descent. In the first generation of mestizos, the father was Spanish and the mother was Taino. The first set of mestizo children were born in 1533, but a significant number of mestizo babies were not born until 1537.

Also, around ninety-five percent of the first generation was illegitimate. Historian James Lockhart believes that the Spanish might have considered illegitimacy to be a more serious problem than racial mixing because of their strong Catholic beliefs. He also states that the individual treatment of a mestizo child was determined by the Spanish father, who accepted or rejected the child. Many Spanish fathers did not love these children; instead, it was a sense of duty.

The Spanish settlement on Hispaniola also produced the adverse effect of introducing a new crop into the Caribbean. Originally, the Tainos produced cassava, corn, yucca, beans, cotton and ground provisions. Eventually, sugar became a leading crop in Hispaniola. Hispaniola became the ‘cradle’ of the Caribbean sugar economy. The Spaniards used the Tainos to work tirelessly and long hours in the sugar fields, preparing the fields and planting and harvesting the sugar-canes.

Also, tobacco, coffee and cocoa were grown alongside sugar. Hispaniola became a large country in trading. The Spaniards traded the sugar and tobacco with Spain, England and France. The Spaniards also introduced wheat and this became part of the Tainos’ diet. Having the Tainos work even harder under new conditions, similar to the plantation system, lead to the destruction of the Taino culture and lives. When Columbus set foot on the Hispaniola soil, who would have guessed that so many activities would have taken place.

The peaceful Tainos of the island, who had discovered Hispaniola years before Columbus, were cruelly captured and forced to work in the mines and on the Spanish farms. They were abused, mal-nourished and many died because of the harsh treatments of the repartimiento and encomienda systems. There was the loss of culture, the mixing of the races resulting in the formation of a new group in society, and the decimation of the indigenes.

Most scholars estimate the number of Tainos on Hispaniola in 1492 at between one and three million, and by 1550, the number had dropped to 600. The Spaniards also forced the Tainos to work in the sugarcane and tobacco fields. The Taino culture nearly ceases to exist in the 16th century wiped out by genocide, introduction of disease and assimilation into the plantation economy. These are the social effects that presented themselves during the Spanish settlement in Hispaniola in the 15th to 16th century.

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Hispaniola Colonization. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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