This handout highlights ten ways that the Tainos' were brutalized by the Spaniards shortly after their arrival to Jamaica. The informtion is applicable to the other islands for their treatments meted out to the natives were throughout the Caribbean region was uniform.
The impact of the Europeans on the Tainos in Jamaica
Vere Technical High School
Prepared by Mr. Gooden
Topic: The Impact that the arrival of the Europeans had on the native inhabitants of Jamaica
Disclaimer: This handout is to be used solely for educational purposes only.
Historically, Jamaica is considered the yardstick of the English speaking Caribbean. What this mean is that
whatever events that occurred in the island was representative of what would, or could, happen to the rest of
those islands which were under the rule of one European country or another. Prior to the entrance of the
English into the Caribbean region though, the entire Western Hemisphere was under the domain of Spain. In
the early years of Spanish colonization, this notion that whatever occurs in Jamaica impacts the other parts of
the region was already at play.
The discovery of Jamaica by Christopher Columbus, and his subsequent interactions with the Tainos, brought
with it some serious implications that have rippled through time and is still being felt even today. Below are
listed some of the major implications that Columbus’ arrival (and that of Spanish colonization and settlement)
brought upon the native inhabitants of the island.
Types of Impacts on the
Native Inhabitants of Jamaica.
The native inhabitants of Jamaica, numbering according to historians to
be around 60,000, decreased so considerably under Spanish rule, that
none existed by the time the British captured Jamaica in 1655.
#2. Forced Labour or Slavery
The Spanish (initially under Christopher Columbus) introduced a system of
forced labour (slavery) upon the natives in their insatiable thirst for gold.
Two types of slavery was imposed upon the Tainos:
(a) Repartamiento – this is a system of forced labour whereby a
percentage of the Taino male population between 18 and 60 years of
age, was recruited to work for a Spaniard for a week for pay. However,
the Spaniards in most instances refused to pay the natives.
(b) Encomienda – Tainos was allocated to a few wealthy privileged
Spaniards (known as Encomenderos). The encomenderos was granted
a parcel of land with the right to extract tribute (usually in the form of
labour or crops, or both) from the native people who was living on the
land. In other words, the Spaniards stole the Taino land and forced
them to pay for living there). In return, he was expected to convert
them to Christianity, more specifically Roman Catholism, and protect
#3 Introduction of new types
The Tainos were not immune (resistant) to the diseases that the Spaniard
inadvertently brought to Jamaica. Some of these include:
i. the common flu
#4. Breaking up of families
The introduction of slavery brought with it the inevitable disintegration
(breaking up) of the Taino family structure. Males were forcibly taken
away from their wives and children and moved about from place to place
to work by the Spaniards. Many were shipped to other islands to
replenish the dwindling native population of those island (such as
Hispaniola) to work on large farms or dive for pearls.
NB: In the smaller islands, many Kalinagos males were killed in their
resistance to the encroachment of the Spaniards on their lands or
towards Spanish colonization.
#5. Destruction of Taino
The Tainos were subsistent farmers so whatever they did, whether
fishing, hunting, foraging or agriculture, it was done solely to meet their
domestic needs. Storage was out of the question.It must always be
remembered that they lived by a system of communalism whereby
everything was shared with the other members of the community. Hence
#5. Destruction of Taino
the greatest crime that could be committed was stealing, for when one
steals, it was the entire Taino community that suffered.
The Spaniards did not appreciate this form of community structure (they
were cultured into individualism, that is, each person or each family
looked out for itself regardless of the effects that the individual or the
family action might have on others (the dog eat dog mentality).
The production of crops by the native people of Jamaica was severely
affected by the arrival of the Spaniards to the island. They brought
animals never before seen by the Tainos such as cattle, horses, mules,
sheep and goats. These animals would trample the crops planted by the
natives, or were allowed to graze in their agricultural fields, thereby
destroying the very crops that they depended on for their existence. This
led to starvation and many eventually died.
The treatment meted out to the Tainos by the Spaniards saw them (the
Tainos) making drastic decisions that had serious implication for their very
existence as a nation. Many preferred to kill their babies instead of
allowing them to either suffer at Spanish hands or grow up to be slaves
under Spanish rule. The Spaniards also killed Taino babies by throwing
them over cliffs or drowning them.
#7. Sexual Abuse Many Taino females were raped and otherwise sexually exploited by
many Spanish men who came to Jamaica seeking fame and fortune.
#8. Destruction of Taino
The arrival of the Spaniards to Jamaica brought with it a clash of two
cultures. The more advanced Spanish culture was able to suppress the
Taino culture to the extent that it does not exist in Jamaica any more. The
natives were forced to conform to the European culture, such as
Christianity, wearing European clothing, being forced to learn the Spanish
Many Tainos killed themselves rather than remain under Spanish
treatment and governance. They are known to jump off cliffs, poison
themselves with cassava juice or hang themselves from trees.
#10. The introduction of
Many of the native people of Jamaica were murdered for sports. This
shows hoe extremely cruel the Spanish settlers were towards the natives.
Some ways that this blood thirsty activity was conducted included, but
not limited to:
i. killing by bloodhounds – the Spaniards knew that the Tainos were
afraid of dogs and horses so they would round up some of the natives
and set their on them. As they victims ran for their lives, the dogs
would tear their victims apart.
ii. killing by decapitation – the Spaniards would gather some
Tainos men and gamble among themselves to see who would be able
to cut off a Taino head with one swing of the sword.
iii. killing by thrusting weapon through victims – another gruesome
method that the Spaniards practised was to gather a group of Tainos
and chase them off. Spanish horsemen would then gallop at these
fleeing Tainos using their swords as lances (spears) to see if they could
run their swords right through the body and out the other side.