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Consequences of Columbus's voyage on the Tainos and Europe

Christopher Columbus' voyage to the Caribbean in 1492 led to the discovery of the Tainos, an indigenous people known for their generosity and unique language. Despite initial peaceful interactions, Columbus' return voyages brought disease, forced labor, and violence, devastating the Tainos population. Meanwhile, Europe benefited greatly from the wealth brought back, sparking significant economic and societal changes.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last video we discussed Christopher Columbus' attempt to find the funding to find a western route around the world to China and the East, and how, although he didn't find that, in October of 1492, he landed in the Caribbean where he met the indigenous people living there, the Tainos. So who were the Tainos? So we know a little bit about them. They were one of the indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. This is a woodcut that depicts people in the region made a little bit later, so they may have looked something like this. And they were adept at fishing. We know that they were probably matrilineal, that is they traced their family lines through the women, not the men. We know that they were very generous people. Columbus repeatedly describes how people would really give you anything that you asked for We also know religiously that they worshiped ancestor spirits called Zemis. And this is a statue of one of those ancestor spirits that we still have today. Another thing I think is really cool about the Tainos is that we still use some of their words in everyday language that were borrowed by the Spanish and then came into English. So barbecue for example, they called barbacoa. Hurricanes, they called huracan. Tobacco was one of their words for the plant that will become so popular. Even the name of the island itself, they called it Ayiti, which is still preserved today in the nation of Haiti. So Columbus sailed around the Caribbean and then he made his way back to Europe. He left behind him 39 men whose ship had run aground so they built a fort and when he arrived in Europe, he immediately wrote a letter to the finance minister to Ferdinand and Isabella, Louis de Saint Angel. So let's look a little bit more closely at what he wrote. As I know you will be rejoiced at the glorious success that our Lord has given me and my voyage, I write this to tell you how in 33 days I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious King and Queen, our Sovereigns, gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people, and of all I have taken possession for their Highnesses by proclamation and display of the Royal Standard without opposition. To the first island I gave the name of San Salvador, in commemoration of his divine majesty. The second I named the island of Santa Maria de Concepcion, the third, Fernandina, the fourth, Isabella, the fifth, Juana, and I found it so extensive that I thought it might be the mainland, the province of Cathay. This is really interesting because you can tell a lot about what Columbus is thinking here. First he says that he's taken possession of these islands by proclamation and display of the royal standard without opposition. And I love this image of Columbus, he's reading in Spanish the proclamation, I claim this land in the name of Spain, and he's not opposed because the Tainos have no idea what he's saying. We can also see his religious motivations here as he names the first islands after San Salvador, the savior, Jesus, Santa Maria de Concepcion, the Virgin Mary, and that he's trying to win some points with Ferdinand and Isabella by naming islands after them. We can also see here that Columbus thinks that he's found China, he says. He thought it might be the mainland, the province of Cathay, and Cathay is an old word meaning China. So let's read on, he says, I began fortifications there which should be completed by this time, and I have left in it men enough to hold it, with arms, artillery, and provisions for more than a year, and a boat with a master seaman skilled in the arts necessary to make others. I am so friendly with the king of that country that he was proud to call me his brother and hold me as such, Even should he change his mind and wish to quarrel, neither he nor his subjects know what arms are, nor wear clothes, as I have said. They're the most timid people in the world so that only the men remaining there could destroy the whole region. So he's kind of saying that we're getting along with the natives, but if we don't, they're not a threat. And he finishes by saying, to speak, in conclusion, only of what has been done during this hurried voyage, their Highnesses will see that I can give them as much gold as they desire, if they will give me a little assistance, spices, cotton, as much as their Highnesses may command to be shipped, and as many slaves as the choose to send for, all heathens. So Columbus is finishing by saying, well this exploratory voyage has shown that we can get a lot out of colonizing this area. We can get gold, spices, cottons, slaves, and so if you'll give me a little assistance, that is, give me more resources to continue my mission, Spain will get very wealthy indeed from this new land. And that is exactly what Ferdinand and Isabella do. So they send him on a second voyage in 1493. And this time they send him with 1200 men and 17 ships, and they bring with them livestock, horses, cattle, pigs, and sugar cane plants so they can turn this into a plantation. So they really intend to use this settlement as not only a place to try out growing crops and also mining for gold, they also see it as kind of a jumping off place that they can use for further exploration in this area. Because the Portuguese were so dominant in this early phase of colonialism, the Spanish are nervous that the Portuguese are going to try to make inroads into their new acquisitions in the west. So with the help of the pope, they negotiate what's called the Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the world between them. So east of this line here, this will be Portugal's area of the world. And west of this line will be Spain's. Remember that Portugal had lots of interests in Africa which they thought were much more valuable at this time. But it was later discovered that part of South America fell on Portugal's side of the line, and you'll recognize that as being today, Brazil, which became a Portuguese colony and even today speaks Portuguese. Now of course, they didn't ask anybody else's permission to divide the world between them. They didn't ask the native people of the Americas, they didn't ask anybody else in Europe, but it's important to understand that Spain thought of this area as their sovereign territory and from this point forward, Spain will continue to send what are called conquistadors, conquerors, to this region, Mexico and Florida, and South America, and from all of this they will become very wealthy as a nation. So I just wanna finish by contrasting how Columbus' voyage affected the native people of the Caribbean with how it affected Europe. So Columbus was not very nice to the natives, in fact. He originally attempted to enslave the native people, and send them back to Europe for sale to continue to underwrite his ventures. But they were susceptible to European diseases and quickly died. So he had to take another tack and that was by forcing the native people to labor for the Spanish, particularly to mine gold. And not long after Columbus returned, he put a quota for all people over the age of 14 that they had to give him a certain amount of gold per month or they would have their hands chopped off. And this is an engraving of what the Spanish were imagined to have been like in the New World. You can say that they're feeding children to dogs here. They were not quite as bad as this, but they were still pretty bad. Historians estimate that there were about one to three million Tainos living in the Caribbean when the Spanish arrived. By 100 years later, there were 200 left. Not 200 thousand, 200. And mostly this was due to disease, and we'll talk more in the next video about why native people seemed to be so susceptible to European diseases, but it was also due to overwork and poor treatment. They were forced to mine when they should have been growing crops and many of them were murdered by the Spanish for one reason or another. So for the people of the Caribbean, Columbus' arrival was really a catastrophe. In Europe however, the New World made Spain very rich. And the gold and silver being brought in from the New World to Spain may actually have increased prices in the one hundred years following Columbus' voyage by 500 to 600% due to inflation thanks to gold from the New World. Some historians even think that the influx of all this new wealth led to the creation of the modern banking system to deal with it and could even have been the forbearer of capitalism. So Columbus' voyage really opened up a whole new world, not just to the people in the Americas, but also to the people in Europe. He started a process, the Columbian exchange, and we'll talk more about that in the next video.