Facts about Cuba
The ﬁrst humans probably reached Cuba from South America around 3500 BC, although habitation proven by carbon dating
stretches back only to 2000 BC. The Guanahatabey settled in the west and the Siboney throughout much of the rest of the island,
including the coral cays (or keys) off the south c0ast.These ﬁshers, hunters, and gatherers were later joined by agriculturalists
known as the Taino, a branch of the Arawak Indians who inhabited most of the Caribbean islands and northern South America.
Cacique with attitude
A century or two before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Taino ﬂed west from Hispaniola and Puerto Rico under
pressure from the ﬁerce Carib tribe (whose name was eventually corrupted into the English ‘canniba1’). As the Taino arrived in
Cuba they pushed the Siboney westward, and by the time the Spanish arrived in the late 15th century, three-quarters of Cuba’s
100,000 native Indians were Taino-speaking Arawaks.
The Cuban Indians lived in villages, grew boniatns (sweet potatoes), yuca (manioc or cassava), yams, corn, pumpkins, peanuts,
peppers, avocados, and tobacco. They had pottery, baskets, and stone implements. Idols of wood, stone, or bone represented
zenus (spirits). The Taino slept in cotton hamacas (hammocks) hung in thatched caneyes or bohios (huts) that were arranged
around an open space in front of the dwelling of the cacique (chief) known as a barey (open space).The greatest concentration of
Indians was in the eastern part of the island, especially around the Bahia de Nipe, where agriculture was well developed.
The Colonial Period
On October 27,1492,15 days after ‘discovering’ San Salvador (or Watling Island) in the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus
(Cristobal Colon in Spanish) sighted a large land mass that he named ‘Juana’ in honor of an heir to the Spanish throne. Columbus
described Cuba as ‘the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen.’ However, the island offered little gold, so the Spanish at
ﬁrst ignored it, establishing their initial base in the New World at Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola. Columbus thought
Cuba was part of the coast of Asia, and only in I508 did Sebastién de Ocampo complclc the lirsl circumnavigation, proving it was
In 1512 a 300-member expedition from Hispaniola, led by Diego Vclzizqucz dc Cuéllar, landed at Baracoa near lhc
r:u.slcrnmost tip of to begin u planned