OUR AMERINDIAN ANCESTORS


by

Aruna Sharma

St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive
1996

PREFACE



This book attempts to bring together elements of descriptive history, of our Amerindian Ancestors. This book provides a carefully structured summary of our ancestors. The approach of this book is to present a number of ideas through a range of data - text, photographs, maps and so on. The emphasis is on rather than the memorisation of facts, although the acquisition of knowledge of our history is regarded as an important aim. Readers are encouraged not only to make judgements from evidence, but also to express one's feelings however acquired. This book has been written in the belief that history can be of real interest and enjoyment to the reader, and can contribute considerably to their wider education and future action.

EASY FIND
THE MIGRATION OF ARAWAKS AND CARIBS
THE EARLIEST INHABITANTS OF THE WEST INDIES
EUROPEAN PERCEPTION
THE WEST INDIES
THE AMERINDIAN WAY OF LIFE
THE MAYAS
  • Government and Politics
  • Religion:
  • Architecture
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Writing, Mathematics and Calendars
THE AZTECS
THE INCAS
THE CHIBCHAS
PEOPLED BY IMMIGRANTS
THE COMING OF THE SPANIARDS
A PEOPLE DISAPPEARS
SURVIVORS

THE MIGRATION OF ARAWAKS AND CARIBS

The Mongoloid were people that lived in Central East Asia. They were nomadic hunters that hunted the buffalo and deer. When the herds moved away from the grazing area the hunters had to follow them in order to get their food supply.

In this way, the herds also probably led the people out of central Asia crossing the Bearing Strait and into North America - although they had no knowledge that they were moving from one continent to another.

The Amerindians settled throughout North America and they were known as the ancestors of the Red Indian tribes we know today, as well as of the Eskimos in the far north. Even though they were nomadic some still followed the settled agricultural pursuit and developed agricultural civilisations of their own.

The migrations continued through the South of America, from where the Arawaks and Caribs then migrated to the West Indies.bearing

The Arawaks can still be traced through their language to two different lands in South America where the Indians speak related languages. In appearance, the ancestors of the Arawaks looked as though they came from some where on the border land between Bolivia, Peru and Brazil.

They eventually migrated on to the West Indies. The land of the Caribs was further South than that of the Arawaks. They migrated across Brazil to the interior of Guyana, then North to the Coast of Venezuela, and so on to the West Indies, possibly about 2,000 years ago.

THE EARLIEST INHABITANTS OF THE WEST INDIES

If we go far enough into history, we come to a time when the West Indies were uninhabited.

This was thousands of years before the writing of the history of the West Indies was even thought about; taking into account that the West Indies is not even 500 years old. We also have an idea that the islands had been inhabited by people before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who thought he had discovered the ' Indies '. Although our perception may not be accurate, we could still sketch a picture of these inhabitants of the islands, before the coming of the Spaniards.

There were people called the 'SIBONEYS' in Cuba and the other large islands before the coming of the Arawaks and Caribs but our knowledge of them is not as extensive as that of the Arawaks and Caribs, also known as the Amerindians.

They were indigenous to the West Indies but were part of a migration from central east Asia which had begun about 35,000 years ago. The Arawaks and Caribs were part of a large family that inhabited the North and South America.

EUROPEAN PERCEPTION

Europeans found many American Indian communities throughout the continent as they explored. Here are some European impressions of the Amerindians after their encounters in the Caribbean Area:

They were young men; none of them more than thirty years old. They had very hard bodies, very good build; good faces, not handsome, but very well made; very man- like. They had coarse hair, almost like the hair of a horse's tail, and quite short. They also wore hair over their eye brows, except the hank they wore that was never cut.

It looked like it was some part of their tradition. They were neither black nor white; and some painted parts of their body. The reason for painting themselves like that was to have the complexion of the Canary Islanders.

They had no weapons and they knew nothing of them: when they were showed swords they grabbed them by the blades, cutting themselves in the process. They had no iron. They used darts -with a kind of rod without iron; and some had at the end a fish's tooth- and other things that they used for their weapons.

They were generally fairly tall. Some had marks on their bodies. They understood no language and so, signs had to be made to them to communicate what we meant. They seemed to describe how people had come from the main land to take them as slaves.

They appeared to be skilled servants ; quickly repeating whatever was said to them. No doubt they could easily be converted to Christianity, as they seemed to have no religion of their own.

THE WEST INDIES

Even on his deathbed Christopher Columbus still believed that the long chain of islands that he " discovered " - stretching from the top of Florida southward toward the South American coast of Venezuela - were the Indies.

When Columbus' mistake was realised, Spain labeled this island arc that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, the' West' Indies to distinguish it from the Spice Islands of the Pacific, the 'East' Indies.

At the time of their discovery, the archipelago of islands which has become known as the West Indies, were inhabited principally by two Amerindian tribes. They had a close link with the Amerindians of Guiana on the South American mainland. The first set was the Arawaks, one branch of which - the Tainos - was concentrated in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas; while the second - the Igneris - dominated the Lesser Antilles. Apart from the Arawaks, there was a second principal group, the Caribs. A third variant of the Amerindian pattern - the Siboneys - was located on a smaller scale in Western Cuba, possibly representing a pre-Arawak strain originating in Florida.

The outstanding general work on the Amerindian culture is a Swedish publication, "Origins of the Tainan Culture, West Indies" by Sven Joven - the 1935 English translation and expansion of his Swedish treatise of 1942. With respect to Trinidad itself, our knowledge comes from a little masterpiece, "The Aborigines of Trinidad," by J.A. Bullbrook, Associate Curator of the Royal Victoria Institute and Museum, in 1960, representing the results of his excavations in ' middens' - which were both refuse dumps and burial grounds - of the Amerindians in Cedros, Palo Seco and Erin.

Useful information is also available from Surinam, not only from archaeological investigations - a brief account of which is available in English, in the work of D.C. Geijskes - but also from a direct study of living Arawak tribes which have retreated with the onset of Western civilisation, further and further into the interior of the country. Examples of the arts and crafts, and of the life and work of the Amerindians, can be seen in the Royal Victorian Museum in Trinidad and the Surinam Museum in Paramaribo.

The West Indies now caribbean comprises more than 30 countries with a regional population of approximately 33 million people scattered over 2,000 square miles ( 5,200 square kilometers ) of ocean. Since World War II the term 'Caribbean' has been favoured as a general name for the region. In addition to the island territories, four mainland countries are considered to be part of the Caribbean, or West Indies: Belize ( formerly British Honduras ) in Central America ; and the three Guianas in South America - Guyana ( formerly British Guiana ), Suriname ( formerly Dutch Guiana ), and French Guiana. Common social and historical legacies tie these continental enclaves to their sister islands.

Island territories range in size from 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) to thousands of square miles, but most - more than two thirds- are tiny. The continental Guianas are relatively larger. Cuba, by far the largest island at 44,000 square miles ( 114,000 square kilometers ), is smaller than the state of Ohio. Grenada, much more typical at 133 square miles ( 344 square kilometers) , is barely larger than the District of Columbia.

Grouping of minute islands that form administrative domains are common but often stretch geographical imagination. There is the Commonwealth of the Bahamas with a quarter of a million people spread over an archipelago of more than 700 islands and more than 80 minute cays - together constituting some 5,000 square miles ( 13,000 square kilometers ).

Another odd legacy of colonial history is the amalgamation of the Netherlands Antilles, two groups of islands some 500 miles ( 800 kilometers ) apart - Curacao and Bonaire in the far-eastern Caribbean off the northwestern coast of Venezuela, and a Leeward Island group east of Puerto Rico : Saint Maartin ( shared with France as St Martin ), Saint Eustatius, and Saba.

THE AMERINDIAN WAY OF LIFE

Except for the Siboneys with their primitive shell culture, ignorance of stone, pottery and axe blades, and use of shell vessels, the Amerindian civilisation of Arawaks and Caribs was essentially agricultural, representing an important advance in the scale of civilisation over the paleolithic period of human history. They cultivated the soil by constructing mounds of earth, firstly to loosen soil, secondly to protect the roots against the dry season, and thirdly for composting with shovelled ashes.

The national food was cassava. The Arawaks developed the technique of changing the poisonous prussic acid of cassava juice into a kind of non-poisonous vinegar by cooking it. They called this ' cassareep'. The cassareep together with one of the known spices, the chilli pepper, made the pepper pot, the Carib ' tomali ', which stabilised the alimentation to a high degree and made easier the consumption of cassava cakes.

The Arawaks further developed the ' grater ' for making cassava cakes. In their development of graters, juice squeezers, large flat ovens of coarse clay on which the cassava cakes were baked, as well as in the development of cassareep and the pepper pot, the Arawak culture represented essentially an annex to the Amerindian civilisation of Eastern Venezuela and Guiana.

The Arawaks grew just enough food for their families and for themselves,including maize, cassava, sweet potato, yautia and groudnuts. There was no storing and trading of food taking place. They did not lack protein but, compared with the Caribs, placed less emphasis on high protein foods and balanced their diet with more vegetables. Some foods they ate were fish, shellfish, turtle and manatee ( seacow ). Fishing was mainly done by nets made of fibers, bones, hooks and harpoons. The Arawak method of catching the turtle shows some ingenuity: a remora was acugh and tied on a long line to a canoe. The remora would dive for the turtle and attach itself to the back with its suckers. The turtle would then be pulled into the canoe by the fishermen.

The Arawaks hunted very small animals whose meat they enjoyed very much. To help them hunt they would have small dogs called 'alcos' which could not bark, but made a growling noise. They also ate ducks, doves, parrots and a lot of fruits and vegetables such as pineapples, mammee apple, star apple,guavas and cashews.

The Arawaks' food was carefully prepared and they knew about stewing, baking and roasting , techniques which they used in their food preparation - they stewed iguana, baked cassava, and smoked fish.

One of the most important crops grown by our Amerindian ancestors was maize, from which, in certain places, a species of beer was brewed. They also knew the sweet potato and a variety of tropical fruits such as the guava, custard apple, mammy apple, pawpaw, alligator pear, star apple and pineapple. Columbus has stated that he saw beans being cultivated in Hispaniola; and the Amerindians knew also, among the spices, cinnamon, and wild pimento. They introduced peanuts to the Spaniards and it would appear that these were eaten regularly with cassava in Hispaniola.

The Amerindians also knew of, and cultivated, two additional crops which facilitated a further development of what we would today call ' civilised ' existence. They cultivated cotton, which they used on the one hand for petticoats, and on the other, for the manufacture of hammocks for sleeping purposes. Dr Bullbrook, found a bone, needle and buttons in his Trinidad researches. The Amerindians knew also of tobacco, which was exceedingly popular among them; possibly in its origin it was connected in some way with religious rites. The Arawaks used it both for snuff and for smoking, generally in the form of cigars, ( though the pipe was not unknown); while in the form of chewing tobacco in rolls; it was used as currency by the Caribs.

Fishing played some part in the economy of the Amerindian society, and the Amerindians developed the canoe and the pirogue which enabled them to move from island to island, in the sheltered waters of the Gulf of Paria. The canoes appeared to even have cabins for the women. Molluscs or shell fish figured prominently in the Amerindian diet, and particularly the chip chip, as Dr Bullbrook's investigations of the middens indicate. But bones representing fish and tortoise have also been found. In comparison with the shellfish and the fish, bird bones, however, are extremely scarce.

These Amerindians had no knowledge of metals. Their tools were of polished stone, bone, shell, coral or wood - some of their wooden artifacts have been fortunately preserved through accidental burial in the pitch lake of Trinidad. They made pottery and wore ornaments. Dr Bullbrook's exhumations of over twenty burials indicate evidence of arthritis and a high incidence of dental caries, but not of rickets. Their age would appear not to have exceeded forty years, and their height no more than five feet seven inches. They seem to have been, however, a people of great physical strength.

The Amerindians had a simple but well established family life, in which, as in most under- developed society, there appeared to be some sexual grounds for the differentiation of labour. Possibly a result of religious beliefs, Arawaks men alone could collect gold. The women prepared the cassava, cared for the poultry, brought water from the river, wove cloth and mats, and shared in the agricultural work using the primitive implement of the Amerindians, " the digging stick " .

It is not clear whether the Amerindian women of Trinidad and Tobago displayed as much readiness, as has been noticed of the Amerindian women in Hispaniola, to promiscuity in their sexual relations as a form of welcome to strangers. Nor is it clear whether in Trinidad, as in Hispaniola, there was the same accentuation of feminine tendencies among male Amerindians which has been noted of them in comparison with the Negroes of Africa.

And the records do not permit us positively to involve Trinidad in the 470- year old argument as to whether syphilis was an export from the Old World to the West Indies, or an importation from the West Indies into Spain, and thence into Europe. Dr Bullbrook did find evidence of syphillis in the exhumations.

What is certain is that syphilis would appear to have been as prevalent in Guiana and Venezuela as in the Greater Antilles and Mexico, and that the Arawaks developed a peculiar remedy for the disease.

The Amerindian tribe was governed by a cacique, very much as a father governs his family. If Columbus is to be believed, fighting between two Amerindians was rare, and so was adultery. The only crime punished by the community was theft, for which the punishment in Hispaniola, even where petty thefts was concerned, was death - the culprit being pierced to death with a pole or pointed stick.

The Arawaks were a relatively peaceful people; the Caribs essentially warlike. While both painted their bodies with roucou, partly no doubt to present a terrifying appearance in time of war, the Caribs were distinguished from the Arawak in their use of poisoned arrows. The Caribs have also been conventionally described as 'cannibals'.

As far as Trinidad is concerned, there would appear to have been several distinct tribes of Amerindians present in the island towards the end of the fifteenth century . The Caribs tended to settle for the most part in North and West, around what is today Port-of-Spain; two of their principal settlements were located in Arima and Mucurapo. The Arawaks some to have concentrated above all in the South East and it is recorded that on one occasion the Arawaks took Tobago from the Caribs.

Dr Bullbrook, however , challenged the view that there were any Caribs in Trinidad. He based this on the absence of two facts customarily associated with the Caribs. First, he found no evidence of the use of bows and arrows, which, in his view, is confirmed by the relative scarcity of bird bones in the middens.

But he admits the possibility that the spines of the sting ray and eagle ray, found in large numbers in the middens, in some cases obviously improved by man, might have been used as arrows on lance heads. In the second place he emphatically denies any evidence of cannibalism in the remnants of the animal foods found in the middens. Not a single human bone was found.

THE MAYAS

The Mayas were middle American Indians who produced one of the finest civilisations in the western world; far more advanced than the relatively primitive Arawak culture. The Mayan civilisation developed in different areas, making it difficult to date it precisely. The classical age of Mayan civilisation lasted from between 150 to 300 AD to 1000 to 1100 AD . It began to decline in Belize in 1000 AD when the Maya drifted northward into the Yucatan. However, the impact of their greatness remained even when they were defeated by the Spaniards in 1542 AD .

Government and Politics:

The Maya developed the city state. It was considered to be a small unit ruled by the Halach Uinic 'real man'. It was an absolute hereditary office. Each village was controlled by 'Batabs' (village chiefs) who were responsible for the Halach Uinic.

The free population was then divided into farmers, artisans and merchants. The lowest class in this society was the slaves.

Religion:

The Mayas were polytheistic people and their religion influenced their whole lives. They had as much as 166 gods, each of whom could be considered good or bad, so that they needed constant worship. Among them were Hunab Ku, the chief God; Kinich Abau, the sun god; Chac the rain god; Yum Kax, the corn god; and Ah Kinchil, the god of the earth.

Ah Kin (priests) were so important in the Mayan society that the historians mistook them for rulers. They had to set and organise festivals; they made sacrifices, and decided on the auspicious days on the calendar for planting and harvesting. Human sacrifice was also an important element in their sacred religion. Even their famous ball game, 'Pok a Tok', a kind of basketball, had a ritual significance, and the losers could be sacrificed.

Architecture:

The Mayas lived in round huts with central wooden poles supporting their thatched roofs. The walls were woven, with no windows. Set apart, was a ceremonial area containing their famous massive stone structures, which archaeologists have uncovered. From their size it has been concluded that the leading Mayan city states had a population of between eight and ten thousand.

Arts and Crafts:

The Mayas knew nothing of metal tools and had none. Wooden hose and fine-hardened wooden ploughs were used in the fields, and even limestone blocks were cut without metal. Women wore boldly patterned cotton clothes, and quetzal head-dresses were highly prized.

Their craftsmen fashioned life-like and symbolic figurines in jade, wood, copper and gold. One of their favourite objects was the figurine whistle found in several sites. Their excellent artists painted life-like and some abstract pictures. Although the Mayas knew of gold and copper, they used cacao beans for money.

Writing, Mathematics and Calendars:

In about 300 AD ,a hieroglyphic script with about 850 stylized characters was used for writing by the Mayas. Their books were made of bark, folded in a concertina way. The Spaniards destroyed the Mayan literature as pagan, but three legible writings have survived - these however, have not yet been deciphered. Most existing Mayan writing is on stelae, pottery and ornaments.

The Mayans could add, subtract, multiply and divide in columns working from top to bottom. Their symbols were: a dot for 1, a bar for 5 and a shell for 0. The famous Mayan calendar was very accurate, but complicated, and it is not known how its dates correspond to the dates on the Christian calendar. It involved revolving, interlocking, circles and showed a well-developed knowledge of astronomy.

THE AZTECS

When the Spaniards crossed the Atlantic in the late fifteenth century, the Aztecs were the rulers of a huge American Empire that stretched across the continent from present- day Guatemala in the south, to Texas in the north.

The Aztecs were governed by an emperor, Montezuma, who was assisted by nobles. The emperor had two important jobs to do: he was the ruler of his empire but he was also the highest priest in the Aztec religion. He had to make sure that the gods favoured his people. The Aztecs were famous as warriors and traders, and their empire had grown by means of war and enforced trade. Tenochtitlan, their capital city, was built on an island in a lake that once existed in the highland valley of Mexico.

Mexico City now stands on the site of Tenochtitlan, which was destroyed by the Spaniards. The Aztec empire was rich in gold and silver. Its craftsmen worked with these metals, as well as with stone, cotton and fine feathers.

The life of the Aztecs was governed by their observation of the movement of the sun, moon and stars. They were, fundamentally, a pessimistic people. Their religion and beliefs made them constantly afraid of doom and destruction.

They sought to strengthen their gods by 'feeding' them with the hearts and blood of warriors, believing that if they strengthened their gods, then the gods would be better able to preserve them and their empire. Thus their religion led them to war; and war, by extending their empire, led them to greater efforts to strengthen their gods and themselves against the forces of destruction.

Perhaps because of this very feeling of doom, the Aztecs evolved a busy, sparkling way of life - frightful though it may seem to us - ' Life might be short; therefore it was to be enjoyed.' They loved poetry, dancing, games and ceremonies. They built magnificent temples and palaces. They were proud of their wealth and their great accomplishments, and they fought the Spaniards fiercely to preserve their way of life.

In 1519, when the Spaniards attacked them, they were perhaps at the height of their power, and they almost defeated the invaders from Europe.

THE INCAS

Further south, covering almost the entire area of South America, west of the Andes, from Ecuador to norther Chile, and spreading eastwards over the high ranges to the borders of the Amazonian and Bolivian forests, lay the empire of the Incas. It had been founded in the twelfth century AD by warrior-kings, and by the early sixteenth century was at its peak. The capital and seat of government, was Cuzco in Peru - 11,500 feet up in the Andes.

This empire was governed by a god- king, known as the Lord Inca. (The term ' god-king ' is used because the Incas believed that their kings were gods.) There was a thorough and detailed organisation of society. In return for loyalty and service to the Lord Inca, every citizen was assured of the means of subsistence 'from the cradle to the grave'. Indeed, the Inca empire has been described as a 'Welfare State'.

In works of creative art the Incas were less gifted than the Mayas or the Aztecs, but in civil and military engineering, and in matters of administration, they were far more advanced. The Incas had neither alphabet nor numbers but they had developed an amazing ability to keep records and accounts on the ' quipu ', a device of strings of beads of different shapes, sizes and colours which they put in different arrangements to record different things. They occupied areas rich in gold and silver and in the working of these metals their craftsmen were supreme.

This wealth of gold and silver hastened the Spaniards' eagerness to attack them, and in 1532- 1533, the Inca empire was attacked and conquered by a small band of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro. In part, the empire had been weakened by internal disputes.

When the Spaniards arrived, a civil war between two rival princes for the throne of the Manco Inca had just ended. The story of the conquest of this vast empire by a company of Spanish soldiers is a gripping tale of heroism, treachery and brutality.

THE CHIBCHAS

In contrast with the Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas, all of whom had built large empires, the Chibchas, who occupied the mountain valleys of the northern Andes, were still an undeveloped nation. Their separate tribes had not yet come together to form a single nation. However, the tribes centered around Bogota, their chief town, had begun to exercise some authority over the others.

They cultivated maize and potatoes but their skills were still limited. They had no writing or means of keeping accurate records, and they had produced no great monuments or works of art. But they were formidable fighters and they seemed to have been at the beginning of a period of political development and territorial growth at the time of the Spanish arrival. Although far, far behind the Incas and the Aztecs in political development, they were more advanced than the majority of the Indians of northern and eastern South America.

PEOPLED BY IMMIGRANTS

Estimates of the original Amerindian inhabitants of the West Indies vary between 200,000 and several million. Prominent among these native peoples were the Arawak ( Taino ) and the Cibonay on the northern larger islands of the greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and the Leeward Islands. They were relatively easy to enslave.

In the Windward Chain were the Caribs, who demonstrated strong resistance until the 18th century but nevertheless failed to prevent European penetration and their own annihilation. A legacy of Carib ferocity, and descriptive of their treatment of Arawak captives, is the term ' cannibal ' which is derived from their Spanish name,'Caribal '.

European colonisation by the Spanish, followed by the British, French, and Dutch; ensuing wars; buccaneering and mercantile adventuring, ended in wholesale depopulation of the West Indies of its native Amerindian inhabitants.

Each European power encouraged pioneer settlement of its possessions, but trade and commercial interests - piracy among them - dominated their appreciation of the region.

In the 1640's Portuguese Jews emigrated from Brazil to Barbados, bringing with them the techniques and methods of raising sugarcane on plantations. For the next 150 years there was unparalled economic prosperity, with each colonial territory developing its own plantation economy based mainly on sugarcane, or "brown gold."

An essential base of this enterprise was the plentiful labour supply in the form of slaves. It is estimated that as many as 10 million slaves were brought from Africa to work on the plantations. The West Indies was thus repopulated by the forced transportation of African peoples. The transformation from European to African dominance occurred everywhere except in Puerto Rico.

The West Indies region now contains 17 politically independent countries, most having achieved independence since 1960. A diminishing number of these mini-states are still colonial dependencies of their European mother countries.

France administers its possessions of Martinique, Guadeloupe and dependencies, and French Guiana as Departments d'Outre Mer, or French provinces. The Netherlands coordinates the administration of its remaining scattered tourist islands in the Netherlands Antilles, following the relinquishing of Dutch Guiana as Suriname in 1976. After emancipation (1834 in the British colonies, later in others ) plantation labour was sought from other sources.

Ex-slaves who wanted to get away from their plantations in the smaller Leeward and Windward islands were recruited, but the largest numbers came from India as indentured labourers. These East Indian - West Indians ( called Hindustanis in Suriname ) were attracted by indenture contracts that paid their passage and granted them options to acquire land. The plantation economies of Trinidad and the Guainas prospered from their immigration.

They now make up 40 percent or more of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname.

These majority groups, however, do not complete the range of ethnic diversity. There are minorities of Chinese origin Portugese Madeirans, Levantines, Jews, and Danes who still cling to their identity in certain territories. North Americans have relocated in increasing numbers to West Indian homes, particularly in the Bahamas, the United States Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

THE COMING OF THE SPANIARDS

The discovery of the West Indian islands by Christopher Columbus, acting as agent of the Spanish monarchy, in 1492 and subsequent years, was the culmination of a series of dramatic events and changes in the European society in the 15th century.

Behind the voyages of Columbus lay the urge of the East with its fabled stories of gold and spices popularised by the famous travelogues of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, and the persistent legend of Prester John. The disruption of the conventional Mediterranean - cum - overland route by the Turks, followed by the domination of the Mediterranean by the Italian cities of Venice and Genoa, stimulated the desire to find a westerly route to the East.

The development of nautical technology brought this desire within reach of realisation. New maps of the world and new theories of the nature of the universe exploded ancient beliefs, fallacies and superstitions. The compass and the quadrant had been devised, making possible longer voyages out of the sight of land and outside of sheltered seas. Larger ships had appeared, notably the Venetian galleys; as early as 417 Chinese junks, of a colossal size for those days, had sailed all the way from China to East Africa parts.

In the economic sense, Europe in 1492, was ready for overseas expansion; it had the experience, the organisation, or to use the contemporary vulgarism, the ' know-how '.

Europe in 1492 knew all about colonisation. The Italian republic of Genoa had long before established colonies in the Crimea, the Black Sea and on the coasts of Asia Minor. A catalan protectorate was established over Tunisia in 1280.

The portuguese had conquered ceuta in 1415, an inversion of the mosleum conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. Thereafter they had penetrated all along the coast of west Africa until, in 1487, Diaz made his memorable voyage rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese were thus seen for their long colonial reign in Asia which ended only with their expulsion from Goa by India in 1961.

Europe in 1492 knew, too, about slavery, which was the normal method of production in the medieval colonies of the levant. Slavery existed also on European soil, in Portugal, Spain, and in southern France; and the African slave trade in its origins was a transport of slaves from Africa to Europe. The slaves were used in agriculture, industry and mining. To such an extent did slavery dominate Portuguese economy before the voyages of Columbus, that the Portuguese verb ' to work ' became modified to mean ' to work like a Moor ' .

When the Spaniards enslaved the Amerindians in the West Indies and later introduced Negro slaves from Africa, they were merely continuing in the New World the slavery with which Europe was sufficiently familiar.

The European society of 1492 was also conversant with sugar cultivation and manufacture. Sugar manufacture originated in India, from whence it spread to Asia Minor and, through the Arabs, to the Mediterranean. The early literature of India is full of references to sugar - for example, the Ramayan, and a sugar factory and its machines are used to illustrate maxims of Buddhist philosophy. The Law Book of Manu, some two centuries before the Christian era, prescribed corporal punishment for stealing molasses with fasting for three days and nights as penance; a Brahmin was not to be forced to sell sugar; a man caught stealing sugar would be reborn as a flying fox.

With Arab expansion, the art of growing cane and manufacturing sugar spread to Syria, Egypt, Italy, Cypnes, Spain, Malta and Rhodes. But the Arab sugar industry was differentiated in one important particular from that of Christian Europe. It was not based on organised slavery.

The European sugar industry in the Mediterranean, developed after Europe's contact with sugar during the crusades, contained from the outset the germ of the colonial system familiar to all West Indians.

It was an industry established in a country and financed by local bankers. One of its principal centers was Sicily, where we find the University of Patermo in 1419, studying and advising on irrigation of the cane, and it was dominated by Italian financiers. Another important center was Cypnes, a 1449 account of the sugar industry of sugar planters. Large merchant houses in Italy distributed the sugar throughout Europe.

Europe, too, was poitically ready for overseas expansion. The European state, with its theories of protection and its grants of characters and monopolies developed the economic doctrine for the balance of trade, and the need for conserving bullion and the precious metals by encouraging exports and either reducing imports of luxury goods.

The Monarchy, with the aid of the great commercial cities and foot soilders, had established control of the federal aristocracy with their mounted armies, and the Nation State had begun to emerge. Generations of war between Christians and non- Christians in the crusades had developed a militant crusading Church not yet split by Schism, and not yet reformed after dessenting sects.

Of all the countries of Europe in 1492, apart from Portugal which preceeded it, Spain was best fitted, physically and physiologically, for the initiation of overseas colonialism. The heirs of the rival Crowns of Castile and Arragon had brought peace to the country and developed a centralised monarchy, backed by the cities and the lawyers.

The expulsion of Jews and Moors dominated the church militant and triumphant. Undoubtedly secure, the Spanish monarchy was ready to receive Columbus when he arrived with his new theories and his discovery proposals.

There was nothing strange in the approach by Columbus, an Italian from Genoa, to the Spanish Monarchy. The Genoese were no strangers in Spain. From the 12th century they were established in a quarter in Seville, whence they would be well placed to participate in subsequent Spainsh trade to the West Indies. Convoys of Genoa, as well as Venice, Florence and the Kingdom of Naples, called regularly at Spain on their way to England and Flanders.

The Genoese, and the Italians generally, were equally well known in Portugal. They served as admirers in the Potuguese navy, and they served also, like Columbus' father - in -law in the Portuguese trade with the Canary Islands. Columbus himself approached without success, the Portuguese Court; and the great Italian geographer, Paolo Toscanelli, was consulted by the king of Portugal on Columbus' proposals.

These proposals were ultimately rejected by Portugal, either because they had no faith in Columbus or because it had evidence, which Diaz was soon to confirm, that the true route to India was by way of Africa.

Thus did Columbus turn to Spain; and to the service of Spain in those days, adventure and geographical scholarship knew no national boundaries. The Cabots- Venetians- served England. Verezzano- Florentine- served France. Mangellan- Portuguese- served Spain. Hudson- English- served Holland. Columbus was ready to serve either England, or France, or Portugal, or Spain. Spain accepted his proposals; the others temporised, or studied them, or rejected them.

The sovereigns of Spain signed the discovery contract with Columbus in 1492, by which they agreed to finance the voyage in return for royal control of the lands discovered, and a high proportion of the profits of the voyage.

This contract opened the door to introductions of the medieval society into the West Indies, with its grants of titles and large tracts of land. Columbus was the mouth piece of the medieval tradition, which was to be followed in the seventeenth century by French concessions inspired by the federal system in France, and by the wholesale grants of islands to favourites of the British Monarchy.

The Spanish Monarchy, after the success of Columbus had been established, secured a religious title to the entire Westrn Hemisphere by the Papal Donation of 1493, ratified by the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal in 1494. This Treaty was a diplomatic triumph for Portugal. Spain, led astray by Columbus's decisions, agreed to rectify the Papal boundary in a way that confirmed to Portugal not only the true route to India, but the whole of the South Atlantic with Brazil.

It was against this background that Columbus set out on his third voyage on May 30th, 1498, and sighted the island which he christened ' Trinidad ' at noon on Tuesday July 31st. He touched at a harbour which he called, Point Galera, and then sailed Westward until he entered the Gulf of Paria through the entrance which he named, the Serpent's Mouth.

Searching for an exit from the Gulf of Paria in which he sailed North South and West, he identified the narrowness of the strait separating of Venezuela from Trinidad. After running from the furious currents both north and south, he eventally found an exit into the Caribbean Sea which he called, the Dragon's Mouth. One can well understand today the difficulties encountered by the sailing ships of Columbus' day in these tricky passages when one reads, in a Dutch report in Trinidad as late as 1637, 139 years after Columbus, that the Spaniards, before going through the Dragon's Mouth, promised a mass to St Anthony so that he might guard them as they passed.

On this same voyage Columbus is alleged to have sighted Tobago. What is certain is that he did not land in Tobago but proceeded from Trinidad to Hispaniola. Tobago remained therefore virtually isolated and undiscovered; an Amerindian island untouched for many decades by any Europeans, retaining its name, " TOBACCO" signifying the importance of Tobacco in the Amerindian economy.

A PEOPLE DISAPPEARS

The story of the treatment of the Spaniard Indians in the Americas is a very sad one in the whole history of mankind. The Indian enslavement was begun by Christopher Columbus himself. His first act was to carry a number of them back to Spain on his ships. In Hispaniola he forced a system of tribute on the Indians who lived in the area where gold could be found.

Every Indian over fourteen years of age was to bring a hawks-beel full of gold to him every three months. The Chief, or should I say ' Cacique ', had to bring a calabash full. Indians in other areas had to pay tributes of cotton. Those who did not bring these tributes were then punished by death.

The Indians, in hope of leading the Europeans away, told them that the gold mines were far off. Dogs were used to round up the Indians. These animals, brought from Spain, were greatly feared by the Arawaks who were unaccustomed to such fiercely trained creatures. The Indians were not used to hard labour and it became quite difficult for them to secure gold.

Some Indians killed themselves rather than work for the Spaniards. Others who escaped to the mountains were hunted once more; and some took to the sea in their canoes. Many died from hopelessness and grief. The way of life they knew was over.

No longer could they simply lay idle in the sun, catch fish, pick fruits and wander where they pleased over land and sea. The only real fear they had known had been the attacks by the Caribs from the South. But under the Spaniards, the Indian population rapidly decreased. According to many historians, one-third of the natives of Hispaniola were dead by 1497.

SURVIVORS

Fortunately, not all the Amerindian tribes have been made extinct. Amerindian descendants exist in the Americas and in several Caribbean islands and the Guianas. Although small in number, their descendants enjoy full citizenship in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago: in the town of Arima lives a "Carib Queen", although some historians believe she may be an Arawak.

These descendants, in the Guianas and Caribbean islands including St. Vincent, Jamaica, Dominica, Monsterrat and the Bahamas have begun communicating with each other, and annual festivals are held when they display and share their foods, jewellery, clothing and even parts of their cultures.

Most of them today are literate in the languages of the land and some, although professionals, have retained their inherited traditions, customs and cultures. As time would have it, they are as proud of their heritage as we are of them; living and sharing equally, strong in the knowledge and experiences of both, new and old worlds.

Much of their individual identities may be lost over the years to come, but these 'hunters led by the hunted' made no mean contribution to our own coming.

Such were the people of whom
we remain proud to acknowledge as

OUR
AMERINDIAN ANCESTORS


GO TOP
or
RETURN TO TRINIDAD & TOBAGO MAP

Views, corrections or suggestions
are welcome

Aruna Sharma