In our last post we focused on Taino Day, which was observed on May 5, 2010. Today I want to close the look back at the Tainos with a historical documentary tour of the Taino-Spanish encounter in May 1494.
Today we have an eyewitness account of this encounter from Señor Andrés Bernáldez. So sit back and relax as Señor Bernáldez takes us back to those early days of the Jamaican Taino-Spanish encounter.
Señor Andrés Bernáldez’ Account of the Spanish’s First Meeting of the Tainos in Jamaica on May 5, 1494
And the island is the most lovely that eyes have seen. It is not mountainous, and the country seems to rise towards the sky. It is very large, greater than Sicily, having a circumference of eight hundred leagues – I mean, miles – ad all full of valleys and fields and plains. It is a very mighty land, and beyond measure populous, so that even on the sea-shore as well as inland, every part is filled with villages and those very large and very near one another, at four leagues’ distance. They have more canoes than in any other part of those regions, and the largest that have yet been seen, all, as has been said, made each from a single tree trunk. In all those parts, every cacique has a great canoe, of which he is proud, and which is for his service, as here a caballero prides himself on possessing a great and beautiful ship. So they have them decorated at the bow and stern with metal bands and with paintings, so that their beauty is wonderful. One of these large canoes which the admiral measured was ninety-six feet long and eight feet broad.
As soon as the admiral arrived off the coast of Jamaica, there immediately came out against him quite seventy canoes, all full of people with darts as weapons. They advanced a league out to sea, with warlike shouts and in battle array. And the admiral with his three caravels and his people paid no attention to them and continued to steer towards the shore, and when they saw this, they became alarmed and turned in flight.
The admiral made use of his interpreter, so that one of those canoes was reassured and came to him with its crew. He gave them clothes and many other things which they held in great regard, and accorded them permission to depart. He then anchored at a place which he named Santa Gloria [St. Ann’s Bay], on account of the extreme beauty of its glorious country, in comparison with which the gardens off Valencia are nothing, nor is there anything to compare with it elsewhere, and so it is in all the island.
And they slept there that night.
Next day, at dawn, they went to seek for a sheltered harbour, where they might be able to careen and repair the ships. And having gone four leagues to the westward, they found a very remarkable harbour and the admiral sent the boat to examine the entrance. And two canoes with many people came out to it and shot many darts at it, but they fled as soon as they found opposition and that not so quickly that they suffered no punishment. The admiral entered the harbour and anchored, and so many Indians came down to it that they covered the land, and all were painted a thousand colours, but the majority black, and all were naked as is their custom. They wore feathers of various kinds on the head and had the breast and stomach covered with palm leaves. They made the greatest howling in the world and shot darts, although they were out of range.
And in the ships, there was need of water and wood, and it was further necessary to repair the vessels. The admiral saw that it was not reasonable to to allow them to be so daring without chastisement, in order that on another occasion they might not be so bold. He assembled all three boats, since the caravels could not proceed and reach the place where they were owing to the shallows, and that they might become acquainted with the arms of Castile, they approached close to them in the boats and fired at them with crossbows and thus pricked them well, so they they became frightened. They landed, continuing to shoot at them, and as the Indians saw that they Castilians were speaking with them, they all took to flight, men and women, so that not one was to be found in all that neighbourhood. And a dog which they let loose from a ship chased them and bit them, and did them great damage, for a dog is the equal of ten men against the Indians.
Next day, before sunrise, six men of those Indians came to the shore, calling and saying to the admiral that all those caciques asked him not to go away, because they desired to see him and to bring him bread and fish and fruits. And the admiral was much pleased with this embassy, and they protested their friendship and assured him of his safety, and the caciques and many Indians came to him, and they brought to them many provisions with which the people were much refreshed, and they were very abundant all the days that they were there, and the Indians were very content with the things which the admiral gave to them. And, having repaired the ship and rested the people, they departed thence.
The admiral with his three caravels left Jamaica, and navigated thirty-four leagues westward, as far as the Golfo de Buen Tiempo [Montego Bay]. And there they met with contrary winds as they proceeded farther along the coast of the said island of Jamaica. Of that island, the general character was well-known and observed, that there was in it no gold nor any metal, although for the rest it was a very paradise and to be regarded as more than gold.
So ends our look at the encounter between the Tainos and the Spanish and the historical echoes of this aspect of Jamaica’s past. The encounter was not just a matter of two cultures meeting but was the beginning of the end of the Taino way of life and the systematic eradication of a whole race.
Despite this, we have evidence of the Tainos’s existence and their historical echoes reverberate in 21st century Jamaica in many forms.
Join Jamaican Echoes tomorrow as we present another tour into Jamaica’s unique history.
Jane, Cecil (1960), The Journal of Christopher Columbus. London: The Hakluyt Society.