- Access Genealogy - http://www.accessgenealogy.com -
Tribes of the West Indies and Northern Provinces of South America
Posted By Dennis On In Native American | No Comments
At the time of the discovery of the New World by Columbus, the larger West India Islands and the Bahamas were, for the most part, inhabited by a kindly and simple-hearted race. Although living in the most primitive state of nature, unclothed, and possessed of only the rudest weapons and implements, they do not appear to have been deficient in intellectual capacity. The delightful climate of their country, and the spontaneous fruitfulness of the soil, removed the ordinary incentives to labor and ingenuity. The rudest huts of branches, reeds, and palm-leaf thatch, with hammocks, (originally the Indian word “hamacs”) slung between the posts, fully sufficed for their dwellings. Protection from the rain was alone necessary.
They were of good figure and proportion, their foreheads were high and well formed, and the general cast of their countenance and conformation of their features agreeable and regular.
The great admiral landed, for the first time since the days of “the Northmen” that any European had visited the Western World, at Guanahani, San Salvador, or Cat Island, on the 12th of October, 1492. The shore was lined with naked savages, who fled at the approach of the boats; but watching from a distance the incomprehensible ceremony of taking possession, and the religious exercises of thanksgiving, performed by the strangers, fear soon gave place to reverential curiosity. If any thing could excite their wonder in a higher degree than the majestic approach of the ships, it might well be the splendor of the Spanish dress and arms, the strange complexion, and the thick beards of the strangers who arrived in them. The Indians soon began to gather round the little band, throwing themselves upon the earth in token of submission and respect, and worshiping the Spaniards as gods or divine messengers. As nothing but kindness appeared in the demeanor of the strangers, the natives grew more familiar, and, with unbounded admiration, touched and examined their dress and beards.
Columbus still further won the good will of the islanders by a judicious distribution of such brilliant beads and toys as ever attract the eye of the savage. Nothing delighted them so much as hawks-bells, of whose pleasant tinkling, when suspended from their arms and necks, they were never weary. The next day, laying aside all fear, the Indians came out to the ships, swimming or paddling in their canoes. They brought such little articles of trade as they possessed; balls of cotton yarn, parrots, and cassava bread (made from the yuca root); eager to traffic, upon any terms, for European commodities. Golden ornaments worn in the noses of some of them at once aroused the cupidity of the Spaniards, who eagerly bought them up, and made inquiry, by signs, as to whence the material, was brought. This was explained to be at the southward.
In his further cruise among the Bahamas, in the vain search for gold, Columbus pursued the most humane and gentle policy towards the natives, and their gratitude and delight at his caresses and presents knew no bounds. Equally generous, they were ever ready to proffer to the Spaniards all their little wealth of cotton, fruits, and tame parrots. Seven of the natives of Guanahani were taken on board the vessels upon the departure from that island.
The admiral had no doubt but that he had reached the islands of the Asiatic coast, and, in accordance with this mistake, bestowed the epithet of Indians upon the inhabitants. As he came in sight of Cuba, he supposed that he had at least reached Cipango. This opinion was finally changed, from a misapprehension of communications from the natives on board, to a firm belief that this was the main land of the continent of Asia, an error of which Columbus was never disabused.
The inhabitants appeared rather more advanced in the arts than those before seen, but, to the intense disappointment of all on board the vessels, none of them were possessed of any gold. Two ambassadors were sent by Columbus to explore the interior, and to visit the court of the prince of the country, whom his imagination led him to conclude, must be none other than the Grand Khan! A rude Indian village, of about one thousand inhabitants, naked savages, like those of the coast, was all that was discovered by these emissaries. They were received and entertained with the greatest kindness and reverence, but were unable to communicate with the natives otherwise than by signs. The most interesting report made by them upon their return, was of a custom then unknown to the whites, viz.: that of smoking. The name of tobacco, given by the natives to the cigars, which they used, was ever after applied to the plant.
From Cuba, Columbus took several Indians, men and women, on board, at his departure, that they might be taught Spanish, and thereafter serves as interpreters. In December, he discovered the island of Hayti, named by him Hispaniola, and landing on the 12th of the month, he raised a cross in token of taking possession. All the inhabitants had fled into the interior; but a young female was taken by some roving sailors, and brought on board. She was sent on shore with abundant presents of ornaments and clothing, to give a favorable report of the whites to her own people. Next day a party was sent to visit the Indian town upon the bank of the river of Three Rivers. The town consisted of about one thousand houses, from which the occupants fled at the sight of the Spaniards. They were finally reassured, and induced to return. Some two thousand of them made their appearance, advancing slowly, with every gesture and expression of humiliation and respect.
The woman, whom the Spaniards had the day before entertained, had not failed to report magnificent descriptions of her captors and their vessels. The tokens which she brought back, in the shape of beads, hawks-bells, &c., were yet more convincing evidence of the beneficence and wealth of the Spaniards. She now came forward, with her husband, at the head of a throng of Indians, and every expression of gratitude and good will was lavished by them upon their guests. Every thing that the poor natives possessed was freely at the Spaniards service.
Columbus writes of these islanders: “True it is that after they felt confidence and lost their fear of us, they were so liberal with what they possessed that it would not be believed by those who had not seen it. If any thing was asked of them, they never said no; but rather gave it cheerfully, and showed as much amity as if they gave their very hearts.”
The early voyagers, and all contemporary writers, agree that this was the character of nearly all the inhabitants of the West India Islands, with the exception of the Caribs. A more guileless, innocent, contented race has never existed, and never were strangers welcomed to a foreign shore with more genuine and kindly hospitality; but what a return did they receive for their friendliness and submission!
Coasting along towards the east, Columbus landed at Acul, and held friendly communion with the inhabitants, whose first fears were easily dispelled. The same scenes of mutual presents and hospitalizes that characterized the former landings were here repeated. The whole of that region of country was under the command of a great cacique, named Guacanagari, from whom the Spaniards now, for the first time, received messengers, inviting them to visit, him, and offering various curious presents. Among these articles were some specimens of rude work in gold.
While pursuing his course eastward, with the intention of anchoring in a harbor described as near the residence of the cacique, Columbus had the misfortune to be cast away upon a sandbar. No shipwrecked mariners ever received more prompt and efficient relief than was immediately extended by Guacanagari and his subjects. Every thing was brought to land from the wreck, and guarded with the most scrupulous honesty. The cacique himself, with tears in his eyes, came on board the caravel Nina, whither the admiral and his crew had been obliged to be take themselves, and offered every assistance in his power.
With respect to the goods brought on shore in the natives canoes, “there seemed,” says Mr. Irving, “even among the common people, no disposition to take advantage of the misfortune of the strangers. Although they beheld what must, in their eyes, have been inestimable treasures, cast as it were upon their shores, and open to depredation, yet there was not the least attempt to pilfer, nor, in transporting the effects from the ship, had they appropriated the most trifling article; on the contrary, a general sympathy was visible in their countenances and actions; and, to have witnessed their concern, one would have supposed the misfortune had happened to themselves.”
The Spaniards, wearied with long and profitless voyaging, now reveled in the enjoyment of true Indian hospitality. The cacique, who was regarded with the utmost love and reverence by his subjects, continued his kind offices, and the people were not behind-hand in following his example. What delighted the shipwrecked mariners more than any other circumstance, was the number of gold ornaments possessed by the natives, and which they were eager to dispart for any trifle of European manufacture. Hawks -bells, above all other articles of use or ornament were universally in demand. “On one occasion,” says Irving, “an Indian gave half-a-handful of gold dust in exchange for one of these toys, and no sooner was in possession of it, than he bounded away to the woods, looking often behind him, and fearful that the Spaniard would repent of having parted so cheaply with such an inestimable jewel.”
The natives described the mountains of Cibao as the principal source whence gold was to be obtained. Valuable mines were, indeed, afterwards discovered in that region, although their yield fell far short of the extravagant anticipations of the Spaniards.
A portion of the crew of the wrecked vessel expressed a strong desire to remain at Hispaniola until another expedition could be fitted out from Spain, upon the return of the Nina, and Columbus was not displeased with the proposition. The Indians were overjoyed at the prospect of retaining some of the powerful strangers in their island, as a protection against the invasions of the dreaded Caribs, and as security for a future visit from European vessels. They had seen, with wonder and awe, the terrible effect of the discharge of artillery, and the admiral had promised the assistance of his men and weapons in case of any inroad from an enemy’s country.
The little fortress of La Navidad was speedily constructed out of the materials of the stranded vessel, and fortified with her cannon. The Indians eagerly lent their assistance in the labor of transportation and building. Thirty-nine men were chosen, from the numerous volunteers for that service, as a garrison for the fort: to these Columbus addressed the most earnest exhortations to discretion and kindness in their intercourse with the natives. His heart might well be touched by the continued courtesy and affection of Guacanagari, who could not refrain from tears at parting with his venerated friend. The Nina sailed on the 4th of January 1493. Coasting eastward, the caravel joined company with the Pinta, under Pinzon, of which no accounts had been for some time received, and the two vessels passed cape Caboon, and came to anchor in the bay beyond. Here was seen a tribe of Indians very different from those of the west end of the island. From their bold and warlike appearance, their bows and arrows, clubs, and wooden swords, the Spaniards took them for Caribs, and, unfortunately, before coming to a friendly understanding with them, a skirmish took place, in which two of the Indians were wounded. Reconciliation and friendly intercourse succeeded. The tribe proved to be that of the Ciguayans, a hardy race of mountaineers. Columbus was particularly struck with the noble demeanor of the cacique, supposed to be the same afterwards prominent in history as Mayonabex.
Not long after the departure of the admiral from La Navidad, the Spaniards left at the fort began to give themselves up to the most unbounded and dissolute license. Their savage quarrels among themselves, and the gross sensuality which characterized their intercourse with the natives, soon disabused the latter of the sublime conceptions formed by them of the virtues and wisdom of their guests. “With all this misrule, the precautions of a military post were utterly neglected, and full opportunity was given for an attack. The destruction of the fort by the Carib chief Caonabo will be found described in a subsequent chapter.
When Columbus returned to Hispaniola, upon his second voyage, nothing but dismantled ruins marked the spot of the settlement. Guacanagari and his people described the attack of Caonabo and his warriors, their own futile at tempts to assist the garrison, and the slaughter of the Spaniards. Notwithstanding the apparent good faith of the cacique, many of the Spaniards began to mistrust his accounts, and to suspect him of having acted a treacherous part. This suspicion was strengthened by his sudden departure with several of the female captives brought away by the admiral from the Caribbee Islands.
The hope of procuring rich treasures of the precious metals, and the desire of holding in check the warlike Caonabo, induced Columbus to establish the fortress of St. Thomas in the province of Cibao. Those stationed at this remote interior position, in the midst of more hardy and proud-spirited tribes than those of the coast, collected and transmitted much curious information concerning native superstitions, customs, and nationalities. Some crude notions of supernatural influences, apparitions, necromancy, &c., were entertained by these islanders, in common with most savage nations. They had also an idea of a future state of happiness for the good, in which all earthly pleasures should be enjoyed in unalloyed perfection.
In the month of May 1494, the island of Jamaica was first discovered by Columbus. The native inhabitants appeared to be of a very different character from the timid and gentle islanders with whom former intercourse had been held. A crowd of canoes, filled with savages gaudily adorned with plumes and paint, opposed the landing of the Spaniards. These were pacified by the Indian interpreters on board; but upon landing, the next day, the throng of natives on shore exhibited such decidedly hostile intentions, that it became necessary to intimidate them. A few discharges from the Spanish cross-bows sufficed to put them to flight. The ferocity of a savage dog, brought on shore by the whites, added greatly to their terror.
There was no difficulty in allaying the apprehensions of these Indians, and the usual friendly intercourse was soon established. During a cruise along the southern coast of Cuba, which occupied the succeeding months of June and July, the islanders seen were as gentle and tractable as those upon the northern shores of the island. The means of communication now afforded by the Indian interpreters gave new interest to every conference. The wondering crowd of natives would gather with the most eager interest around these their fellow-countrymen, to listen to the tales of gorgeous spectacles and unheard-of wonders witnessed by themselves in the distant country of the whites. There was enough of the novel and wonderful before the eyes of the ignorant islanders, in the ships, appearance, conduct, and costume of the Spaniards, to prevent incredulity, as they listened to the narrations of the interpreters. The performance of the religious services of the Catholic Church, struck the natives with awe, particularly when the purport of these ceremonials was explained to them. In testimony of their natural intelligence and perceptions of right and wrong, Mr. Irving gives us, from Herrera, the following speech of an aged counselor of one of the Cuban caciques, after witnessing the celebration of the mass:
“When the service was ended, the old man of fourscore, who had contemplated it with profound attention, approached Columbus, and made him an oration in the Indian manner.
“This which thou hast been doing, said he, is well; for it appears to be thy manner of giving thanks to God. I am told that thou hast lately come to these lands with a mighty force, and hast subdued many countries, spreading great fear among the people;* but be not therefore vain glorious. Know that, according to our belief, the souls of men have two journeys to perform after they have departed from the body; one to a place dismal and foul, and covered with darkness, prepared for those who have been unjust and cruel to their fellow-men; the other pleasant and full of delight, for such who have promoted peace on earth. If then thou art mortal, and dost expect to die, and dost believe that each one shall be rewarded according to his deeds, beware that thou wrongfully hurt no man, nor do harm to those who have done no harm to thee. ”
From Cuba the admiral visited the southern shores of Jamaica. All the first distrust and opposition of the inhabitants had vanished, and nothing but gentleness and kindness characterized their demeanor. At one place a cacique came out to the ship with his whole family, “consisting of his wife, two daughters, two sons, and five brothers. One of the daughters was eighteen years of age,” beautiful in form and countenance; her sister was some what younger; both were naked, according to the custom of the islands, but were of modest demeanor.”
This chief professed himself ready to go, with all his train, in the Spanish vessels, to visit the king and queen of Spain, and acknowledge himself their vassal, if by so doing he could preserve his kingdom.
During the absence of Columbus, the dissolute and unprincipled Spaniards at the fortress of St. Thomas, so grossly abused their power among the natives, that an extensive spirit of hostility was roused up against them. Caonabo was unwearied in his efforts to excite the other island caciques to a union against the intruders, and the faithful Guacanagari alone seems to have been proof against his persuasions, in revenge for which non-compliance, the Carib and his brother-in-law, Behechio, committed numberless indignities and injuries upon him and his people. Serious difficulties soon arose; a number of Spaniards were put to death by Guatiguana, a subordinate cacique under the celebrated Guarionex, in punishment for outrages committed upon his people; and Caonabo besieged the garrison at St. Thomas with a force of many thousands of his warriors. After thirty days of ineffectual attempts to reduce the place, he gave up the undertaking, and drew off his army. The stratagem, by which the person of this noted chief and warrior was secured by the commandant at St. Thomas s, will be detailed hereafter. Columbus, upon his return to Hispaniola, made use of every effort to check the ruinous disorders, which had become prevalent. He punished Guatiguana by an invasion of his dominions and the destruction of no small number of his people. An interview was then brought about with his superior, Guarionex, a peaceable and well-disposed chief, who readily consented to the establishment of a Spanish fort in the very ^heart of his domains.
The crushing system of oppression had now fairly commenced, and was promptly followed up by the shipment of five hundred Indians to be sold as slaves in Spain. This was directly the act of Columbus himself, and historians only offer, as his excuse, the argument that such was the ordinary custom of his age in all wars with savages or infidels. The interposition of the kind-hearted Isabella prevented the consummation of this proposed sale. By her orders, the prisoners were sent back to their homes, but, unfortunately, not until the state of affairs upon the islands was such that the poor Indians might have been better situated as slaves in Spain.
A general combination of the island chieftains against the Spaniards finally induced Columbus to commence an active campaign against them. In the dominions of the captive, Caonabo, his brother, Manicaotex, his brother-in-law, Behechio, and his beautiful wife, Anacaona, were the most prominent in authority, and the most active in rousing up hostilities. The Spanish force consisted of a little over two hundred men, twenty of whom were mounted, and twenty blood-hounds, an enemy as novel as terrible to the naked savages. Guacanagari lent his feeble aid, with that of his followers. Of the number of the hostile Indians in the district of the Vega, the historians of the time gave exaggerated accounts. They speak of an array of one hundred thousand hostile savages. Manicaotex was leader of the united tribes. Near the site of the present town of St. Jago, a decisive battle was fought, in which the vast army of the Indians was utterly routed. The Spanish commander did not hesitate to divide his little battalion into several detachments, which fell upon the enemy simultaneously, from different quarters. Torn to pieces by the savage dogs, trampled down by the cavalry, and unable to affect any thing in turn against the mail-clad whites, the poor Indians were overwhelmed with confusion and terror. The rout was as complete, although the massacre was not so cruel, as when Pizarro attacked the Peruvian Inca, with an almost equally disproportionate force.
“The Indians,” says Mr. Irving, “fled in every direction, with yells and howling; some clambered to the top of rocks and precipices, from whence they made piteous supplications and offers of complete submission; many were killed, many made prisoners, and the confederacy was, for the time, completely broken up and dispersed.”
Nearly the whole of Hispaniola was speedily reduced to subjection; Behechio and his sister, Anacaona, alone of all the natives in authority, secluded themselves among the unsettled wilds at the western extremity of the island. All the other caciques made conciliatory overtures, and submitted to the imposition of a heavy and grievous tribute upon them and their subjects. A hawks-bell filled with gold-dust, or twenty-five pounds of cotton, was quarterly required at the hands of every Indian over the age of fourteen; from the chiefs a vastly larger amount was collected. The contrast between the former easy and luxurious life of the islanders, their gayety and content, their simple pleasures, and unfettered liberty, with the galling servitude and wearisome tasks now imposed, is most touchingly and eloquently described by Irving. Unable to endure the unwonted toil and hopeless labor, the Indians vainly endeavored to escape to the mountains, and, subsisting upon the crude products of the forest, to evade the cruelty of their en-slavers. They were hunted out, and compelled to return to their homes and to their labors. The unfortunate Guacanagari, receiving no favor from the suspicious Spaniards, and being an object of the deepest hatred to his countrymen for the part he had taken in their struggle for freedom, died in neglect and wretchedness among the mountains.
In 1496, Bartholomew, a brother of Columbus, then exercising the office of adelantado at Hispaniola, visited Behechio at his remote western province of Xaraguay. He was received with hospitality and kindness by this chief and his sister Anacaona, and entertained in the best manner the country could afford. The object of the expedition was to induce the cacique to comply peaceably with the Spanish requisitions of tribute. Behechio had learned by sad experience the power of the European arms, and, as the adelantado agreed to receive the tribute in such articles as his country produced, instead of gold, he readily consented. Bartholomew’s judicious policy towards these illustrious islanders gained him their highest esteem. Behechio and his sister paid the tribute required cheerfully and promptly; and upon the occasion of a visit from the adelantado to receive it, they both took occasion to visit the caravel in which he had arrived. Anacaona, especially, was filled with delight at the sight of the vessel, and at witnessing the ease and certainty with which its movements were controlled.
The females of Xaraguay were of most remarkable beauty, but preeminent among them was the widow of Caonabo. Her queenly demeanor, grace, and courtesy, won the admiration of the Spaniards.
In the following year (1497) another insurrection broke out among tribes of the Vega and the vicinity. The immediate cause of this outbreak was the execution, at the stake, in accordance with the barbarity and bigotry of the age, of a number of Indians, for the offense of sacrilege.
Guarionex, the principal cacique, had been an object of special interest with the ecclesiastics to whom was committed the work of converting the islanders. His easy and pliable disposition caused him to listen patiently to their instructions, and to comply with numerous forms of their enjoining. Some one of the Spaniards having committed an outrage upon his wife, Guarionex refused to listen further to the doctrines of a religion whose professors were guilty of such villanies. Shortly after this, a chapel was broken open, and images enshrined within it were destroyed by a number of the natives. For this offense, those implicated were burned alive, as above-mentioned. The adelantado suppressed the consequent uprising by a prompt and energetic seizure of the leading chiefs. Two of these were put to death, but Guarionex and the others were pardoned.
By the persuasions and influence of the rebellious Roldan, the unfortunate cacique was, in 1498, drawn into a second conspiracy of the natives. The plot was prematurely developed, and Guarionex fled from the plains of the Vega into the mountains of Ciguay, and joined his fortunes to those of the cacique Mayonabex. This generous and noble chief received him, with his family and a few followers, under his protection.
From this retreat, with the assistance of Ciguayan warriors, the fugitive was enabled to molest the Spanish settlements of the low country with impunity, until the Adelantado Bartholomew invaded the mountain district, dispersed the armies of Mayonabex, and took both him and his guest prisoners. The conqueror was more placable towards a fallen foe than most of his countrymen, and, upon the sub mission of the Ciguayans, was ready to accord them protection and favor. Guarionex perished, in 1502, on his passage for Spain, in the same vessel with Bobadilla and Roldan. The ship foundered at sea in a terrible hurricane, which arose immediately after the departure from Hispaniola.
It was under the administration of Bobadilla that the Indians of Hispaniola were reduced to a more complete and systematic condition of slavery than before. They were regularly parceled out to the Spanish proprietors of the mines, by whom they were compelled to labor far beyond their powers of endurance, and whose wanton cruelties excited the strongest indignation in the mind of the benevolent Las Casas one of the few historians of his age and nation, who possessed the inclination or courage to paint the cruelties of his countrymen in their true colors. This truly benevolent man devoted the greater portion of his life to efforts for ameliorating the condition of the natives of the New World, but in his sympathy with their sufferings and oppressions, he unfortunately lost sight of what was due to another scarcely less unfortunate race. He was among the earliest to advocate the substitution of Negro slavery for that of the Indians, under the impression doubtless in itself just that a state of servitude was less intolerable to the one than the other. It is to Las Casas that we are indebted for the most frightful detail of wrong and cruelty in the settlement of the West Indies that ever disgraced human nature. His descriptions of the manner in which the native population was annihilated to minister to the luxury and avarice nay, far worse, to the depraved and wanton cruelty of the Spaniards are frightful in the extreme. We can share in the honest indignation of old Purchas, from whose “Pilgrimage” we cite the following items:
“In the Island Hispaniola the Spaniards had their first Indian habitations, where their cruelties drove the Indians to their shifts, and to their weak defense, which caused those enraged lions to spare neither man, woman, nor child. They set up gibbets, and in honor of Christ and his twelve apostles (as they said, and could the devil say worse?) they would both hang and burn them. The nobles and commanders they broiled on gridirons, they had dogs to hunt them out of their coverts, which devoured the poor souls: and because sometimes the Indians, thus provoked, would kill a Spaniard, if they found opportunity, they made a law that an hundred of them should for one Spaniard be slain.”
He elsewhere remarks:
“Here [in Cuba] was a cacique named Hathuey, which called his subjects about him, and showing them a box of gold, said that was the Spaniards God, and made them dance about it very solemnly; and lest the Spaniards should have it, he hurled it into the river. Being taken and condemned to the fire, when he was bound to the stake, a friar came and preached heaven to him, and the terrors of hell. Hathuey asked if there were any Spaniards in heaven; the friar answered, yea, such as were good. Hathuey replied, he would rather go to hell than go where any of that cruel nation were. I was once present, saith Casas, when the inhabitants of one town brought us forth victuals, and met us with great kindness, and the Spaniards without any cause slew three thousand of them, of every age and sex. I, by their counsel, sent to other towns to meet us, with promise of good dealing; and two and twenty caciques met us, which the captain, against all faith, caused to be burned.”
In Hispaniola, under the administration of Ovando, successor to Bobadilla, the sufferings and oppressions of the over tasked natives reached their climax. It would be but a wearisome repetition of barbarities to enumerate the wrongs perpetrated against the submissive inhabitants in the vicinity of the principal Spanish settlements, but the expedition against the province of Xaraguay merits a more particular attention. This was in the year 1503. Behechio was dead, but his sister Anacaona still maintained her influence over the natives of that district. Upon pretense of an intended insurrection, Ovando determined to reduce Xaraguay to a condition as miserable and hopeless as that of the eastern districts. He started upon this expedition with three hundred well-armed infantry, and seventy mounted men. The army entered the dominions of Anacaona with the appearance of friendship, and the queen, with her associate caciques, was not backward in rendering to her visitors all the hospitalities of the country. Troops of young girls, dancing and waving branches of palm, ushered them into the principal village, where they were received and entertained with every token of kindness and good will.
It is impossible to conceive of any adequate motion on the part of the ferocious Ovando for the treacherous cruelty of his conduct towards his hosts. He affected to believe that a conspiracy was on foot among the natives, to massacre him and his followers, but, judging from what we can learn of the transaction, there existed no possible ground for such a suspicion. The course taken to avert the supposed danger was as follows. All the caciques were invited to attend, with their people, at a grand festival or exhibition of Spanish martial exercises. When the unsuspecting Xaraguans had gathered in eager curiosity to behold the scene, at a given signal, the armed Spaniards fell upon the crowd, and a scene of horrible carnage en sued. Forty of the chiefs, it is said, were taken prisoners, and after being subjected to the most cruel torments to extort from them a confession of guilt, the house where they were confined was set on fire, and the whole number perished in the flames.
Anacaona was carried to St. Domingo, tried, adjudged guilty of an attempt at insurrection, and hanged! Her subjects were remorselessly persecuted; hunted from their retreats among the mountains, slain like wild beasts, or brought into the most servile and hopeless bondage, they attempted no resistance, and submitted to the cruel yoke of their tyrants.
The reduction of the eastern province of Higuey, and the execution of its noble and gigantic chief Cotubanama, completed the Spanish conquests on the island of Hispaniola. The details of the barbarities attendant upon this last warfare, as given by Las Casas, are too horrible and disgusting for minute recital. It is sufficient that, not content with the destruction of the conquered people, without regard to age and sex, the Spaniards tasked their ingenuity, to devise the most cruel and lingering torments in the murder of their prisoners.
By such a course of atrocities were the “West India islands depopulated of their original inhabitants. The summary with which Purchas concludes his enumeration of various scenes of Spanish cruelty, is too quaint and forcible to be omitted. ” But why do I longer trace them in their bloody steps; seeing our author that relates much more than I, yet protests that it was a thousand times worse. How may we admire that long-suffering of God, that rained not a flood of waters, as in Noah s time, or of fire, as in Lot’s, or of stones, as in Joshua’s, or some vengeance from heaven upon these models of hell? And how could hell forbear swallowing such prepared morsels, exceeding the beastliness of beasts, inhumanity of wonted tyrants, and devilishness, if it were possible, of the devils.”
At the time of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, the fierce and celebrated race of cannibals, which forms the subject of the present chapter, was principally located upon the beautiful tropical islands, extending from Porto Rico to the main land of South America. The terror of their invasions, felt by the more gentle and peace able natives of the greater Antilles, inspired no little curiosity and interest in the minds of the early voyagers, and Columbus had promised the assistance of the Spanish power to check their ravages. Upon his second voyage, in 1493, the first land made was one of the Caribbean islands, and on the following day, (November 4th,) a landing was effected at Guadaloupe. Here the first intercourse took place with the terrible Caribs.
This singular race of savages, according to tradition, had its origin upon the continent of North America, among the mountain districts of the central United States. Perhaps they, might have sprung from the same stock as the warlike Monacans and other savage tribes of the interior, spoken of by early historians. “They are said to have migrated,” says Mr. Irving, “from the remote valleys embosomed in the Appalachian Mountains. The earliest notices we have of them represent them with their weapons in their hands; continually engaged in wars; winning their way and shifting their abode, until in the course of time they found themselves on the extreme end of Florida.” Hence they made their way from one island to another to the southern continent. ” The archipelago extending from Porto Rico to Tobago, was their strong-hold, and the island of Guadaloupe in a manner their citadel.”
Whether the foregoing account of the original derivation of the race be the correct one, it would be difficult to decide at this distance of time. When first known to Europeans the different nations of Caribs were widely diffused upon the continent of South America. They were to be found upon the banks of the Orinoco, where their descend ants are living at this day, and, still farther south, in Brazil. They were everywhere noted for the same fierce and war like spirit. Something of the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of eastern Asia has been observed in the Caribs and the Guarani tribes who inhabited the country north of the Amazon. As described by D’Orbigny, the following peculiarities are noticeable in most of them. “Complexion yellowish; stature middle; forehead not so much arched as in other races; eyes obliquely placed, and raised at the outer angle.”
To return to the experience of the discoverer of the New World at the Caribbee islands. At the landing of the Spaniards, the natives fled from a neighboring village into the interior. In order to conciliate them, the visitors fastened hawks-bells and attractive ornaments to the arms of some children who had been left behind in the hurry of flight. The sight of human remains, among other things, “the head of a young man, recently killed, which was yet bleeding, and some parts of his body boiling with the flesh of geese and parrots, and others roasting before the fire,” at once suggested the thought that this must be the country of the Caribs. Columbus took a number of the natives prisoners, and carried off several women who had been held in captivity by the islanders. It appeared that most of the men of the island were away upon some war like excursion.
Pursuing his course towards Hispaniola, or Hayti, where the first colony had been planted upon his preceding voyage, Columbus sailed by numerous islands of the Caribbean group. He landed at Santa Cruz, called Ayay by the Indians, and secured a further number of prisoners. Some of these were in a canoe, and offered a fierce resistance when they saw their retreat intercepted by one of the Spanish boats. There were two women of the party, one of them apparently a female cacique, and these showed no less valor than the men. They were taken by upsetting their canoe; but, even in the water, they resisted stoutly to the last, availing themselves of every point of sunken rock, where they could obtain a foothold, to discharge their arrows. One of the men was a son of the queen, and his “terrible frowning brow, and lion s face,” excited the admiration of his captors. The demeanor of the whole party reminds one strongly of the early descriptions of the Maquas or Mohawks when in captivity.
“When on board,” says Irving, “the Spaniards could not but admire their untamed spirit and fierce demeanor. Their hair was long and coarse, their eyes encircled with paint, so as to give them a hideous expression; they had bands of cotton bound firmly above and below the muscular parts of the arms and legs, so as to cause them to swell to a disproportionate size, which was regarded by them as a great beauty, a custom which prevailed among various tribes of the new world. Though captives, in chains, and in the power of their enemies, they still retained a frowning brow and an air of defiance.”
Arriving at Hayti, Columbus found the settlement at La Navidad laid waste and abandoned. Its destruction was owing to a Carib chief named Caonabo, whose warlike and commanding nature had gained him unbounded authority over the natives of the island. The fact of his uniting himself with another race by which his own nation was regarded with the utmost detestation and dread, and his attainment of rank and influence under such circumstances, are sufficient proofs of his enterprise and capacity.
The friendly Indian chief Guacanagari had in vain ex tended his assistance to the little band of Spanish colonists. Caonabo had heard at his establishment among the mountains of Cibao, of the outrages and excesses committed by the whites, and during the absence of the admiral, he made a descent upon the fort. All of the Spaniards perished, and Guacanagari was wounded in the encounter. As a further punishment for his espousal of the cause of the de tested strangers, his village was destroyed by the revengeful Carib.
Guacanagari and other Haytian Indians were taken on board the Spanish vessels, and, among other proofs of superiority and power, were shown the Carib prisoners, confined in chains. This seemed to affect them more powerfully than any thing else that they witnessed. These captives were afterwards sent over to Spain for instruction in the Spanish language and in the true religion, it being intended that they should thereafter act as missionaries among their own savage countrymen.
The circumstances attending the capture of the Spaniards most dreaded enemy, Caonabo, are too singular and well attested to be passed over. This was accomplished by the celebrated Alonzo de Ojeda, commandant of the fortress of St. Thomas. The Carib chief was able, it is asserted, to bring no less than ten thousand warriors into the field, and his personal strength and courage rendered him no despicable foe in open combat. Ojeda had recourse to the following stratagem to secure his enemy: He proceeded, accompanied by only ten mounted companions, direct to the chiefs encampment, upon pretense of a friendly mission from the admiral.
The cacique was, after great persuasion, induced to undertake an expedition to Isabella for the purpose of peaceful negotiations with Columbus. Among other inducements, Ojeda promised him the chapel-bell, as a present. Accompanied by a large body of armed warriors, the party set out for the Spanish settlement. Near the river Yagui, in the words of Mr. Irving, “Ojeda one day produced a set of manacles of polished steel, so highly burnished that they looked like silver. Those he assured Caonabo were royal ornaments which had come from heaven, or the Turey of Biscay,” (the location of certain extensive iron manufactures); “that they were worn by the monarchs of Castile in solemn dances, and other high festivities, and were intended as presents to the cacique. He proposed that Caonoba should go to the river and bathe, after which he should be decorated with these ornaments, mounted on the horse of Ojeda, and should return in the state of a Spanish monarch, to astonish his subjects.”
The bold device was completely successful. Caonabo, en croupe behind Ojeda, for a short time exulted in his proud position, curvetting among his amazed warriors; but suddenly the little cavalcade dashed into the forest with a rapidity that defied pursuit. The cacique was safely carried a distance of fifty or sixty leagues to Isabella, and delivered to the admiral. He ever after expressed great admiration at the skill and courage with which his captor had duped him, and manifested a reverence and respect towards Ojeda which his proud and haughty spirit forbade him to exhibit in any other presence, even that of Columbus himself.
Upon the occasion of the admiral s second return to Spain, in 1497, Caonabo, with several of his relatives, and a number of other Indians, was taken on board. Baffled by contrary winds, the vessels were a long time delayed at the very commencement of the voyage. A landing was affected at Guadaloupe, for the purpose of procuring fresh provisions.
The inhabitants exhibited their natural hostility of disposition, and it was especially observed, as upon a former occasion, that the women were as warlike and efficient as the men. A number of these females were made prisoners, among the rest, one who was wife of a chief of the island, a woman of most remarkable agility and strength. On setting sail, the admiral, desirous of conciliating the good will of the natives, set his prisoners free, and gave them divers presents in pay for the provisions and stores plundered by his crew. The cacique s wife was allowed to remain on board, with her daughter, at her own request, she having become enamored of the captive Caonabo. This distinguished chieftain died before the vessels reached Spain.
The Carib tribes who occupied the islands where the race was first encountered by Europeans, maintained possession of their homes as long as courage and desperation could avail against the superior skill and weapons of the whites. Spanish cupidity, and love of novelty and ad venture led to the gradual occupation of the Caribbee islands. In some of them, bloody battles were fought: “At St. Christopher’s,” according to the Rev. W. H. Brett, “in 1625, two thousand Caribs perished in battle, whilst their European invaders lost one hundred men. In the other islands their losses were equally great. These calamities would cause a migration of the natives when they found it useless to fight any more. Some of the islands, as Martinico, were suddenly abandoned by them, after a fierce but unavailing struggle.
Those of the Caribs who chose to forsake the islands entirely, would naturally take refuge with their brethren already settled in Guiana, and by their valor secure to themselves such portions of the country as they might think proper to occupy; as few tribes would be able, or indeed dare, to oppose them. A remnant of the Caribs still remained at St. Vincent, and they were transported, about the end of the last century, to the island of Ruattan, in the bay of Honduras.”
This once terrible and dreaded race so dreaded by the Spaniards that vague reports of the approach of an army of Caribs could terrify the conquerors of Peru in the midst of their successes is now reduced to a few insignificant tribes. They are scattered in the wilderness of Guiana, and mingled with other nations of the interior. About the upper waters of the Pomeroon is one of their most considerable establishments, and the tribe there located numbers but a few hundred savages, living in almost as primitive a state as when Columbus first coasted along these tropical shores.
The tribes who inhabit the wilderness between the Amazon and the seacoast settlements at the north, upon the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, have been classified as belonging to the same family with the aboriginal inhabitants of Brazil. The race has been denominated the “Brasilio Guaarani,” and has been divided into the nations of Guarani, Caribs, Tupi, and Botocudos.
In Guiana one of the most prominent tribes is that of the Arawaks. These people inhabit a great extent of country directly back of the narrow strip of cultivated seacoast. Nearly the whole of their territory is a savage wilderness, in which the traveler in vain seeks for any evidence of progress, or any tokens of former civilization and prosperity. A few rude figures, marked upon the rocks in certain localities, are the only records of the numberless generations, which have passed away, leaving their descendants precisely in the situation of those who preceded them, and as hopeless or careless of improvement. The Arawaks were the first natives seen by Columbus, upon the occasion of his discovery of the continent of South America, in the summer of 1498.
The first land made was the island of Trinidad, at the mouth of the great river Orinoco. No Indians were seen upon the island by a party sent on shore, although unmistakable tokens of a recent and hasty retreat were visible. As the vessels approached the Serpent s Mouth, (the southern entrance to the gulf of Paria,) twenty-five of the natives made their appearance in a canoe. To the astonishment of the admiral, who had expected, from the reports at Hispaniola, to find a race of Negroes in these southern latitudes, they were of lighter complexion than any with whom he had before held intercourse. Their figures were well proportioned and graceful; their only clothing was a sort of turban, and a waistband of colored cotton; and their arms were bows and arrows. “When an attempt was made to conciliate these wild voyagers by dancing and music, it was mistaken for a sign of hostility, and the sup posed war-dance was summarily stopped by a flight of arrows. The suspicions of the natives prevented the opening of any communication with them until after the entry of the ships into the gulf. Several of them were then taken by upsetting their canoe, and, after being kindly entreated and encouraged, were dismissed with the usual presents of trinkets and hawks-bells. When the fears of the inhabitants were dissipated by this procedure, they were eager to crowd about the vessels in their canoes. These latter were of excellent construction and large size; some of them were even furnished with a cabin.
The cacique of the county received the Spaniards at his house with the greatest respect and hospitality, and feasted them upon whatever luxuries the fruitful soil produced. “Nothing,” says Irving, “could exceed the kindness and amity of this people, heightened as it was by an intelligent demeanor and a martial frankness. They seemed worthy of the beautiful country they inhabited. It was a cause of great concern, both to them and to the Spaniards, that they could not understand each other s language.”
Sir Walter Raleigh entered the Orinoco in the year 1595, and brought home some account of the natives seen there. As recorded by Purchas: “The inhabitants on the northern branches are the Tiuitiuas, a goodly and valiant people, which have the most manly speech and most deliberate (saith Sir Walter) that ever I heard of whatever nation soever. In the summer they have houses on the ground, as in other places: in the winter they dwelt upon the trees where they built very artificial towns and villages; for between, May and September the river of Orinoco rises thirty feet upright, and then are those islands overflown twenty feet high, except in some few raised grounds in the middle. This watery store, when the clouds are so prodigal of more than the rivers storehouse can hold, whereby they became violent intruders and encroachers upon the land, and not the violence of cold, gives this time the title of winter. These Tiuitiuas never eat of any thing that is set or sown; Nature’s nurslings, that neither at home nor abroad, will be beholden to the art or labor of husbandry. They use the tops of palmettos for bread, and kill deer, fish, and pork, for the rest of their sustenance. They, which dwell upon the branches of the Orinoco, called Capuri and Macureo, are for the most part carpenters of canoes, which they sell into Guiana for gold, and into Trinidad for tobacco, in the excessive taking whereof, they exceed all nations. When a commander dies, they use great lamentation, and when they think the flesh of their bodies is putrefied and fallen from the bones, they take up the carcass again, and hang it up in the house, where he had dwelt, decking his skull with feathers of all colors, and hanging his gold-plates about the bones of his arms, thighs, and legs. The Arwacas, which dwell on the south of the Orinoco, beat the bones of their lords into powder, which their wives and friends drink.”
In early times the Arawaks were engaged in perpetual wars with the Caribs. Those of the latter race, who inhabited the nearest Caribbean islands, made continual descents upon the main, but are said, finally, to have been worsted. The Rev. W. H. Brett recounts some of the traditions still handed down among the Arawaks of these wars. “They have,” says he, “an indistinct idea of cruelties perpetrated by the Spaniards. Tradition has preserved the remembrance of white men clothed with “seperari” or iron, who drove their fathers before them, and, as some say, hunted them with dogs through the forest. But by far the greater number of their traditions relate to engagements between themselves and the Caribs on the main land.” With peculiar exultation they detail the particulars of a victory obtained over a great body of these invaders by means of a judicious ambush. The Arawaks had fled from their approach to the low marshy country upon the Waini, and laid their ambuscade upon either side of the narrow channel through which the enemy were expected to pass. “The Caribs are said to have had a great number of canoes of large size, which followed each other, in line, through the mazy channels of the Savannah. As they rounded a certain island, their painted warriors in the first canoe were transfixed by a shower of arrows from an unseen enemy on both sides of them, and totally disabled. Those in the second canoe shared the same fate; the others, who could not see what had happened, hurried forward to ascertain the cause of the cries, but each canoe, as it reached the fatal spot, was saluted by a deadly shower of arrows. The Arawaks then rushed forward, and fought till the victory was completed. It is said that only two Caribs survived, and they were dismissed by the Arawak chieftain, on promise of a ransom to be paid in cotton hammocks, for the manufacture of which their nation is noted.”
After the settlement of difficulties between the European colonists of Guiana and the neighboring Indian tribes, the introduction of Negro slaves by the former proved a terrible scourge to the natives. Great numbers of the Africans escaped from their masters, into the wilderness, and there forming predatory bands, were long a terror to both whites and Indians. “The accounts which the Arawaks have received from their ancestors, represent these Negroes as equally ferocious with the Caribs, and more to be dreaded on account of their superior bodily strength.”
The Arawaks of the present day are, like their forefathers, a more mild and peaceable race than many of their neighbors. In their domestic relations and general manner of life, they do not differ materially from the generality of the North American savages. Together with the rude clubs, bows and arrows, &c., so universal among barbarous nations, they have the more efficient weapons of the European. The Indian is everywhere quick to perceive the advantage of fire-arms, and apt in acquiring their use. Christian missionaries have devoted themselves with great zeal and perseverance to the instruction and improvement of this tribe, and the natural kindly disposition of the race seems to favor the undertaking.
Besides the Caribs and Arawaks, the principal Indian tribes of Guiana are the Waraus, and the Wacawoios; in addition to these are the minor nations of the Arecunas, Zaparas, Soerikongs, Woyawais, Pianoghottos, &c., &c. Most of these are barbarous tribes, not sufficiently variant “from each other to render a distinct consideration valuable or interesting.
The vast wilderness, which they inhabit, is little visited by whites. From the coast settlements the only available routes into the interior are by means of the numerous rivers, upon whose banks missionary enterprise has here and there established a little settlement as a nucleus for future operations among the natives at large. From Mr. Brett s narrative of his own observation and experience in these wilds, we quote the following items of general description:
“The appearance of the Indian in his natural state is not unpleasing when the eye has become accustomed to his scanty attire. He is smaller in size than either the European or the Negro, nor does he possess the bodily strength of either of these. Few of his race exceed five feet five inches in height, and the greater number are much shorter. They are generally well made; many are rather stout in proportion to their height, and it is very rare to see a deformed person among them.”
In respect to dress, which, both for men and women, is of the most scanty proportions, (consisting only of a band age about the loins, with perhaps a few ornamental articles of feather-work for state occasions,) the efforts of the missionaries have effected some change in those brought under their influence. In a burning tropical clime, the propriety or policy of such fancied improvement is very questionable. If no immodesty is connected with nakedness in the eyes of the unsophisticated natives, it would seem hardly worthwhile to enlighten them upon such a subject, for the purpose of establishing a conformity to European customs.
Our author continues: “Their color is a copper tint, pleasing to the eye, and the skin, where constantly covered from the sun, is little darker than that of the natives of Southern Europe. Their hair is straight and coarse, and continues perfectly black till an advanced period of life. The general expression of the face is pleasing, though it varies with the tribe and the disposition of each person. Their eyes are black and piercing, and generally slant upwards a little towards the temple, which would give an unpleasant expression to the face, were it not relieved by the sweet expression of the mouth. The forehead generally recedes, though in a less degree than in the African; there is, however, much difference in this respect, and in some individuals it is well formed and prominent.”
The usual division of labor among savage nations is observed in Guiana. The daily drudgery of the household belongs to the women, who also cultivate the small fields in which the yuca, (the root from which they make their bread,) and the other cultivated crops are raised. The men pursue their hunting and fishing, and undertake the more severe labors attendant upon the building their huts, the clearing of new ground, &c.
The native dwelling is generally little more than a roof of palm-leaf thatch supported upon posts, between which hang the cotton hammocks in which the occupants sleep. Some few implements of ironware, and articles of pottery of a more substantial and practical form than that manufactured by themselves, are generally procured by trade with the coast, but these are all of the simplest description. Maize, with cassava, yams, potatoes, and other roots, constitutes their principal vegetable food. The cassava is prepared by grating, or scraping, and subsequent pressure in a receptacle of basketwork. This strainer is constructed in the form of a “long tube, open at the top and closed at the bottom, to which a strong loop is attached. The pulpy mass of cassava is placed in this, and it is suspended from a beam. One end of a large staff is then placed through the loop at the bottom, the woman sits upon the center of the staff, or attaches a heavy stone to the end, and the weight stretches the elastic tube, which presses the cassava inside, causing the juice to flow through the interstices of the plaited material of which it is made. This liquor is carefully collected in a vessel placed beneath. It is a most deadly poison; but after being boiled, it becomes perfectly wholesome, and is the nutritious sauce, called casareep, which forms the principal ingredient in the pepper-pot, a favorite dish of the country.”
Article printed from Access Genealogy: http://www.accessgenealogy.com
URL to article: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes-of-the-west-indies-and-northern-provinces-of-south-america.htm
Copyright © 2013 Access Genealogy (http://www.accessgenealogy.com/). All rights reserved.