Although best known today as "discoverer" of lands that had been discovered by native americans thousands of years before, it was already Columbus who introduced all those measures generally attributed to later conquistadors; including the enslavement of Indians and hunting them down with large packs of dogs.
On his first voyage he described the natives as follows:
"The people of this island and of all other islands which I have found and seen, ... all go naked, ... they ... are so artless and free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it. Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts..."
Because Columbus observed that the natives "ought to be good servants... and would easily be made Christians", and because his "execution of the affair of the Indies" was a "fulfilment of prophecies in Isaiah," he "took possession" of the islands, since the natives were intended by God "to be placed under the authority of civilized and virtuous princes or nations, so that they may learn ... to practice better morals, worthier customs and a more civilized way of life."
Should the Indians object, the necessary declarations Columbus read (in spanish!) to the natives, continued:
"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of Their Highness. We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them..."
At virtually every landing on Columbus second voyage his troops went ashore and killed indiscriminately whatever animals and birds and natives they encountered, "looting and destroying all they found," as Columbus' son Fernando put it.
As one eyewitness recalls:
"Once the Indians were in the woods, the next step was to form squadrons and pursue them, and whenever the Spaniards found them, they pitilessly slaughtered everyone like sheep in the corral. ... So they would cut an Indian's hands and leave them dangling by a shred of skin and they would send him on saying 'Go now, spread the news to your chiefs.'
... Some Christians encounter an Indian woman, who was carrying in her arms a child at suck; and since the dog they had with them was hungry, they tore the child from the mother's arms and flung it still living to the dog, who proceeded to devour it before the mother's eyes..."
On one occasion in Cuba they "began to rip open their bellies, to cut and kill those lambs - men, women, children, and old folk, all of whom were seated, off guard, and frightened."
After all, the Indians were only infidels, "naturally lazy and vicious, ... idolatrous and libidinous."
In less than a decade after Columbus' first landing the native population of the island of Hispaniola - thousands and thousands of people - had dropped by a third to a half. Before the next century ended, the population of Cuba and many other Caribbean islands had been virtually exterminated. In all it is estimated that more than 100 million natives were killed during the European invasion of the Caribbean and Americas.
also read extracts about 16th Century Europe >>