First Contact

Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World on three separate occasions.

While the 1492 event is heralded as his most noteworthy, it was during his 1494 exploration, a trip that led him to Cuba, the Columbus made a revealing observation about Cuba’s indigenous people: they were friendly.

However, Spanish slavers began visiting the West Indies as early as 1502 and by 1509 they were capturing the indigenous populations of the Bahamas Islands, known as the Lacayos.

It took less than a decade for the Spanish to depopulate the original Bahamians from the island chain. Many were captured and many fled and as they did, tales of Spanish exploits undoubtedly spread through the West Indies like a virus.

One of those who shared his experiences with the Europeans was the Hispaniola Chief Hatuey who traveled to Cuba after witnessing horrific acts perpetrated against his people.

In one case, it is alleged that the Spanish invaders gathered up a group of the island’s chieftains and burned them alive. Consequently, when Spanish explorer Diego Velasquez arrived in Cuba 17 years later, the indigenous people greeted his crew with a “cloud of arrows.”

The animosities that erupted between the two cultures were due in large part to Spain’s desire to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. For instance, when conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez arrived in La Florida in 1527, he read the following proclamation addressed to all indigenous people: “You will not be forced to embrace Christianity, but when you shall be well informed of the truth, you will be made Christian… But if you do not do this, and if by malice you delay agreeing to what I have proposed to you, I will testify to you, that with God’s assistance, I will march against you, arms in hand… I will sell and dispose of you according to the order of Her Majesty, I will seize upon your effects; I will ravage your property, and will do to you all possible harm.”