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New Evidence Concerning Columbus' Exploitation of Tainos

Tau My Relatives
Most of us who are interested in the history of our ancestors are
aware of the fact that the arrival of Columbus at the shores of the
Caribbean unleashed the tragic process by which the ancient Taino
culture was almost completely destroyed. We know what Columbus'
intentions were for the people that he found here on the islands
because of what he himself wrote in his journal. The eminent Cuban
Taino scholar Jose Barreiro tells us that Columbus noted: " how well
formed and muscular the Taino men and women were, with 'no bellies,
and good teeth.' He noted, too, what good servants they would make,
reminding King Ferdinand that slavery has been justified historically
many times. To King Ferdinand, as a justification for enslavement,
Columbus wrote: 'Many other times it has already happened men have
been brought from Guinea . . .They (the Tainos) will make excellent
servants." Columbus speculates that a few Spanish soldiers could
enslave the Tainos: "They are all naked and neither possess weapons
nor know of them. They are very well fitted to be governed and set to
work to till the land and do whatever is necessary. They also may be
taught to build houses and wear clothes and adopt our customs With
fifty men, all could be subdued and made to do all that is desired."
(A Note on Tainos: Whither Progress?
By José Barreiro, from Northeast Indian Quarterly, pp. 66-77
Fall, 1990)

For the most part, however, a formidable mountain of archival
evidence has been presented by the apologists of Chistopher Columbus
which appears to indicate that the real cruelty which was inflicted
upon the Tainos came not so much from the actions of Columbus himself
but rather from those who came after him, greedy Spanish colonists
who "betrayed" Columbus' original noble intentions to treat
the "Indians" with compassion. Much of this evidence arises in the
writings of important chroniclers such as Ramon Pane, Columbus' son
Hernando and Bartolome De Las Casas.

We know that eventually, after several journeys of discovery and
exploration, after being conferred the titles of nobility by the
Spanish monarchy, and the position of admiral and governor of
the "Indies" which he had demanded as payment for his services,
Columbus fell out of favor with the Spanish crown. The king appointed
a jurist by the name of Bobadilla to travel to the island now called
Hispaniola, where Columbus had his seat of power and place the
admiral under arrest. Columbus returned to Spain in chains and was
forced to stand trial. Most of the present-day apologists for
Columbus indicate that part of the troubles that Columbus had were
caused by his overly-considerate attitude toward the Tainos, and that
this compassion set him at odds with the Spanish colonists who
desired to simply work the "Indians" pitilessly and get as much out
of them as they possibly could while they were alive. This vison of
Columbus the compassionate set against the merciless forces of
colonialism has inspired countless Hollywood works of fantasy.

Now this year a new book has been published, which raises new and
incontrovertible evidence and casts Columbus in the proper light
finally putting the blame for the horrors that our Taino ancestors
suffered squarely on the shoulders of the man who was responsible.
That man was Christopher Columbus himself!

Published by Editorial Nuevo Mundo and written in Spanish by the
Boricua scholar Angel Rodriguez Alvarez, the book is
called "Mitologia Taina o Eyeri Ramon Pane y La Relacion Sobre Las
Antiguedades de los Indios".

This book is a mighty opus by Rodriguez Alvarez. It is as complete a
compendium of information concerning the famous little piece of
literature that Ramon Pane produced in 1498 as has ever been
produced, and I dare say that in some respects it is superior to even
the much revered work of the Cuban scholar Jose Juan Arrom, who's
1992 translation of Pane's work is considered by most experts to be
the ultimate authority on the "RELACION".

Rodriguez Alvarez quotes Arrom freely in his work but does not rely
blindly on the material in Arrom's translation as most others do. He
even goes as far as to challenge some of Arrom's contentions and
methodically lays out his reasons for the challenge.

For our purposes, the most important issue that Rodriguez Alvarez
raises in his book is a newly discovered set of documents that were
brought to light in 2006 by the scholar Consuelo Varela in her
Columbus:Bobadilla's Trial). Varela, an expert on the life of
Christopher Columbus presents the actual records of the famous trial
that the jurist Bobadilla held in the year 1500 in Spain. During this
trial Columbus was forced to face charges which were brought against
him by many of the colonists over whom he had authority on the island
of Quisqueya, then called "Hispaniola". As I mentioned earlier, until
recently, the charges were characterized by most historians as simply
the venting of greedy colonists who were angered by Columbus'
compassion toward the Tainos. But Varela's documents reveal that this
was not actually the case. It appears that most of the problem with
Columbus was just simple bad administration. The man was a very
capable sea captain but a very poor governor. To a great extent he
just reacheed his level of incompetence and badly fouled up the huge
job that was given to him. Even more important, however, is the fact
that some of the material in the records of the trial presents
Columbus as much more than a helpless witness to the perversion of
his original aspirations. He is not just a victim of history and the
violence of greedy partners. He himself surfaces as just another one
of those greedy partners. This newly re-dicovered material is the
testimony that was given under oath by one of the most important
witnesses at the trial. the witness was none other guessed
it, Fray Ramon Pane! Far from defending the admiral as he appears to
do in his book "RELACION", Pane becomes one of the most damaging
witnesses for the prosecution.

This phenomenon casts a huge shadow of doubt upon the veracity of
some of the material that has survived from Pane's original
manuscript. This original work, the "RELACION ACERCA DE LAS
ANTIGUEDADES DE LOS INDIOS" was comissioned by Columbus himself back
in 1494 or 1495. Pane went to live with Kasike Guarionex for two
years on the island od Kiskeya and completed the job most probably in
the year 1498. He handed the manuscript to Columbus and went back to
his principal duties, the real reason for which he and a number of
other clerics had come to the Indies with Columbus on his second
voyage, to convert the Indians to the Catholic faith. This mission
was a matter of great importance to the men of that period, and there
is a chance that the issue of religious conversion may pale in
importance in our eyes when seen through the perception of our highly
secular modern perspective. I don't think we modern people realize
just how important this matter was for the Spanish. It actually meant
the difference between being seen as a man or being seen as an
animal. A converted Indian was considered a Christian. It was not
considered right to enslave Christians. Furthermore, Christians had
to be afforded a variety of priviledges that heathens were not due.
In contrast with the case of the later slave trade in the Protestant
North America, where Christian conversion of African slaves did not
afford them any real benefit at all, in Spanish colonial lands making
a man a Catholic was a very serious issue, because of the rights that
it imparted upon that man. Some of the Taino actually caught on
fairly quickly to this point and in desperation promised to burn
their cemies and give up their beliefs as long as they and their
families would be converted. In this manner they hoped to escape from
the murderous slavery that was wiping them out by the hundreds. Here
is where Pane's testimony at Columbus' trial becomes critical. Even
though the "RELACION" states that Columbus was responsible for the
conversion of many Tainos, Pane's testimony at the trial tells a
completely different story. Pane complains that many Tainos were not,
in fact, converted. And he blames this problem on Christopher
Columbus himself. Then Pane goes as far as to state just why Columbus
is reluctant to covert the "Indians". As the record of the trial
presents, the cleric emotionally states: "No dejaba tornar
cristianos a los yndios" (He would not let the Indians to be turned
into Christians)". Rodriguez Alvarez in his book points out that in
folio #12 of the trial document Bobadilla cites Pane as witness #9
and quotes him as saying. " el Almirante le hubiera dado lugar a
la conversion, que hubiera mas de cien mil animas cristianas, y que
lo sabe porque los caciques y sus indios le venian a importunar para
que los tornase cristianos y quemarian sus cemies e idolos que tenian
y harian como cristianos y que no osaban tornarlos cristianos por
miedo del Almirante. (If the Admiral had allowed religious conversion
there would be more than 100,000 Christian souls, and it is a well-
known fact because many chiefs would come to us and beg us to convert
them, promising to burn their cemies and behave as Christians but no
one dared to turn these people into Christians for fear of the
Admiral)" There was a corroborating witness present, witness #11,
Gonzalo Vizcaino who confirmed Pane's testimony with these words in
folio #13 of the trial records: "...y sabe que Fray Ramon hubiera
tornado cristianos la mitad de la isla si no fuera por el Almirante,
que queria mas el tributo que le daban que verlos cristianos (and it
is evident that Fray Ramon would have turned half of the island into
Christians had it not been for the Admiral who was more greedy for
the tribute that they afforded him than he was desireous to see them
become Christians". This statement describes a Columbus who had
absolutely no concern or regard, physical or spiritual for the
Indigenous people under his control

This is extremely damning evidence and goes very far to prove that
the real person who really established the pattern of cruel and
inhuman treatment of the Taino that eventually became the norm
throughout all of Spanish America was none other than Christopher
Columbus himself. He placed the most stubborn obstacles to allowing
the Tainos to acquire the status that would free them from the abuse.
That status was Christian conversion. He did it consciously and on
purpose so that he could exploit them more effectively.

Now it is true that Christian conversion, when it was imposed upon
the Tainos, was itself a cruel and unjust burden anyways. The fact is
that colonization can never be good for anybody no matter how well-
intentioned it may be. But the point to be made here is not so much
whether harm was perpetrated upon the Natives, of course it was, one
way or the other! but whether that harm was intentional and with
malice aforethought. It is the difference, if we were to hold a
putative trial of Columbus here and now ourselves, between first
degree murder or manslaughter. Either he harmed the Natives
unintentionally, unwittingly bringing to them a system that was
destined to destroy their culture whereas he only meant to bring them
Christian salvation, or he just couldn't care less and harmed them
intentionally with full knowledge that he was destroying them but
conscious also that by destroying them he was becoming very wealthy
and could leave a legacy of power and prestige to his descendants.

The obvious argument here arises: Why would Ramon Pane change his
opinion of Columbus 360 degrees in the small ammount of time that
elapsed between the day that he handed over the manuscript of
his "RELACION" to the Admiral and the day he appeared in Spain as a
witness at the trial of his former boss? Rodriguez Alvarez's answer
to this dilema is that Pane probably never changed his opinion of
Columbus at all. He proposes that the original Pane manuscript never
contained all of the complements directed at Columbus, complements
that claimed Columbus was a great Christianizer and that as a result
of his efforts many Indians had been converted. Rodriguez Alvarez
suggests that these words were added later by other people who may
have had an interest in making Columbus look good before an
increasingly suspicious and hostile Spain.

The author poses a very convincing argument in favor of the idea that
Columbus' son Hernando, who inherited the original Pane manuscript
after Columbus' death, had the motive for altering Pane's words.
Hernando Columbus published a book in the early 1500's
called "History of the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus". In this
book he not only relates much of what he knew of his father's
adventures and explorations but also he reproduced the complete text
of Pane's "RELACION". The strong indication here is that the version
of Pane's story that Hernando Columbus published was much altered and
changed from Pane's original to make his dad look a lot better than
he really was. The point was that he wanted to regain the titles and
prestige that his father and two uncles had once enjoyed,
subsequently lost, and that he felt were now his birthright. He
needed to make his father look good to strengthen his own claim at
the lost titles of nobility and the wealth that came with them. Then
the manuscript was mysteriously "lost". Perhaps there was something
in that manuscript that Hernando did not want anyone to see. It is
important to note that both Las Casas and Pedro Matryr De Angleria
saw the original manuscript before it dissappeared. They both
published separate pieces concerning the "New World" based on their
reading of that original. These pieces differed in many respects from
the version of the "RELACION" that Hernando published as part of his
book about his father.It is entirely possible that the material that
Las Casas and Angleria published was musch closer to the original
manuscript and therefore more accurate than the material that has
come down to us from the pen of the younger Columbus.

Then, of course we are faced with the added problem that Hernando
Columbus' Spanish language original is also lost. Not only do we not
have Pane's original but we also don't have the copy (supposedly
altered) that Hernando himself published. What we do have is a
horribly transcribed translation into Italian which was published
from the half-finished work of a Venetian named Ulloa. Ulloa had in
his possession the work finished by Hernando Columbus in Spanish. He
was working on a translation of this piece into Italian but never got
finished. This half-baked piece was then taken and published with all
of the misspellings and erroneous transcriptions that Ulloa never had
a chance to correct. This last piece of work is what we really have
of the famous Pane book. Modern day translators and experts such as
Juan Jose Arrom have done a wonderful job of going backwards through
all of these versions of Pane's book to arrive at the most accurate
version that comes closest to what we think Pane really meant to say
back in 1498. They did this by analyzing the work left to us by Ulloa
and comparing it with the material left to us by Las Casas and
Angleria and other writers of that time who either had a chance to
see the Pane original or actually lived and had personal relations
with real Tainos, or both. These modern scholars also have studied
the comparative ethnological material that is now available from well-
studied Indigenous nations such as the Lokono and other Arawakan
peoples of South America. With the help of all of these factors a
reasonable reconstruction of the original Pane manuscript has been
arrived at and is the material that is now used as a basis for
speculation on the spiritual traditions of the early Tainos and the
historical fact of the early colonization period.

To conclude, I feel that in light of this new material presented by
Rodriguez Alvarez there is no real doubt about Columbus' true
responsibility and guilt in the tragedy that befell the Tainos
beginning in the year 1492.

Taino Ti
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague

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Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on January 18, 2009 at 7:08am
It may be interesting for all of you to know that the author of the book that I have cited here, Angel Rodriguez Alvarez is a member of this network. You can find him in the list of members, and he is certainly one of the friends in my own friend's list. I think he prefers to communicate in Spanish but I am certain that he is fluent in English also.
Comment by Juan Almonte on November 27, 2008 at 2:42pm
My brother thanx for the clarification.

I just hate when they are tryingt to make columbus into some type of hero.
Comment by Miguel Sague Jr on November 27, 2008 at 1:41pm
The quote regarding Columbus' compassion appears in the RELACION ACERCA DE LAS ANTIGUEDADES DE LOS INDIOS. This account was collected by Fray Ramon Pane and handed to Columbus himself. Then, when Columbus died, the son of Columbus, Hernando inherited it. He wrote his own book and he added what he claimed was a copy of the Pane narrative. Rodriguez Alvarez claims that Hernando was not completely honest about what he published. He claims that when Hernando published the RELACION he changed some of the things that Pane actually said. He claims that maybe Pane did not really say all of those nice things about Columbus and maybe even wrote some criticizm about the admiral. Rodriguez Alvarez also claims that perhaps Hernando actually made the original Pane document dissappear so that nobody could see the differences between the real original and the nonsense that he published. That's the reason Rodriguez says the stuff that is attributed to Pane in the now existant versin of his RELACION sems to differ from the testimony that he gave at Columbus' trial
Comment by Juan Almonte on November 27, 2008 at 12:59pm
Indigenous people and esecially taino tribe should do what ever it take to do away with columbus day holiday. I read that he himself gave permission to spaniords to rape our women as young as 10yo. I will look up were I read this and post it here. So they can say that he was compasionate to our ancestors all they want. The above alone speaks for itself.
Comment by Juan Almonte on November 27, 2008 at 12:54pm
Sobaoko, intersting. But still its not clear. In the begining it said that he was compasionate to our ancestors but then it goes back to his cruelty. A bit confusing.

The only problem our ancestors had was that they were to kind for there own good. Plus there immune system couldnt handle european disseases. Even till this day our body are still not able to produce certain enzymes. Regardless of how much admixture we have. Which I dought is as much as people actually think.

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