America, Africa and Oceania, 1500 - 1750
Until 1492 the peoples of the eastern and western hemispheres had almost no dealings with each other. It
is probable that the Iberian Celts made sporadic voyages to North America before the Common Era.
About 1,000 CE, Viking explorers established a short lived colony in modern Newfoundland and
sporadic encounters between European fisherman and the indigenous peoples of North America were
likely before Christopher Columbus made his first journey across the Atlantic. After 1492, however, the
voyages of European mariners led to permanent and sustained contact with peoples of the “New World”,
South and East Asia, and Oceania.
The Spanish Carribbean
The first site of interaction between the Spanish and American peoples was in the Caribbean. The
natives in that area were called
) who lived in small villages under authority of chiefs
who allocated land to families and supervised community affairs. Their diet centered on vegetables and
fruits, meat, and fish. They were friendly to the Spanish, enjoyed the glass, beads and metals tools the
Spanish traded, and offered little resistance to their invaders.
Christopher Columbus and his immediate followers made the island of
(today Haiti and
Dominican Republic) their headquarters. They established the town of
, which quickly
became the capital of the Spanish Caribbean. Columbus’ original plan was to build forts and trading
posts where merchants could trade with local peoples for products desired by European consumers.
However, it soon became clear that there were no silks or spices, so the Spanish began to look for some
other way to turn a profit.
To turn that profit the Spanish began to look for gold. They forcibly recruited the Tainos for mining the
gold. Recruitment of labor came through an institution known as the
which was first
established on Hispaniola in the mid 1490s while Columbus was still exploring. Encomienda gave the
Spanish settlers (
) the right to compel the Tainos to work in their mines or fields.
theory, the encomenderos assumed responsibility to look after the workers’ health and welfare and to
encourage their conversion to Christianity. In reality, the encomienda system was forced labor (almost
slavery) conscription of brutal proportions. The Indians were severely treated. If they refused or
rebelled, they were crushed by superior Spanish technology.
By 1515, the encomienda system was operating efficiently and sending large amounts of gold to Spain.
Then in 1518, smallpox hit the islands. The Tainos’ population was devastated. Therefore, the Spanish
resorted to raiding parties to kidnap and enslave Indians on other islands. By the 1540s, the native
population of the Caribbean had declined from about six million to only a few thousand. Moreover,
Tainos society was absorbed into Spanish Colonial society, but has left some interesting traces. The