The Spanish invasion
The sailor who sailed West to get to the East
Christopher Columbus, during his second voyage in the year 1494, on May 5th docked his ship in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica and claimed the island for the Spanish monarchy. He had heard about the island, then called Xaymaca, from the Cubans who described it as ‘the land of blessed gold’. Upon sailing to the island and carrying out several failed excavations, he realised that this was indeed not the case. There was no gold, silver or jewels to be found on the island but instead Columbus stumbled upon a population of mild mannered, peaceful indigenous people from the Arawak tribe; the Tainos.
First Contact with the Indigenous Peoples
On his first interaction with the Tainos, Columbus initially thought these people to be hostile as they attacked the men from his fleet who tried to take the island. Determined to capture the island, Columbus sailed down the coast to Discovery Bay where he was once again met by a hostile group of Tainos. During this attack, Columbus’ force utilised attack dogs and crossbows, debilitating the Taino military force, where consequently large numbers of them were killed and wounded. This event was the catalyst of Spanish colonisation and settlement in the island.
Treatment of the Indigenous peoples under Spanish Rule
The Tainos who survived the ordeal were set to work on ranches owned by wealthy land owners or encomenderos under the system of encomienda. By this system the Tainos were expected to provide manual labour and food for the ‘encomenderos’ in exchange for protection, clothing and their conversion to Christianity; particularly Roman Catholicism. However, this was not the reality, no such treatment was allotted to the Tainos. They were instead subjugated to decades of enslavement in which they were overworked, mistreated, underfed and given strange, European diseases many of which they had no resistance against. Many of the Taino women were raped by the Spanish settlers which resulted in the emergence of a new mixed race called the ‘metizos’- hybrid children with parental lineages of both the Tainos and Spaniards. While Taino women suffered this state, their male counterparts were oftentimes brutally murdered in a sick sport in which bets would be made on who could behead a Taino with a single stroke. Additionally, there was the common practice in which Spanish settlers often hunted the Tainos with dogs that were allowed to tear their victims apart.
Many Tainos in response to this cruel treatment resisted their oppressors by committing suicide, infanticide by drinking the poisonous juices of the cassava, starving themselves or throwing themselves and their babies off of cliffs. With these accounts it is of very little surprise that after a short time there was little to no Tainos left on the island.
Developments under Spanish Rule
In the year 1509, Spaniards under the rule of the Spanish governor Juan de Esquivel from a nearby colony of Santo Domingo established two settlements in Jamaica, one in the north (now St. Ann’s Bay) near the town of Ocho Rios named Sevilla la Nueva (literally translates as New Seville) and another in the south St. Jago de la Vega which was the capital of Jamaica. This town was the central hub for government, trade and religion, housing many churches and convents.
With Spanish settlement in Jamaica, the agricultural and livestock profile of the island expanded with the addition of new strains of fruits and breeds of animals respectively. Some of the agricultural introductions made in the island include pineapples, oranges and other citrus fruits, pigs and horses.
The decimation of a People: The introduction of African slave labour
In the year 1513 after the decimation of the Taino population, and failed attempts by the Spanish settlers to grow the crops on their ranches, the first set of African slaves were imported in Jamaica. The arrival of African slaves signalled the introduction of sugar cane cultivation in the island in the year 1520, following the declining profitability of Jamaican tobacco in the European market. These slaves like the Tainos were overworked, underfed and treated harshly by the Spanish settlers. However, the key difference between these two groups are the physical prowess of the African slaves who were already accustomed to hard manual labour under the sweltering heat of a tropical sun.
Pre- conditions for British takeover
For Columbus’ service to the Spanish Crown in the 1540’s he was offered Jamaica as a reward. The island saw no real development under Spanish rule. The island mainly served as a supply base for food, military forces, arms and horses which were shipped there to help in conquering the American mainland. It was also used as the strategic base which aided the Spaniards in their conquest of Cuba. As a colony Jamaica received little attention from Spain primarily because unlike the other colonies, Jamaica had no real monetary value in terms of gold or silver which could be mined and transported to Spain to fill the Spanish Crown’s coiffeurs.
Consequently, this meant that the governors for the island received little or no financial and economic support for the island. Coupled with this were quarrels among them and the church authorities regarding the hierarchy of power and lines of bureaucracy within the island. Additionally, the colony was plagued by a string of frequent attacks from pirates of other European heritage, contributing to the weakening of the colony. The dissatisfaction and internal strife among the Spanish settlers on the island made Jamaica an especially easy target for a coup de etat led and executed by British armed forces who captured the island in 1655.
Following this attack, the Spaniards freed their African slaves, many of whom had taken up arms with them to defend the island against the invading British force. After losing this battle, these free slaves fled into to the mountains and later became Maroons (revolutionary forces who rebelled against the English colonisers) while the Spanish settlers fled to neighbouring colonies for which they had a stronghold.